Interrogating English Studies in India

Conference organized by Department of English, Bharati College, University of Delhi, in association with FORTELL, supported by ICSSR and Sahitya Akademi.

(5th-7th Feb, 2014)

The conference was a three day event and the Principal and Convenor, Dr. Promodini Varma delivered the welcome address in which she highlighted the urgency of rethinking the objectives of English studies in India, given the contemporary scenario of technological advancement and the changing needs of the student in the class. Prof. Ania Loomba delivering the keynote address, “English vs. Literature” underlined the difference between English studies and English literature studies since the latter conveyed dominant ideologies. She mulled upon the fact that India has become a “graveyard of languages”, as asserted by Prof G.N Devy and focused on the variety of languages in India since many were “dying” due to the lack of representation.

Susie Tharu’s paper “Beyond Curricular Change” argued that universities were closed systems where the Dalits faced extreme marginalization. She raised the question of caste and bolstered her argument with her practical experiences and the need for pedagogic strategies to give the minorities an equal status especially in the representation of their literature. Prof. Rukmini Bhaya Nair’s “Talking back to Technology” focused on the role of technology in the construction of language and placed it in the context of modernity. Prof. Svati Joshi’s paper, “English Studies in the Time of Globalization” made the point that the growing economies of the globe were displaying fascist tendencies and concealed a fundamentalist agenda in the garb of technocratic achievements and developments. Prof. Simi Malhotra’s paper “Recasting Theory: Challenges for English Studies in India Today” made the point that literature, being a site of dominance, encapsulates political motives and that such politics through texts in classrooms had both a politicizing and de-politicizing effect. Focusing on the dominance of theory, which compromised the other aspects of literature; she spoke about the need to focus on the “re-territorialization” of theory.

There were a series of papers that focused on the pedagogical issues related to the teaching of English. Prof. Rama Mathew, from the Department of Education, Delhi University expressed her concern over the lack of teacher training of teachers of English and the need to introduce ELT (English Language Teaching) courses at the graduate and post-graduate level. The other papers ranged from teaching Basic English to employees working in MNCs to the digitization of English studies. The debates between the importance of regional languages, Indian Writing in English and the questioning of the “master’s” language as English, were also amongst the issues discussed. These tensions were highlighted in the papers presented by the Bharati College students, Heer Menon and Shiffani Reffai. The former focused on the “Englishness” of the curriculum in the Department of English in Delhi University and the latter focused on the effect of “neo- colonialism” in terms of English language studies. A survey of the Bharati College students regarding their views about the nature of English courses and their preferences was analyzed in a joint paper presented by some of the Bharati College teachers in the Department of English.

The main attraction of the Conference was an interactive session with the two stalwarts from the world of fiction, namely, the Marathi and English playwright, Kiran Nagarkar (Sahitya Akademi awardee for Cuckold ) and Siddharth Chowdhury who was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize (also known for his famous book, The Day Scholar). It was an interesting session with the audience where the questions ranged from their writing careers to their personal life. There were also a few budding student writers who were inspired to take up writing as a profession and hence looked for some useful tips from the authors.

The conference ended with a wide range of issues related to English studies in India and also widened our knowledge about scope of the subject.

Anavisha Banerjee

Anavisha Banerjee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Bharati College (Delhi University). She is pursuing her PhD from University of Delhi.