In a talk show conducted last year in English on an Indian TV channel, the anchor asked a martyred policeman’s widow, “Kya aapko Afzal Guru ke hanging, matlab phaansi se ek sense of closure milaa hai?” (The words may have been slightly different.)
Couldn’t the question have been asked in proper Hindi? Knowing before the show that questions would have to be asked to persons not knowing English, the anchor could have prepared translations in simple Hindi, or an interpreter could have been kept available. Did the anchor actually expect the non-English-speaking lady to know the meaning of ‘sense of closure’?
Would the anchor have done the same thing with a non-English-speaking foreign guest?
Why do we, consciously or unconsciously, take our non-English-speaking compatriots for granted? English-speaking Indians may think this is no big deal, but non-English-speaking Indians are discriminated against, in fact looked down upon, particularly if their attire is not fashionable enough for us Brown Sahibs.
One of my clients is a self-made man who now runs a business with an annual turnover of over Rs. 50 million. He always complained to me that he is given second-class treatment by his customers, bankers, etc. only because he lacks educational qualifications and does not know English. Initially, I thought he was being unduly touchy, but after I had accompanied him to a few meetings with his customers, I realised he was absolutely correct. I have seen how differently the same customers treat their other suppliers (also my clients) who are qualified persons familiar with English. Unfortunately, my client’s is not an isolated case.
Knowledge of English is definitely an advantage, but it is no indication of a person’s qualities or capabilities. Some of India’s greatest achievers (and many great achievers in non-English-speaking countries) have either not known English or have been obviously uncomfortable with the language. This is true, not only in high-visibility fields like sports, films, performing arts, fine arts, social work, politics, etc., but also among engineers, industrialists, businessmen, etc.. If lack of fluency in English did not prevent them from becoming achievers, why should it prevent us from giving them their due respect?
(This post was originally published on June 29, 2013.)