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Linguistic Racism rules in India - Outside View by Shekar Swamy
 
 
Linguistic Racism rules in India

The English language is a big divider in India. Those proficient in English tend to look down on others who are proficient only in Indian languages. India is unique as a large nation with such a deep linguistic divide.

Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, speaking at an event organized by the Etawah Hindi Sewa Trust some weeks ago, set the cat among the pigeons by saying that Members of Parliament should be banned from addressing the House in English. Arguing that "countries which use their mother tongue are more developed", he underscored the need to promote Hindi. Clarifying that he was not anti-English, Mr Yadav added that "In India people take pride and consider themselves superior if they use English."

The response from the English media was swift and predictable. I came across two editorials in major English dailies denouncing Mr Yadav's suggestion. One paper wrote that the "call for a ban on English completes the march to the past in UP". Citing the move as "retrograde", another daily went on to say that "many states have suffered because of an aversion towards English - West Bengal is a case in point. India's IT/ITES revolution owes a great deal of its success to the language."

I have never met Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and do not hold a brief for the Samajwadi Party. Having said that, it does look like a natural reaction among those fluent in English to denounce what Mr Yadav has said and throw away the message because of the messenger. But one look around the world would make one agree with Mr Yadav that major countries like China, Japan, Germany and South Korea have achieved tremendous success and leadership with their own language as the base, with English in use only for international business. The argument by the English aficionados (this author can be viewed as one) that proficiency in the English language is a pre-requisite for success is nothing but a lot of nonsense, and simply fails in the face of global experience.

English - A source of racism

In India, one has to admit that those who are well versed in English somehow view themselves as superior to those who are not. This is embedded in the psyche of millions, and is nothing but a strange form of racism that is accepted and even tacitly promoted by those proficient in English. This has seriously fractured the society, with hundreds of millions who are well-versed in their own respective languages feeling left out, bewildered and even quietly angry. In this regard, India stands apart, as perhaps the only major nation and an emerging global economic power, that has accepted the denial of its linguistic roots and created such a deep cleft in its midst on the basis of language. The social, economic and cultural cost of such linguistic racism is enormous and could well be a major reason for the country's development being held back in many respects. More on this later.

Language preference of the people

Racism takes different forms. There is racism where the majority looks down on the minority - white vs non-white in the West. Then there is racism where the minority looks down on the majority, as was the case in apartheid South Africa or as in the case of those proficient in English versus the rest in India.

What language do Indians prefer when given full and unrestricted choice? Indians make this choice every day in the selection of the Newspapers and Television channels they consume. They can purchase and read any language newspaper they want all priced similarly, or select among the hundreds of TV channels beamed into their homes in all languages. This information on readership and viewership on the basis of language is summarized in the Tables alongside.

On an all-India basis, for every nine readers of Indian languages there is one English reader of newspapers (Table 1). It varies by State as follows: 23 non-English to 1 English reader in UP, 5 to 1 in Maharashtra, 6 to 1 in West Bengal, 8 to 1 in Tamilnadu and so on. The closest ratio is in Delhi where it is 1 to 1.

When it comes to Television viewership (Table 2), the numbers are more in favour of Indian languages. At the all-India level, the ratio of non-English to English viewers is a whopping 14 to 1, in UP and Maharashtra it is 13 to 1, in West Bengal 9 to 1, Tamilnadu 6 to 1 and so on. In Delhi state the ratio is 19 to 1 in favour of non-English (predominantly Hindi).

Language-wise Readership of Newspapers by States (Age 12+)
States Population in Mn. Non-English (000's) English (000's) Non-English to English ratio Main languages
All India 1,210 2,00,011 22,868 9 to 1  
Uttar Pradesh 200 22,686 968 23 to 1 Hindi
Maharashtra 112 27,149 5,796 5 to 1 Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu
Bihar 104 9,686 263 37 to 1 Hindi
West Bengal 91 12,453 1,996 6 to 1 Bengali, Hindi, Urdu
Andhra Pradesh 85 14,390 1,262 11 to 1 Telugu, Urdu
Madhya Pradesh 73 8,876 220 40 to 1 Hindi
Tamilnadu 72 15,544 1,863 8 to 1 Tamil
Rajasthan 69 13,916 365 38 to 1 Hindi
Karnataka 61 10,459 1,552 7 to 1 Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu
Gujarat 60 11,787 444 27 to 1 Gujarati, Hindi
Orissa 42 4,915 300 16 to 1 Oriya, Hindi, Telugu
Kerala 33 20,446 601 34 to 1 Malayalam, Kannada
Jharkhand 33 4,812 205 24 to 1 Hindi, Bengali
Assam 31 1,740 344 5 to 1 Assamese, Bengali
Punjab 28 5,086 583 9 to 1 Punjabi, Hindi
Chhattisgarh 26 3,005 38 79 to 1 Hindi
Haryana 25 4,232 652 7 to 1 Hindi
Delhi 16 4,440 4,401 1 to 1 Hindi
Source: Census population; Indian Readership Survey 2012 Q4

