Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ngugi wa Thiongo in his essay “Language of African Literature”, exhorts to resurrect all African languages in order to reclaim native cultures that belong to the peasant and working class as a strategy against the cultural imperialism of Europe and America. For this he asks the African writers who use English, French and other European languages as their media of expression, to renounce this tradition and displace it with the kaleidoscopic cultures of native languages. Though a powerful and urgent proposition there are certain drawbacks in it, one of them being his total un-observance of gender inequality both with in a pre–colonial culture/language and in the context of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Another drawback in his proposition is that he doesn’t find it necessary to represent Africa in English once Africa is free from neo-colonialism and attains self-sufficiency in it s economic, political, social and cultural realms. He refuses to see that even if Africa attains political and economical freedom, Europe and America can continue to represent Africa in lines of “geniuses of racism” as a Rider Haggard or a Nicholas Monsarrat .There for an absolute of his proposition will take away from Africa the vantage point from which it could “confront the racist bigotry of Europe” in its own languages.
Ngugi begins his argument by questioning the conceptualization of African writers who use English as their medium, specifically of those, who had gathered for ‘A Conference of African Writers of English Expression’ at Marekere University College, Kampala, Uganda. He asks, how writings produced in the language of the colonizer can be considered as African literature. He terms this category as ‘Afro-European literature’- that is, the literature written by Africans in European languages, in the era of imperialism. Therefore, he finds it necessary to produce writings in African languages alone.
Further, he elaborates the need to reconnect the African with ‘his’ mother tongue. It arises from the fact that imperialism severed the link between the African and his native language. He illustrates the process of “colonial alienation”, from his own experience as a colonized Kenyan child.
In 1952 after the declaration of the state of emergency over Kenya the colonial regime took over all the schools run by the patriotic nationalists and imposed English as the language of formal education. This displaced Gikuyu, a Kenyan native language and severe punishment was given to students who spoke Gikuyu, their language. The Kenyan children underwent a traumatic experience due to this atrocity unleashed by the colonial regime:
Thus one of the most humiliating experiences was to be caught speaking Gikuyu in the vicinity of the school. The culprit was given given corporal punishment – three to five strokes of the cane on bare buttocks – or was made to carry a metal plate around the neck with inscriptions such as I AM STUPID or I AM DONKEY. Sometimes the culprits were fined money they could hardly afford.
This resulted in alienating Kenyan children from their language and their culture, and they were forced to identify themselves with that of an alien language. Ngugi also points out that learning for a colonial child became a cerebral activity and not an emotionally felt experience. Here he might run the risk of equating native language with emotion and colonizer’s language with intellect (similar to the equation drawn by Raja Rao in his forward to Kanthapura). But this is the way a colonised subject felt when the colonizer’s language (that had no connection with his immediate reality community, home etc…) was suddenly imposed upon her/him. The harmony between the language at home and its extended community, and the language at school was broken with the imposition of the colonizer’s language. Thus the qualification of one’s mother tongue as emotional is to point out how crucial was their language to their lived realities. Ngugi defines the colonizer’s logic of imposing their language:
In my view language was the most important vehicle through which that power fascinated and held the soul prisoner. …Language was the means of the spiritual subjugation.
Note the tying up of “power” with transcendental notions like “soul” and “spiritual”. However his argument is lucid when he refers to this “spiritual subjugation” as a “psychological violence”, it is clearly an attack on the mind, the intellect. Colonialism equated English with knowledge and native language was associated with negative qualities of backwardness, under development, humiliation and punishment. Here he enunciates those double facets of discourse: power and knowledge.
Another case for reviving native languages is that African writers who wrote in English where unable to communicate their message (though of African content like “sharp critique of European Bourgeois civilization”) by the very choice of their language. The representation of African culture created through such writing remains inaccessible to sections of peasantry and the working class, because they are in European languages. Though this retaliatory representation has acted as counter –discourses of imperialism, Ngugi sees them as literature that “added confidence to the petty-bourgeoisie class”. Because fruits of Africa’s independence were predominantly enjoyed by this class which in politics, business and education was assuming leadership of the countries newly emergent from colonialism. He notes that initially (in the post war era of anti imperial upheaval) their literature drew its stamina from the peasantry: Their oral heritage had brilliant representation. The reluctance of African writers to write in African languages is symptomatic of the gradual exclusion of peasantry and working class from political and economical activities.
Ngugi also analyzes the distinct approaches of working class and peasantry and, the comprador bourgeoisie in restructuring European languages. He identifies that the former Africanised the language of the master, without any respect for its ancestry shown by Senghor and Achebe, so totally as to have created new African languages, like Krio in Sierra Leone or Pidgin in Nigeria, that owed their identities to the syntax and rhythms of African languages.
These are the valid points of his argument that make his resolution a promising one. However, as stated earlier his proposal is flawed because of two reasons- (i) his construction of a glorious African language/culture that fails to include gender discrimination within its fold. (ii) his proposition for the complete removal of European languages from Africa, thereby causing a handicap in its international politics of all kinds.
He continues with the conceptual frame work of nation as woman ,the native tongue as mother and he refers to the colonized child as “he”. Above all, the capacity of language to misrepresent, silence and erase the gendered other is not addressed. (Such a language is inappropriate for gendered subjects unless it is radically reworked. Thus in his proposal to reclaim a culture through the revival of a language, he has actually wiped out half of its humanity.)This is in part due to his Marxist conceptualization of language as the relations people enter into with one another in the labour process. The understanding of the “relations” among people is not a nuanced one, it basically revolves around the theme of “production”. He does not perceive language as primarily an epistemology. It is not that he is oblivious to language’s capability to produce culture, with its moral, ethical and aesthetic values. But his analysis seems to present the cultural aspect as a separate category.
Another reason for his configuration of an unproblematic heritage is the necessity for a counter discourse in his confrontation with imperialism (whose epistemological violence on Africa produced a grotesque history and culture).And the foregrounding of “production” in the evolution of language is a reflection of his pro-proletariat stance which in turn is a double-edged sword that targets the economic,political and social policies of imperialism(especially in its neo-colonialist presence) and comprador nationalism.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Does Mulkraj Anand recognize “something Mephistophelean”

