ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Multilingual formation of “Nation” in India and perils of monolingual identity politics


Jha Sushil - Washington University in St Louis, Comparative Literature, st louis, United States


32 – Dynamics of Language Diversity, Multilingual Identities and Linguistic Nationalism in South Asia


 This paper aims to trace the multilingual formation of the idea of “nation” in India through the novels and dangers of idea of idea in monolingual terms. The idea of “nation” as a motherland prescribed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Bangla novel “Anandmath (1882)” to the conflicting nationalistic debates in Rabindranath Tagore’s” Ghare Baire” (Home and the World, 1916) shows that the idea of Indian nation was prevalent in languages other than predominant Hindi or English. Later authors writing in English such as Mulk Raj Anand (Untouchables, 1936), R.K. Narayan (Malgudi days), Raja Rao (Kanthapura), Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children) and others discuss nation in their English novels. Parallel to these, the notion of Nation was also present in Hindi, Urdu, Marathi and southern languages novels in the post-independence period.

The Indian nation is not a monolithic idea as propagated by the nationalist political party in the recent times with the propagation of “one nation one language.” This monolithic imagery of Hindi speaking India comes from the fact that Hindi was created as a nationalist language to unite against colonial power. It failed to unite the country on the linguistic basis as attempts to make Hindi the national language was thwarted after independence.

The paper will focus on Bangla texts (in English translation) of Tagore and Chatterjee tracing how the concept of nation and nationalism shaped towards the end of 19th century.