Cultural puritanism is not progressive | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

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Cultural puritanism is not progressive

Babar Ayaz

Has deliberate Sanskritisation of Hindi and Arabicisation of Urdu been successful? Is culture a static thing that can be protected from the influences of the economically developed societies’ culture?

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 in the 5,000 years preceding it. However, 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 observation that is difficult 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 Lucknow, the first thing that struck me was that the Indian intellectuals were still debating what was the link language of India. While the North Indian 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 a status equal to 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 overzealous supporters. It is the language of the bazaar across the country from Karachi to Siachen; it is growing by adopting more English words than Arabic and Persian, as attempted by its pundits. The 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 Lucknow conference, which was chaired by Kaifi Azmi, were easy to understand. In April 2012, 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 asked him why he did not know the Central Secretariat, he said. “To Hindi may bolo na (you should have spoken in Hindi in the first place).” It seems 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 hardcore intellectuals are not likely to be popular.

Professor V N Tripathi in his speech called for maintaining the purity of the language and culture of India in the wake of a globalisation onslaught. Now this narrative needs to be debated by 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 social and economic changes is necessary? Has deliberate Sanskritisation of Hindi and Arabicisation of Urdu been successful? Is culture a static thing that can be protected from the influences of the economically developed societies’ culture? Isn’t culture and language considered as a superstructure of the economic edifice of society? Are we taking into account that the culture of invaders of any country mixed with the local culture always presented a synthesis? Is it not a fact that in the 21st century, information democratisation has brought the winds of distant lands in our living and bed rooms, thanks to television and the internet?

All these questions need to be discussed and debated by anthropologists, sociologists and economists so that our literary writers have a better understanding of how to analyse social change. The Progressive Writers movement has played a positive role in the subcontinent in creating awareness among people against social and economic inequalities, conservatism, communal and caste hatred, and has always promoted humanism. But it is about time that the PWA should not only be treated as a literary writers association. 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 the technological revolution, most of the debate on globalisation 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 differences of progressive and religious semantics, is not going to help people whose cause, all progressive and religious parties say, they are pleading. The litmus test for sifting the good influences from bad impacts should be simple. If anything contributes to 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 globalisation 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 1848: “Constant revolutionising 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 civilised 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 bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation 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 us leave that to religious parties, and the progressive writers should not stand with them.

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