Mulk Raj Anand through his novel Untouchable realizes “the pains,frustrations and aspirations”[Dhawan,R.K.ed.The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand(New york:Prestige,1992)]of a depressed class of people called Untouchables with the simultaneous display of assault and abuse practiced by caste Hindus upon this exploited class. The three solutions for their exploitation as posited by the novel are the rhetoric of Colonel Hutchinson(the Christian Missionary),Mahatma Gandhi,and the poet Iqbal Nath Sarshar .The attempt of this paper is to discover the extend to which Anand criticizes Gandhi for his perspectives regarding “Harijans”.

The one particular feature of his representation of Gandhi is that he hardly tries to analyse the motives and effects of Gandhian policies. Never does the narrator emerge as a direct commentator on

Gandhi's “politics of piety”[Mani,Braj Ranjan,Debrahmanising History(Deilhi:Manohar Publishers.2005)].The reader can only assume that the self-emancipatory method professed by Gandhi to liberate the “lowered” caste[(ibid);I think the adjective is more relevant and appropriate than the usual 'lower caste'] is impractical,insufficient and inappropriate keeping in mind the former part of the narrative that lists the discriminatory practices against Bakha and his likes,their limited opportunities and the limited social space alloted to them that cripple any form of self-assertion or even an attempt to articulate their grievance .One could also read between the lines comparing Gandhi's exhortation to the 'Untouchables' for their moral up-gradation and the poet's practical suggestion to implement the flush system. But an artistic critical advance might be seen as Anand describes Gandhi's physical features as a hypothetical observer

There was a quixotic smile on his thin lips,something Mephistophelean in the determined little

chin(Page 133)

For the purpose of indirect criticism he uses characters like Iqbal Nath Sarshar the editor of “NawanJug” and R.N.Bashir the barrister who has just returned from England. The latter's charge that Gandhi is a hypocrite dies down to a hypocritical bunk for he despises Bakha as a “black man”and acts bossy towards him while giving a pompous lecture about “democracy”.And the poet's vague and generalized statement of disapproval-He (Gandhi)has his limits- is preceded by an equally sweeping statement that reckons Gandhi as “the greatest liberating force of our age”(Page142).

The instance where the “jat rustic”is apprehensive about the unbridled power of “independent”Panchayats as they seem to be instruments to “bring pressure upon the village menials”can be considered an antithesis to Gandhi's suggestion to avoid going to the British Courts of Justice. It is to be noted that here Gandhi's stance is only reflected in the peasant's anxiety and is not mentioned in Gandhi's speech. Furthermore the reason for the bewilderment experienced by both Bakha and the peasant is left unclear-if it is a response necessitated by the liberal humanist “grand narrative”of the babu or a possible outcome of their “naive”selves. The latter possibility cannot be dismissed since the entire narrative is punctuated by mappings of Bakha's naivety.

