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Indian media's Anglo-Hindi inclination is leading to politico-cultural alienation of the poor, rooted

On 2 June, a journalist working with Times Now news channel accosted Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, the mayor of Mumbai. Mahadeshwar leads an elected body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, and represents the popular will of the people of Mumbai. He is a former principal of Raje Sambhaji Vidyalaya and Junior College, Mumbai. Recently, he had voiced his opinion that, "entire Maharashtra should know Marathi".

The journalist was ostensibly following up on this particular statement. Mahadeshwar responded to his aggressive and demeaning statements in crisp Marathi. This exchange then, inadvertently, became the "news". An analysis of the exchange would show the poor and unfortunate standard of English language TV journalism in the India.

After Mahadeshwar made clear his views and why he chose to spoke Marathi, the journalist asked, "You are the mayor of Mumbai, you are the mayor of all the citizens irrespective of their language, irrespective of their religion, irrespective of their caste. Do you think you are the mayor of just the Marathi population of Mumbai?"

File image of Mumbai Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar. Image courtesy: Twitter @ShivSena

File image of Mumbai mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar. Image courtesy: Twitter @ShivSena

Mahadeshwar answered in Marathi that he and his party has nothing against any specific group. Then the journalist continued: "Why is it that you are always speaking in Marathi and enforce it that you have to speak in Marathi despite the fact that you know English." The mayor responded, in Marathi, that his party stands for learning Marathi.

The journalist then paused for a moment before breaking into Marathi and then quickly corrected herself, saying, "learning the language that you are talking about is different and speaking it, even as you know English and despite intentionally doing it... what is the reason behind it?"

Ignoring the journalist, Mahadeshwar reiterated his stance. The journalist then asked, "Is that the stand of the party... that you are supposed to speak only in Marathi and not in Hindi or English?" The mayor replied that the party had no role in it, which is quite a bold and commendable non-partisan statement to make.

The journalist then repeated her earlier arent-you-mayor-of everyone question. To this, the mayor again responded that there is no animosity against any group and that Marathi is the official language of the whole state of Maharashtra. Mumbai happens to be in Maharashtra, whether some people like that or not, he said.

At this point, the journalist pointed out that the leader of the mayor's party, Uddhav Thackrey of Shiv Sena, spoke languages other than Marathi as well. To this, the mayor replied that there is no bar against speaking other languages but for addressing a general audience, he (the mayor) speaks Marathi.

The journalist appeared to be stuck in some kind of question loop, as she then said, "So, despite knowing the fact that... knowing English as a language... why is it that you are still speaking in Marathi?" That is an extraordinary statement to make, especially to the mayor of a city in Maharashtra, a state whose official language is Marathi. The mayor looked visibly insulted at such a question, as anyone with any dignity should be.

The journalist continued, "Why are you still speaking in Marathi when you are a professor, you are a principal of a college, you are well educated, you can speak English fluently... on camera... why is it that the mayor of Mumbai is actually speaking in Marathi?" Braving this direct insult at his own language, the mayor replied that his mother tongue is Marathi; that Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra; the official language of the state is Marathi; and that people largely know it.

The harangue of the journalist again looped back into questions she had already posed earlier. Mahadeshwar said that it was not compulsory that everyone should speak in Marathi, responding to the journalist's question that does the mayor think that everyone in Mumbai should speak only in Marathi, which is a demand the mayor never made.

Finally, the mayor asked the journalist whether she was asking questions or looking for an argument. Then he asked the million dollar question: Does the journalist have any objection to him speaking in Marathi?

Incredibly, the journalist replied, "You should also speak the language that everybody also understands... for the channel that requires it... you own boss does that". At this point, the mayor, who has had enough of, started to walk off. But not before the insistent journalist asked one final question: "So, you mean to say that every citizen must speak in Marathi?".

The mayor had never claimed or demanded this. To this, Mahadeshwar said, this time in English, "No". I do hope that the journalist understood the meaning of the English word "no". The journalist claimed, "You just said that". The mayor, replies thrice, in English, "No, no, no". The interview then ended.

This episode shows the kind of rot that underlies the standards of journalism and the context in which this rot is only natural. Let us go into the evident fallacies that came through in the journalist's stance. The journalist wanted the mayor to speak other languages (English in this case) because the mayor represents people from all linguistic backgrounds.

