Migration resulted in loss of their language: Prof Pritam Singh
Amritsar, August 24
Of all castes we have in India, it is the Dalits who were the most affected in terms of cultural identity by migration, both during the Partition and after the Independence. What we call the Dalit consciousness is nothing but chronicling of the exploitation they were subjected to by the so-called upper caste people, said Prof Pritam Singh, a renowned writer and visiting scholar at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, in an interaction with Sumail Singh in a web lecture organised by Majha House here on Monday.
The lecture was part of a series of such talks centred around the theme of Punjabi identity in the global perspective. Prof Singh said: “The cultural identity is affected by many factors, both internal and external. I have delineated several such factors that affect identity, these are economic status, caste, gender, societal faultlines, ecology and language.” Talking about language, he said it was one of the most important factors which affected one’s identity as people saw language as an identifying unit and it had affected the cultural identity of Dalits the most because of high levels of migration among the community that results in loss of language.
Recalling his teaching experience at Oxford, he said: “I was told that there were some twenty odd students studying Punjabi language, and almost all of them were from the Dalit background.” He shared that they were at a loss when it came to language because they could not speak in their own language with anyone and had to learn to speak in English so as to be understood by others.
“Migration to the UK had cost them their language, which they saw as a loss or at least an erosion of their identity,” he said. He also spoke on the shift in the choice of languages. “While in India, English is now seen as the most important language and the language of the elite; in the earlier times in England, it was the language of peasants and the elites conversed in ‘superior’ languages such as Latin,” he said.
Our notion of identity kept changing and evolving with changes and shifts in our socio-cultural constructions, he said. “If we move up the ladder of success and become affluent, our identity changes in subtle ways; if we move from one country to another, or even from one state to another, our identity changes; if we discard one language and choose another, our identity transforms,” Prof Singh said. Preeti Gill, founder, Majha House, said: “Since August is the month of the Independence, we have dedicated all our sessions to exploring and talking about subjects related to freedom. Identity, a complex issue, is also affected by the Independence and migration, and today (on Monday), Prof Singh talked about Punjabi Identity, its meaning and how the language sees changes with migration.”