India’s new goddess - English
India is unfortunately in the news for the wrong reasons at the moment, the gang rape of a medical student on a bus, proving to be fatal for the victim. We in the UK would be very hypocritical to leap to condemn a whole culture for such an event, even for the further news of kidnapping of girls for sale into marriage. Here we have a culture in which Victoria Climbie and Baby P can be murdered, with the full panoply of our caring professions standing by. Here we have sex gangs preying on girls ‘in care’, passed around and abused as if pieces of meat, with police and crown prosecution services turning a blind eye for reasons of multi-cultural political correctness. Here the BBC has been found to have spawned and protected a celebrity child abuser over many years.
And UK culture has been attacked for decades by the cultural left for its colonial history, a Marxist condemnation of all things British as enslaving, oppressive of women, cruel to homosexuality, supercilious to other religions. This absolutist criticism of traditional British social morality now controls a good deal of the media and the parties of the left. But is this criticism more than rhetoric in the culture wars we are now experiencing? If we turn to India, we may find a much more mixed picture. A fascinating Radio 4 programme, still available on BBC iPlayer, ‘The Goddess of English’ certainly moderates the Marxist criticism. In that programme Zareer Masani takes the listener through various dimensions of Indian culture in their relation to the English language. His interviews uncover a popular demand to educate children into the English language as a route out of poverty and to a good job. The poor are spending money on sending their children to schools operating in the medium of English for this end. Businesses need young people proficient in the language.
It is a Dalit thinker, an ‘untouchable’, who invented the ‘Goddess of English’ as an Indian deity, and rejects the criticism of Indian right and left that he is betraying local culture: rather the critics already have English and yet want to bar the way up to the lower caste. English gives a universal perspective on the world, and should go alongside local indigenous culture and language, according to the Dalit and to businessmen interviewed.
One interviewee argues that the Arab nations are losing out on the world stage by ignoring English, unlike China. And he argues that the very concept of total equality in value of all people is alien to Hinduism, it is found primarily in English – language bears certain values. So our language is of help to India, including its theologically rooted values of equality before God.
How ironical that our political rulers are taking the reverse road here, plugging values from other cultures into our society, often which do not stress the value of each and every human person, particularly poor women.