Should progressive writers support language & cultural puritanism? (Daily Times)


By Babar Ayaz

The last 25 years have recorded the fastest growth in science and technology in human history. It is generally acknowledged that in the post Second World War period science and technology has developed more than the 5000 years preceding it. But in this fast changing world many of the progressive writers it seems are still stuck in the 1917 Soviet Revolution ideological time-warp.

Most left intellectuals may consider this a blasphemous statement. But while attending events of the left movement this is one such observation that is death to hide. The urge to raise some questions became stronger while attending the Progressive Writers Association of India (PWA) Platinum Jubilee celebrations in Delhi, recently.

As I had the opportunity of attending the Golden Jubilee Conference in Luckhnow, the first thing which struck me was that the Indian intellectuals are still debating as to what is the link language of India? While the North India writers insist that Hindi is the link language, their counterparts from the South say that English is the lingua franca. Now if the forum on which it is being debated is that of ethno-linguistic nationalists one can understand the diversity of the views, but such a debate should have been wrapped up by the progressives long ago. In Pakistan progressive writers have assigned the lingua franca role to Urdu and all other major languages are given equal status of the national language. This view is at times challenged by some narrow-minded Urdu supporters. The progressive writers had always maintained that Urdu does not need its over-zealous supporters. It is the language of the ‘bazaar’ across the country from Karachi to Siachen and is growing by adopting more English words than Arabic and Persian as attempted by its pundits. Move to borrow from old Sindhi and Sanskrit by Sindhi writers also failed to get popular support.

In India the supporters of Hindi and even some progressive writers have gone a step ahead. In 1986 speeches made in Hindi at the Luckhnow conference, which was chaired by Kaifi Azmi, were easy to understand. In 2012 April the ‘Sanskritised Hindi’ spoken by many Hindi writers was so difficult that many Indian students and writers of other languages found it hard to digest. Hindi journalist Sanjiv Upadhyaya narrated an interesting anecdote: “I asked the auto driver (Rickshaw) to take me to ‘Kendriya Sachivalya’ and he refused saying that he does not know where it is. When I told him how come you don’t know the Central Secretariat, he said tou Hindi may bolo na.” So the Hindi of Hindi movies and the street is likely to continue growing naturally. All doctored movements to make it difficult with Sanskritisation by some hard core intellectuals are not likely to be popular.

Professor V. N. Tripathi in his speech called for maintaining the purity of language and culture of India in the wake of a globalization onslaught. Now this narrative needs to be debated by the progressive intellectuals. The questions that I want to leave here for the experts are: Should language and cultural puritanism be supported in complete disregard of the fact that their organic growth to meet the social and economic changes is necessary?  Has deliberate Sanskritisation of Hindu and Arabanisation of Urdu been successful? Is culture a static thing which can be protected from the influences of the economically developed societies’ culture? Isn’t culture and language considered as a super-structure of the economic structure of the society? Are we taking into account that the culture of invaders of any country mixed with the local culture always presented a synthesis? Isn’t it a fact that in the 21st century the information democratization has brought the winds of distant lands in our sitting and bed rooms thanks to television and internet?

All these questions need to be discussed and debated by the anthropologists, sociologists and economists so that our literary writers have a better understanding on how to analyse a social change. Progressive Writers’ movement has played a positive role in the sub-continent in creating awareness among the people against social and economic inequalities, conservatism, communal and caste hatred and has always promoted humanism. But it is about time that PWA should not be treated as a literary writers association only.  Its expanse should include progressive social scientists, so that the debate is enriched with scientific thinking.  

In the absence of progressive interpretation of social and economic changes and technological revolution, most of the debate on the globalization in the progressive writers circle is not much different than what is being said by the reactionary religious parties. The negation of human progress and process of dialectical development of society with the difference of progressive and religious semantics is not going to help the people. The people whose cause all progressive and religious parties say they are pleading. The litmus test for sifting the good influences from bad impact should be simple. If anything contributes in reducing poverty and inequality, helps in the upward social mobility of the lower classes, helps in eliminating gender, communal, caste and class discrimination — it should not only be supported but the process should be hastened. Sweeping condemnation of globalization is simplistic and anti-people.

A re-reading of the Communist Manifesto is perhaps in order when the left sits to discuss globalisation in such conferences. Interestingly, Marx and Engels had forecast the inevitable rise of globalisation in 1948: “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguished the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed past frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. …… The need of a constantly expanding market for its production chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere.” (Read globalisation).

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of the industry the national ground on which it stood.”

“All old established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose productions are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants requiring for their satisfaction the products of different lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature ……. The cheap prices of the commodities are the heavy artillery, with which it battles down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on plain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeoisie mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

So now the question, according to political theorist Michael J. Sandal is “which frictions and barriers are mere sources of waste and inefficiency, and which are a source of identity that we should protect.” Total rejection of globalisation is irrational. Let’s leave that to religious parties and the progressive writers should not stand with them. (

  1. #1 by Harris Khalique on May 1, 2012 - 10:38 am

    Brilliant Babar Bhai

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