This is interesting because the prime minister always speaks in Hindi to non-Hindi populations and also in international forums, like the United Nations, where almost no one understands the language.

I have never seen anyone protest that. If anything, some Indian Union citizens feel very proud that their prime minister goes abroad and speaks to foreigners in a native language that they do not understand. I am yet to see Times Now call out Narendra Modi on why he speaks in Hindi to non-Hindi people. And what is okay for the prime minister should be okay for the mayor of Mumbai.

If anything, the mayor of Mumbai has a far better reason to speak in Marathi. Because he is the mayor of a city in a state that was formed explicitly on the basis of a single language, Marathi. The Samyukta Maharashtra Andolan also foiled plans of the non-Marathi elites of Mumbai (then Bombay) to keep Mumbai out of Maharashtra. We live in times when a journalist in Maharashtra seems to be unaware of all this.

All large non-Hindi states were formed explicitly on the basis of language – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal, etc. The Indian Union, on the other hand, was not formed on the basis of any single language. The Indian Union does not even have any national language irrespective of the long-standing false propaganda of Hindi chauvinists and Delhi-headquartered ruling parties.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The journalist's questions show how ill-conceived, if not outright false, her allegations are. The fact that the mayor knows English shows that he does not always speak in Marathi but does so in a certain official capacity. In fact, he does briefly speak in English even during the interview. And, in fact, the journalist stands doubly exposed when she tells the mayor as part of another question, "you can speak English fluently".

So, in fact, the journalist does know that he speaks English. Two other questions are actually the most alarming - "So, despite knowing the fact that... knowing English as a language, why is it that you are still speaking in Marathi?" and "Why are you still speaking in Marathi when you are a professor, a principal of a college.. you are well educated, you can speak English fluently... on camera, why is it that the mayor of Mumbai is actually speaking in Marathi?".

Let us all understand the hubris and contempt for the Marathi speaker or for that matter any mother tongue speaker that is contained in these questions. The operative word is "still" which means English, in their ideology, is some higher language than Marathi.

The references to the mayor's education also reinforce the same point – that it is somehow unbecoming of an educated person, a highly educated one at that, to speak his/her mother tongue. This is the class that uses English as a status and education marker and thinks so low of Marathi that it finds being educated and speaking in Marathi incompatible. In another world, in another time, this would be plainly called racism, except that in Mumbai it is perpetrated by people who share the skin colour of the Marathi Manoos.

Mumbai is special. It is special in the way the Marathi speaker is sidelined in its economy, culture and all avenues of upward mobility. Would anyone be able to make this journalist's argument in a Hindi state? In the Constituent Assembly debates discussing the making of the Constitution of India, English-knowing-Hindi-speaking leaders refused to speak in English, in spite of requests and protests from non-Hindi speaking leaders, who mostly did not know Hindi.

This special status of Hindi has continued and those who upheld this double standard then became major champions of Indian nationalism while their subsequent generations have helped create this power architecture, where only Anglo-Hindi rules and is a pre-condition to first class Indian citizenship.

That makes it a class promoting politico-cultural alienation of the poor, the rooted by dint of its grip on key sources of power. Systemic discrimination of this scale is pathological – it is needed by the imperial ideology of a certain class. A very powerful class that has aims to put the plaster of Anglo-Hindi on other mother tongues, aims to induce a kind of inferiority complex among non-Anglo-Hindi speakers and making them second class citizens in their own linguistic homeland.

All this goes under the banner of "cosmopolitanism" while the German identity of Berlin, the English identity of London, the French identity of Paris are not making those cities any less cosmopolitan. This faux cosmopolitanism of the Anglo-Hindi class stands exposed when Times Now and other English TV channels' anchors break into Hindi. Interviews are conducted in Hindi, talk show guests often speak in Hindi and no translation into English is provided, in spite of data that a majority of the non-Hindi population of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi.

It's about time that Mumbai rises up and casts Bombay to where it belongs, the dustbin of history. 'Vladimir Putin speak Russian, M Karunanidhi speaks Tamil, Mahadeshwar speaks Marathi. In this world of homogenisation as part of politico-economic domination, contempt towards mother tongues is often linked with contempt towards the poor and the rooted.

Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 18:26 PM

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