Importance of English in India and its Impact on Literature
English language in India has a long and early history. It started with the association of the East India Company during the reign of Mughal emperor Jahangir. Gradually the East India Company became the ruler of our country and took the entire nation under their dominance. It is during that time they realized that if English education can be initiated in India they can easily manage petty clerks for easy administration. Hence, they started opening English medium schools and colleges and laid the foundation for ICS (Indian Civil Service) examination.
Steadily English started gaining popularity in India and from the language of the classy and elites it started spreading to all sections of the society.
English as a language has highly influenced the literature of India. The history of Indian Writing in English dates to the British Raj in India. The Indian Writing in English can be compared to an old withering rhizome which has regenerated its limbs in the modern era. The new saplings are thriving with green leaves and twigs to be enjoyed by all not only in the Indian subcontinent but across the globe as well.
Toru Dutt was the first Indian poet to write in English. Poets like Henry Louis Vivian Deorzio and Sarojini Naidu highlighted patriotic sentiments in their poems. Rabindranath Tagore became the first Asian to be bestowed with Nobel Prize in the year 1913 for his magnum opus Gitanjali; a book of devotional lyrics. Tagore wrote in Bengali and himself translated the book in English. The trio- Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao and R. K. Narayan took the baton of Indian Writing in English much forward. The entry of this trio in literary scenery in India escalated the genre to great heights.
Many English newspapers like The Bengal Gazette, The Bombay Herald, The Madras Courier came to gratify the needs of the infuriated youth during the freedom struggle. These English newspapers linked the entire nation with a common feeling of national spirit and bonded them together with a common agenda of nation’s freedom.
The Indo- Anglican Literature in modern times is thrived by new and progressive minds who are creating a benchmark for themselves irrespective of cultural boundaries. These writers have successfully established themselves amongst the top class writers in the world.
The writers have brought a couple of accolades home proving the fact that Indian Writing in English is a stable and successful genre. The famous contemporary writers of this genre are Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Bharathi Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Aravind Adiga and others.
English education in India was initiated with the sole purpose of modifying British interests to inspire Indians with the western thoughts which sooner or later were meant to fortify foreign supremacy. Lord Maculay, British historian and politician strongly believed in anglicizing the education system in India. Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education published in 1835 is considered as an important account in this regard. His ideas were based on an assumption of the intrinsic authority of British ethnicity, a vital remark which is documented in Macaulay’s Minute:
“We must at present do our best to form a class of interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect (Maculay and Young 227).”
India is a land of multiple languages and this gave birth to a new literary genre where Indian writers started using the medium of English to satisfy the Indian readers and the theme and background of their works are highly indigenous.
The English language has its limitations too because as a language it is limited to the educated class. Majority of the rural population in India still uses the vernacular mode. The recent trend underlines the fact that exposure to the English language is a kind of status symbol in our country and modern parents consider it a privilege to send their children to English medium schools. Indians in spite of their efforts are still struggling to master English.
After seventy-three years of Indian independence, English language acquisition still remains a challenge in our country.
– Reshmi D C Das, AP / Humanities, BIT.