Saturday, June 16, 2012

Looking at the NCERT cartoon controversy through the prism of class

So much has been said – in English – about the lack of a sense of humour in Dravidian Tamils by reader-commenters in the English newspaper, 'The Hindu,' and commentators elsewhere.  However, few have understood how the anti-Hindi protests of 1965 aimed to bridge the gap between the socioeconomic classes by opening up access to the English language in Tamil Nadu and beyond. Fewer have connected how, by not illustrating this nuanced principle and urgent strategy for better economic prospects, the cartoon does a disservice to the protesters and to the history of Tamil Nadu . Instead, those who opened the doors are discussed, by some Tamils and non-Tamils alike, as uncouth trouble-makers with nothing more than political self-interests.  So much have we advanced since those days when English was available mostly to the elites; so much have we taken for granted the middle- and working-classes' economic potential in the English-speaking world! 

I say, let NCERT keep that cartoon in that textbook. Let us give history a chance to laugh at two Tamil leaders, Rajaji and Bhaktavatchalam, who were embarrassingly out of touch with the educational needs of the masses. I am assuming, of course, that history will give R.K. Laxman--the cartoonist who grew up in a family that mostly conversed in English--the benefit of doubt regarding awareness of class issues. I regrettably do not.

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