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Why Are Upper-Castes Oddly Obsessed With English And The Idea Of Merit?

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“Kaunsi bhasha hai yeh?”

Mocking someone’s language and putting up your ‘bad humour’ as the excuse for such an abusive video about native languages doesn’t really make your vlog ‘interesting’ in case anyone wondered.

This is not just about one vlog incident, but thousands of such horrifying experiences that Adivasi people are forced to face at workplaces, educational spaces and more. Indian journalist Anjali Mody, who writes about India’s educational issues says, “India’s obsession with English is depriving many children of a real education.”

But is the whole of India obsessed with English? It is high time that we talk about the intersectionality of casteism with the English language obsession.

The educational institutes have also gotten into the practice of cultivating ridiculing, mocking and condescending Adivasi culture by taunting for getting into the institutes through the reservation, thereby making the students of the community conscious of the reservation system.

This elite English-speaking feature has had long term consequences on families belonging to the Adivasi community; a 23- year old slum dweller said that he wanted to speak fluent English to get a job in a call centre to help pay for his sister’s weddings. Moreover, he has the notion that speaking English introduces the aspect of being rich and vice-versa. He says that if he had some money, the first thing he would do is go to college to become fluent in English.

Several writers mention that the socioeconomic status in Indian society is determined by people’s fluency in the English language – which introduces a ‘new caste system’. But, if deeply looked into, this is just an addition to the already existing caste system of India. The elites, who use the privilege of knowing English, comprise mainly of the ‘upper caste’ folks. It’s this specific ruling elite that has the hand behind mandating university admissions and government jobs.

I, myself, am writing this article in English from a privileged vantage point. I had the chance of learning English, which many other Dalit-Adivasi students don’t get the chance to.

The Language Of The Elite

A lot of factors play a major role in making English the ‘language of the elite’.

Firstly, multinational companies hire people from the middle class of the economical hierarchy ladder. That leads to a major section of the society believing that they can escape their indigence while they weren’t able to afford private education in English medium schools.

Secondly, the ‘upper caste’ people enforce a preconceived belief upon the society that ‘Indians can prosper by not just learning English, but learning it as their first language.

Thirdly, with the intersection of casteism in the recruitment system of jobs, there has been a shortage of teachers who can speak English whereas the states continuously demand to provide them access to learning English to students coming from all communities.

Lastly, while few private sector companies and organizations are working towards providing ways to advance local languages, the local governments (most of them) stand static in terms of removing the socioeconomic barriers of language.

If looked at properly, we have a lot of underlying issues behind this- be it in the political system or educational, the question rises – how long is the way still we have the issues resolved?

Meritocracy has long-running intersectionality with English being the ‘language of the elite’.

Several higher educational institutes in India, including the well-known IITs, are representatives of the meritocracy system in India and have had instances in the past as well as recent times proving the intersection of caste exclusivity.

Indian obsession with equating an upper class and caste with merit. Representational image.

India’s Top Institutions Are Casteist

At India’s top educational institutions, reservation policies exist mostly just on paper whereas in reality, the faculty and students at institutions have been found guilty of violating them but no necessary action has been taken to prohibit the same.

For instance, videos of an associate professor at IIT Kharagpur named Seema Singh surfaced online, where she was found to be hurling abuses at students of marginalized castes and/or with physical disabilities during an online class. What were the reasons behind her abuse?

The students hadn’t stood up for the National Anthem and said ‘Bharatmata Ki Jai’. Adding to that, the excuse for her behaviour was “social isolation due to COVID-19”. But, guess what, Seema Singh still hasn’t been terminated or booked under the SC/ST Act.

This wasn’t the first of such incidents to have occurred.

Several students have fallen victims to caste-based harassment including Aniket Ambhore (Dalit student at IIT Bombay) which even led to his death by suicide. After Aniket’s death, a three-member committee was set up at IIT Bombay to investigate the incident. The committee’s findings were never brought to light except one point that doesn’t really come off as a new fact:

“There is a possibility that students entering through the SC/ST quota could face difficulties in the hostels and in the departments because of hardened attitudes against the reservation policy of the government.”

Several casteist videos and reels have been surfacing on social media platforms – Instagram and YouTube mainly.

The very recent vlog video of Sambhavna Seth along with her husband showed them mocking their domestic worker for conversing in her native language. We are aware that this idea of mocking Adivasi languages is terrible and disrespectful towards the whole community, but what’s even worse is their excuse behind it that their “sense of humour is poor”.

Who asked you to even be “humourous” about a certain language in the first place? The Internet doesn’t really need your vlog, I can assure you that.

The whole algorithm of the Instagram reels is a reflection of the casteism existing in India. If you end up scrolling the reels section, you will have to face ‘elite aesthetics’ which seem to be out of your reach. Even the algorithm doesn’t allow reels of Dalit people; you won’t find a single account of any Dalit person on the list of ‘top influencers.

To add to that, ‘video creators’, like Yashvi Bagga, create reels that directly mock the reservation system cribbing about the lack of facilities that general students can enjoy, whereas non-general students had welfare schemes, relaxation in age, fewer application fees, etc. to “enjoy!”.

Dear Yashvi, let me correct you there, the non-general students do not certainly “enjoy” this; those are their rights. The iPhones that you use, those are your privileges to ‘enjoy’; the Dalit-Adivasi students don’t have that opportunity due to their fathers and forefathers facing several obstacles in their lives while your ancestors ‘enjoyed’ advantages and created huge gaps in economic, social and several other areas of livelihood, the consequences of which are to be born by generations in the coming future.

Though Yashvi Bagga has deleted the video after an uncertain period of time, why did our dear IT sector that takes an immediate step against any slightly problematic criticism not take any action to remove this particular reel?

To conclude, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered to date. How many more Seema Singhs will the Dalit-Adivasi students have to face till the day comes when they can only focus on individual progress in a class? How many more Yashvi Bagga reels until the Dalit-Adivasi students are NOT made taken jibes at for the reservation system?

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