Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

(Re) Mapping Languages and Cultures: Post-Colonial Predicaments of the Indian Nation-State

Asha Sarangi (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)



In this paper, I analyze the relationship between languages and cultures, and their political contestations over the question of linguistic communities' identity formation in post-colonial India. The long and intense historical transition and transformation from British colonial rule to an independent Indian society and polity was marked by a number of ethno-linguistic and social-cultural movements, which tried to redefine a new political identity of the nation-state. An exceptionally rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Indian society, considered to be unparalleled in the world, had already undergone significant changes in its interface with the hegemonic role of the English language introduced by the colonial rulers in the domains of administration, education, economy and polity of the colonial state. At the same time, a number of Indigenous languages and dialects needed state patronage to survive and to retain their dominant positions of power. After independence, the ethno-linguistic landscape of the country underwent a radical change culminating in linguistically re-demarcating the linguistic-cultural regions and zones of its territorial boundaries. This geo-linguistic political reconfiguration of the entire country starting in the year 1948 continued more intensely throughout the decades of 1960s, 70s and as recent as the 90s. This politico-administrative exercise known as the States Reorganization was followed concurrently with rise and growth of several militant and separatist movements based on the ethnic identity of language, culture and region predominantly.

I will also look at the rationale of this complex process of political linguistification of post-colonial India. The questions central to the problematic addressed in the paper unpack the relationship between language and culture, language and political power, and the processes of language planning and policy in the newly independent country such as India in the decades of 1950-70. How do we understand the category of linguistic minorities, and their gradual erosion and inclusion into the dominant language communities? What have been the dilemma of educational policies in a multilingual India while incorporating the hegemonic role of English language on the one hand with Hindi as the national language along with eighteen other official languages on the other, and the undefined fait accompli of 418 as listed languages and 1600 mother tongues existing in contemporary India? How does a state organize such a complex linguistic diversity and guarantee political and cultural protection to various linguistic communities and groups in terms of their linguistic rights as form of social capital? It is within this context that I try to explore and conceptually analyze this dense relationship between language, land and labor in a post-colonial polity by using historical and contemporary archival sources, policy documents and reports of the state, language scholars and linguists' recommendations and writings, oral and written accounts of various leaders and supporters of numerous ethno-linguistic cultural movements in post-independent India.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-09-27