English in India: From a Class Marker to Leveller of Classes


Author: Rajeshwar Mittapalli (Kakatiya University, India)
Speaker: Rajeshwar Mittapalli
Topic: General Sociolinguistics
CALA 2020 General Session


Abstract

The traditional marker of class in India has been caste for thousands of years. British rule in the 18th century and treatment of Indians as ‘coolies’ effected a leveling of classes. However, the introduction of English as the language of education, administration and cross-country communication in 1835 once again divided Indians into two classes, i.e. those who speak English and those who do not. The former was to benefit in terms of education and employment, while the latter remained backward. The English-speaking sections of Indian society evolved into new privileged classes and gained increasing importance even after the colonizers departed.

This paper seeks to expose ways in which Indian people who benefited were all not necessarily of the upper castes, as English education became available to the lower castes often due to the efforts of the Christian missionaries. In recent decades, English has gained tremendous popularity in India with even poor communities within which children attend English medium schools. The paper presents that English is now proving to be a leveler of classes, gradually breaking down caste distinctions. Thus, dalit ideologues and activists have been advocating the popularization of English among the dalits and other disadvantaged sections of the population. English is thus mediating a social revolution. This paper ultimately seeks to analyse the impact of English on India, as it struggles to evolve into an egalitarian society. The paper thus progresses to assess the future possibilities of English in India, in sociological terms.

Keywords: English, British rule, caste distinctions, class markers, egalitarian society