The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!

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Occupy Wall Street—Lobbying for justice

The Occupy Wall Street Movement, which began on 17th September 2011 at Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, has spread rapidly across the world. What began as a random NYC protest by some youngsters who have been choked to death (not literally obviously!) by poor socioeconomic infrastructure is currently a movement accumulating a lot of media heat and international gossip. Amazingly these protesters are not the usual politically motivated spoiled brats trying to seek some attention to their cause but are hard-core middle and low-class citizens who have a lot of hurdles to pass through. They have named themselves ‘the 99%’, calling the Wall-Street predators and other famous CEOs ‘the 1%’. Though I am not actually sure how the protesters mourned over the death of a billionaire CEO like Steve Jobs. Maybe it is because Jobs was the one to initiate this revolution of giving the public whatever it is they desired through his unique products like the IPAD and the IPhone which the protesters are constantly using to reorganize, develop, recruit and bring everything under one roof.

However the 99% movement does have a lot of significance. Lately, America as a nation has been going overboard on its capitalist policies. The policies, designed by politicians who are funded for their agendas by various interest groups, are more or less designed to make the rich get richer and the poor to become poorer. Whether it is inflation or recession the wealthy have nothing to worry about, since if their expenses increase their incomes also rise, but the consumers from the middle and low-income backgrounds go through a lot to pay for their increased expenses while simultaneously maintaining their basic (and expensive!) amenities like health security, rent, food etc.

Graph showing income inequality in the United States. Source: The Economist

This disparity in income has been demonstrated by the graph above which was published in the economist on Oct 26th 2011. According to the aforementioned graph, in the past 30 years the incomes of the so-called 99% have risen by around 45% whereas that of the 1% have increased (or coerced to increased perhaps) by around 300% !! Imagine that, the ones who hardly need any more have had their salaries increased by around 10 times more than the ones who are in dire need of pay-rises! In the US alone, in the past 10 years (2000-2010) the total inflation rates have been 27.38%. I could not find the data for the past 30 years but as you can realize from the available data the rates have got to be really high—-even the pay-rises to the 99% would not have been able to mitigate their increased expenses. Thanks a lot to the liberal economic policies of the most powerful economy of the globe that the rich dwell blissfully undertaking philanthropic stances in front of the public while at the same time behind the public they are robbing the poor from their basic rights. The poor, on the other hand, toil hard to bring food to the table and strive to live their lives through heart-attacks and other stress-related diseases.

With the likes of billionaire CEOs like Warren Buffet, Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, the New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Indian Ambanis dominating the world market, the world in the past three decades has had rapid lapses in income distribution. Not only have the youngsters had to fight through overwhelming inflation rates ever since their birth, when they finally emerged out in the world with the degrees and all they have had to confront themselves with the fact that the promised jobs were never going to be there. And moreover with the frequent recessions the graduates were pushed to dead ends and thus the final result is an outbreak of revolt against all those apparently responsible for controlling the entire world economy.

However the best part of this movement is that it has no leader. Everyone involved is a leader, because after all this is the 99%. The movement cannot be controlled by a handful few like the manipulators of the world economy, which can now be classified as an oligopoly. All the protesters are fighting for their rights, regardless of castes, creeds, religions or nationalities. They only need a better future for themselves and their future generations. And to achieve their objectives they have taken up placards in thousands of cities across the globe and invested their time in rallies and demonstrations. I do hope and think that their time and energy will bear fruit. The desired changes all across the world will definitely be there at last.

A point to be noted here is that although the mob may be extremely gullible and short-sighted—-qualities which all the politicians have, are and will always be exploiting to achieve their lofty ambitions——they have successfully demonstrated the meaning of teamwork, discipline and pacifism. They have credited the Arab Spring as their inspiration for trying to create a change and although the American politicos have been more than supportive during the Middle-Eastern revolution it now seems that they are not at all happy with the new revolution in their own land. After all their seats are at stake here. Just goes on to show how pretentious politicians always are. In fact, pointing at the billionaire NYC Mayor who, being a foe, is also trying his best to squeeze the movement, a protester has recently remarked: “as a billionaire, he’s under constant temptation to squelch protest” . The media is not being very helpful either. It is evident from their tone and use of language that they firmly disapprove this protest for better democratic countries. Obviously, all these newspapers, television channels, studios are owned by the signature 1% only so it is just natural that they will not be very helpful to the cause.

As an ending note I should like to define ‘democracy’ properly.  The word democracy is said to have originated sometime during 1525-1535 from the Greek dēmokratía, which means a popular government. My grade 7 History teacher always insisted that it means ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. And since the past few decades the so-called democratic countries haven’t at all behaved democratically. Tax cuts were imposed to favor only the wealthy and to choke the poor. International policies were developed for the money-making and business-minded communities and most importantly the general public, who were under the impression that they were living in a democratic country were fooled by the politicians and corporate leaders by taking advantage of their innocence. The true spirit of democracy was violated by the very people who were supposed to protect its sanctity. A valid example is Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan which is a democracy at the time of writing this article, who despite being a billionaire does not pay a penny in tax.

Therefore I urge everyone to defend what is truly yours. Politicians and other sociopaths must be made aware of the fact that the voters nowadays are no longer illiterate and guided by illusion. They must not try to elude the public any more. And we, the youngsters must now get rid of our laidback nature and stand for our rightful positions because “the only solution is World Revolution” (the slogan for the Occupy Wall Street Movement).