Language-wise Viewers of Television by States Age 15+ at 9.15 PM on Sunday Nov 24, 2013
Markets Pop. in Mn. in Audience Measurement towns Non-English (000's) English (000's) Non-English Viewers to English Viewers ratio
All India 276 52,711 3,846 14 to 1
Uttar Pradesh 42 6,805 525 13 to 1
Maharashtra 49 9,617 746 13 to 1
Bihar 2 290 26 11 to 1
West Bengal 19 3,484 404 9 to 1
Andhra Pradesh 18 3,753 517 7 to 1
Madhya Pradesh 19 3,509 117 30 to 1
Tamilnadu 18 3,537 545 6 to 1
Rajasthan 16 2,693 48 56 to 1
Karnataka 15 3,781 296 13 to 1
Gujarat 23 4,190 85 49 to 1
Orissa 3 534 40 13 to 1
Kerala 6 1,390 38 37 to 1
Jharkhand 3 636 48 13 to 1
Assam 1 202 36 6 to 1
Punjab 3 506 13 39 to 1
Chhattisgarh 3 597 31 19 to 1
PHCHP* 21 3,675 127 29 to 1
Delhi 19 4,018 215 19 to 1
Source: Television Audience Measurement, time/date selection is random
*Punjab/Haryana/Chandigarh/Himachal

Lest this information be seen as skewed by rural India, the proportion of non-English to English readers and viewers was analysed for the top 8 metros, as well as for the higher Socio Economic Classification A (SEC A, the top 11% of urban households) group by States for urban India. In the top 8 cities (Table 3), the readership ratio of non-English to English is 2 to 1. Readership ratio ranges from 1 to 1 in Delhi and expands to 7.5 to 1 in Pune and 11 to 1 in Ahmedabad. Television viewership in the SEC A group is overwhelmingly in favour of non-English vs English - 12 to 1 for the 8-metros together, and ranges from a low of 7 to 1 in Chennai all the way to a virtually negligible viewership of English in Ahmedabad.

Language-wise Readership and Viewership - Top 8 Metros
    Readership of Newspapers Age 12+ Viewership of Television Age 15+
City Population in Mn. Non-English (000's) English (000's) Non-English to English ratio Non English (000's) English (000's) Non-English to English ratio
Total 8 metros 85 28,466 14,456 2 to 1 17,746 1,485 12 to 1
Mumbai 18 6,719 4,811 1.4 to 1 3,987 298 13 to 1
Delhi 16 4,440 4,401 1 to 1 4,018 215 19 to 1
Kolkata 14 5,200 1,691 3 to 1 2,496 276 9 to 1
Chennai 9 2,410 955 2.5 to 1 1,822 275 7 to 1
Bangalore 9 2,118 1,165 1.8 to 1 2,013 119 17 to 1
Hyderabad 8 1,938 790 2.5 to 1 1,557 189 8 to 1
Ahmedabad 6 2,437 218 11 to 1 840 Neg. Eng Neg.
Pune 5 3,204 425 7.5 to 1 1,014 110 9 to 1

The ratio of readership among the SEC A group (Table 4) at the all-India level is 2.2 in favour of non-English to every 1 English reader. Readership by region ranges from 4.7 to 1 in UP, 1.3 to 1 in Maharashtra, 1.9 to 1 in West Bengal and 2 to 1 in Tamilnadu. For TV viewership in the SEC A group, the non-English to English ratio is 10 to 1 at the all-India level; the lowest ratio among the big states is in West Bengal and Tamilnadu at 4 to 1.

Language-wise Readership and Viewership Socio Economic Classification A (Top 11% of Urban households)
  Readership of Newspapers Age 12+ Viewership of Television Age 15+
City Non English (000's) English (000's) Non English to English ratio Non English (000's) English (000's) Non-English to English ratio
All India 24,481 11,238 2.2 to 1 8,966 860 10 to 1
Uttar Pradesh 2,957 635 4.7 to 1 1,391 59 24 to 1
Maharashtra 3,577 2,663 1.3 to 1 1,796 108 17 to 1
Bihar 926 155 6 to 1 117 0 NA
West Bengal 2,029 1,053 1.9 to 1 457 132 4 to 1
Andhra Pradesh 1,332 446 3 to 1 498 72 7 to 1
Madhya Pradesh 1,970 157 12.6 to 1 442 29 15 to 1
Tamilnadu 1,459 748 2 to 1 572 150 4 to 1
Rajasthan 1,512 201 7.5 to 1 384 0 NA
Karnataka 870 568 1.5 to 1 482 89 5 to 1
Gujarat 1,926 207 9.3 to 1 390 9 43 to 1
Orissa 531 105 5.1 to 1 72 4 18 to 1
Kerala 518 130 4 to 1 155 12 13 to 1
Jharkhand 703 122 5.8 to 1 200 23 9 to 1
Assam 181 124 1.5 to 1 26 24 1 to 1
Punjab 766 331 2.3 to 1 145 6 24 to 1
Chattisgarh 253 4 63 to 1 111 14 8 to 1
Haryana 641 435 1.5 to 1 NA NA NA
PHCHP* NA NA NA 566 25 23 to 1
Delhi 1,750 2,703 1 to 1 1,306 109 12 to 1

English - A clear minority

The case is clear to treat English for what it is - just another language among India's many, without special status. While we need not ban English as suggested by Mr Yadav, people's forums like the Indian Parliament should be conducted in the Indian languages that the people clearly prefer. In this day of the Aam Aadmi Party, masses of people of the country are paying an enormous price by being left out due to the linguistic racism being practiced. This deserves serious study and debate.

Shekar is the Group CEO of R K SwamyHansa. His area of specialization is in developing business, marketing, and communication strategies globally. He has worked with leading companies in various parts of the world and has helped them launch, manage, and grow their brands and businesses significantly. Shekar holds an MBA (Delhi), and an MS from Northwestern University. He has served on the faculty at the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University's Medill School for the past 14 years. Northwestern University inducted Shekar into the Alumni Hall of Achievement in 2002, a rare honor.

The views/opinions mentioned in the Report are of Mr Shekar Swamy only and not of Equitymaster.

Disclaimer:
Equitymaster is an independent equity research Company. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Equitymaster do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site.

 

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