Sunday, November 7, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Dalits Turn to the Goddess of English

Dalits Turn to the Goddess of English
By Ranjit Devraj

The Goddess of English appears as a new deity.

Credit:Chandra Bhan Prasad/IPS

NEW DELHI, Nov 6, 2010 (IPS) - India's Dalits are turning to the
''Goddess of English'' for deliverance from centuries of
religiously-sanctioned caste oppression.

Dalits, meaning literally the broken people, have begun erecting a
temple to their new muse in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of northern
Uttar Pradesh, a sprawling state of 190 million people, regarded as
the heartland of orthodox Hinduism.

The inspiration for the idol of the goddess is unmistakable for the
close resemblance it bears to the Statue of Liberty in New York. But,
instead of the flaming torch, the goddess holds aloft a pen with her
right hand and cradles a book in the crook of her left arm.

Also, where Hindu deities are usually portrayed standing on a lotus
flower pedestal, the Goddess of English stands on a computer console,
signifying the technological age that the Dalits hope to enter. It
also represents a break with the traditional past that has been so
cruel to Dalits, once regarded as untouchables and forced to do menial

The high priest of the temple, Chandra Bhan Prasad, a leading Dalit
intellectual, told IPS that the Brahmins (members of the highest caste
in the Hindu social hierarchy, entrusted with learning and priestly
duties) of Uttar Pradesh made the mistake of repudiating the English

''Nationalist politics based around the Hindi language appear to have
turned even the Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh into a backward caste and
the Dalits are determined to avoid that mistake,'' said Prasad. ''As
India globalises the only way anyone, not just Dalits, can avoid being
left behind is by learning English.''

Indian provinces which made the study of the English language optional
in schools have fallen behind states that maintained the language as
compulsory through the secondary education level.

''This is why Bangalore (capital of southern Karnataka state) has
become an international hub for information technology and not Lucknow
(capital of Uttar Pradesh),'' Prasad argued.

Prasad readily admits to borrowing his ideas from Thomas Babington
Macaulay, a British colonial who introduced English as a medium of
instruction in India in 1854 with the objective of raising ''a class
of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in
opinions, in morals and in intellect.''

Macaulay's policies made him a natural target for Hindu nationalists.
"No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely
attached to his religion,'' he argued. "It is my firm belief that if
our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single
idolater among the respected classes 30 years hence."

Prasad said Macaulay's policy set in motion the liberation of the
Dalits by dismantling the traditional system of learning based on
Sanskrit, the use of which was denied to the lower castes.

''When the British opened English-medium schools, Dalits were
prevented from entering them by upper caste people, forcing the
colonial government to issue orders that no one could be denied
admissions on the basis of caste, creed, gender or religion,'' Prasad

''Lord Macaulay was a social revolutionary who, by drawing up the
Indian Penal Code, made all Indians equal before the law,'' said
Prasad, who dutifully celebrates the colonial's birthday each year
Oct. 25.

In contrast to Prasad's views, Hindu nationalists pejoratively call
Indians who are less than proud of their own traditions and heritage
''Macaulay's Children''.

Among the tallest of Macaulay's Children was Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
(born 1891) who overcame the handicaps of being born a Dalit to
acquire degrees from Columbia University and the London School of

Ambedkar, who left a progressive stamp on the Indian republic as the
architect of its 1949 constitution, was among the first to exhort his
caste fellows to learn and use the English language as a means of
emancipation. ''English is the milk of the lioness,'' he told them.

Ambedkar's constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, outlaws
all forms of discrimination and includes a system of positive
discrimination reserving jobs in the government and seats in
educational institutions for Dalits.

Prasad said that despite such constitutional provisions Dalits, who
form 16 percent of India's 1.2 billion people, have continued to
suffer discrimination or worse. ''In many parts of India we are not
allowed to enter Hindu temples, so we now plan to set up our own
temples dedicated to the Goddess of English...others are welcome to
join us.''

''With the Goddess of English, Prasad has hit upon an idea that rests
upon the flexibility and accommodation of the Indian tradition,'' said
Yogendra Singh, one of India's leading experts on the sociology of
culture, and emeritus professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

''Prasad displays a great sense of history and a remarkable
understanding of the Indian ethos that has an infinite capacity to
locate the present in the past,'' said Singh, author of the seminal
work, 'Modernisation of Indian Tradition'.

Much the same could be said for the Dalit chief minister of Uttar
Pradesh, Mayawati (one name), who has ignored criticism to squander
public funds to set up statues of herself around the state. The
statues invariably depict her carrying a handbag - a symbol of female
modernity and power for most Indians.

Singh told IPS that even if Prasad's plan to set up temples to the
Goddess of English across the country fizzles out the message that
there is value in learning the English language would have gone home.

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