Vivek Narayan suggests that my article is a ploy to prevent the economically and socially disadvantaged from acquiring the means to escape their oppression. First, my article was about a context where almost everything that is produced in languages other than English (dialects or the languages that displace them) is assigned a lower value. This assertion derives from an understanding of historical and social factors. Second, the article was a plea against linguistic mono-culturalism, rather than an argument for depriving Dalits and other disadvantaged groups from learning English. Third, it sought to argue against any particular language becoming a gatekeeping mechanism such that only those with English-language skills are allowed “in.” What is to say that those who do not speak the language cannot — if required — learn it on the job? Why posit it as a prerequisite for a position? Using language to measure competence is soul destroying because it undervalues human capacities through positioning linguistic competence as intelligence. This, in turn, creates a catch-22 situation that disenfranchises the already disadvantaged: you are disqualified from a good job because you don’t have the language skills and yet such skills can best be acquired through having a good job.
(Sanjay Srivastava is a professor of sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.)