The British first arrived in India in the early 1600’s as traders and by the 1760’s they were effectively controlling most parts of the country. Initially there were no official attempts to force the language on the masses but by the 1700’s it became the language of administration and the educated Indians. Since then English has infiltrated Indian culture and has positioned itself at the heart of India.
Although approximately only 4% of the Indian population use English in their daily life, it has become a dominant language in India with it being widely used in the media, higher education and government. With the growing popularity of an English-medium education and the high demand for English literature in colleges it has become a symbol of Elitism. At a time like this it is important to be reminded of writers like Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand who have hugely contributed to the rich landscape of Indian Literature.
Munshi Premchand was a modern Hindi-Urdu writer who’s been regarded as one of the foremost Hindustani writers of the early 20th century. He has made extraordinary contributions in establishing realism in his novels and short stories as opposed to the romanticism that was prevalent in literature during that time. His work largely deals with the problems of the poor and the urban-middle class and seeks to expose the difference in class and caste.
Since Premchand wrote during the early 1900’s, while India was still under the rule of the British, his works reflected the colonial oppression faced by the Indians. Karmabhoomi is one such novel where Premchand critiques British intervention into Indian politics. Premchand addresses the British policy of divide and rule and how the English education drove a wedge between the Hindu and the Muslim communities. This is especially relevant today because of the constant atmosphere of antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Raam janmabhumi-Babri Masjid conflict and more recently the communal violence in Basirhat are examples of the tension that still exists between the two communities.
Another important issue that Premchand explores in his work is the class oppression faced by poor farmers. Godaan is one such novel where Premchand talks about the issue of exploitation of the poor farmers by the rich zamindars. This also is very relevant today because of the dire condition of the farmers of India. Last week the Lucknow Police arrested two people, including a local leader of the Samajwadi party, for dumping unsold potatoes outside Yogi Adityanath’s residence. “We are getting Rs. 3-4 per quintal from the ‘mandis’ while we want Rs. 10 per quintal. What else do we do when our pleas are falling on deaf ears,” a farmer told the IANS. This incident reflects the disparity of income between the poor farmers and the wealthy middle men.
Therefore in a society where the English language is slowly encroaching upon other Indian regional languages, it is important to remember and read the works of writers like Munshi Premchand whose social commentary is still relevant today in 2018.