Now we shall look at the crucial issues that are not discussed or analyzed by Anand with regard to Gandhi's political schemes. Anand allocates a part of the narrative for Gandhi's speech that more or less sums up his political strategies regarding “Harijans”.

Gandhi vehemently says that 'Untouchables' “claim” to be Hindus and they read “scriptures”.Though Anand has already explored Bakha's alienation with respect to Hindu religion and discussed his educational backwardness there is no active interrogation of Gandhi's 'claim' that characterises the 'outcaste' people as those with a desire to be counted as Hindus. What remains forgotten is the probability that there might be lowered castes who did not want to be considered as Hindus.The question that remains unanswered is that if lowered castes are not provided education and are banned from reading scriptures why does Gandhi claim that they read scriptures.(Harijans who had certain educational opportunities could have got this possibility,but Anand does not mention the predicament and the possibilities represented by the educated Harijans)Though no clear-cut answer is provided in the novel it would be useful to read Gandhi's outlook that the government tried to alienate (them)from Hinduism by giving them a separate legal and political status.(Page136)along with it.

Anand does not discuss the possibilities offered by “separate electorates”but only gives Gandhi's oppositional view point. Surprisingly Ambedkar the champion of the Dalits(who had demanded for 'separate electorates') and his policies do not appear as an counter point.The scheme of separate electorate had the potential to offer a separate social identity for the 'Untouchables' that would inturn help them in “claiming and gaining special protection”[Mani,Braj Ranjan,Debrahmanising History(Delhi:Manohar Publishers,2005)]

Gandhi reiterates the fact that for him the question of these people is moral and religious(Page136). But he also says that “swaraj” will be attained only when untouchability is removed. How can a problem that is marked as moral and religious become political and national once it is solved?Anand does not question Gandhi's vague claims. He does not present Gandhi's anxiety to present the untouchability problem as an exclusively Hindu affair as a problematic one. Gandhi discouraged the caste-oppressed and social activists who were fighting for the untouchables' right for temple entry during the Vaikkom temple agitation of the 1920s. He emphasized that “Hindus(alone should) do the work”[Menon,Dilip,Caste,Nationalism and Communism in South India:Malabar 1900-1948(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,1994)]Moreover his reluctance in giving authentic rights to the 'untouchables' is reflected in his observation that untouchability is the greatest blot on Hinduism (Page137)again singling it out as a religious problem that should be rectified through the initiatives of caste Hindus .In the Harijan of 23 February 1934 Gandhi wrote:

I have absolutely no desire that the temple should be opened to Harijans,until caste Hindu opinion is ripe for the opening. It is not a question of Harijans asserting their right of temple entry or claiming it.

Further Gandhi asserts that reading of scriptures would reveal the fact that Hindu religion is faultless(Pages 138,139) in that the scriptures as such do not advocate untouchability or discrimination of any sort.In Bhagwan Buddha:Jeevan aur Darshan, Kosambi says

We hear from the mouth of Krishna himself (9.32):'For those who take refuge in Me ,be they even of the sinful breeds such as women,vaishyas and shudras......'That is,all women and all men of the working and producing classes are defiled by their very birth ,though they may in after-life be freed by

their faith in the god who degrades them so casually in this one.

It is important to note that Ambedkar and many lowered caste scholars were critical of the epistemological violence propagated through scriptures and their interpretations.

The critical silence that Anand maintains at many junctures may also be due to his own diagnosis of casteism as a profession-oriented problem though one cannot say that it is narrator's voice that gets expressed through the poet's suggestion. But there is a seeming legitimacy accorded to the poet's practical suggestion. Bakha hopes to meet the poet and ask about the machine whereas Gandhi appears as a moral support to him. Iqbal Nath also says that he accepts the machine though in this regard he does go against Gandhi. This may also be read as one of Gandhi's “limits”,his reluctance in accepting modern machineries.

Altogether Anand's view regarding Gandhi's politics is at times ambiguous,though there are ventures to see the deficiencies in Gandhian strategies .Besides, the juxtaposition of Bakha's real life experiences and Gandhi's utopian rhetoric presents a possibility of recognizing the ideological nuances in his speech. Still the onus of criticizing Gandhian approach and nationalist approach to the problem of untouchability rests on the reader.