Vernacular Publics and Political Modernity: Language and Progress in Colonial South India
Mantena, Rama Sundari
PublisherCambridge University Press
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The late-nineteenth century in India, usually scrutinized for the emergence of anti-colonial nationalist thought and politics, witnessed broader, and potentially more radical changes in the making and re-making of political subjectivities as articulated within burgeoning vernacular public spheres. Vernacular publics coalesced around the emergence of new communicative forms, the formation of voluntary and political associations, and the restructuring of literary communities. It is within this context I place the writings of Gidugu Venkata Ramamurti (1863-1940). He proclaimed at the turn of the twentieth century that Telugu as a language had to be reformed in order for it to become an appropriate medium for the newly emergent Telugu public spheres. Through his study of linguistics, his commitment to educational reform, and his study of Telugu language and literature, Ramamurti became the spokesperson for a new Telugu that would be able to traverse the boundaries of modern genres of writing that flourished in the colonial era. Fully immersed in linguistic theories of the day, Ramamurti's concerns were primarily with language reform and its centrality in the remaking of political subjectivities. 'In this era there is an important challenge facing us. There is no Telugu word for 'challenge,' nevertheless, the word, 'dhikaaramu' or defiance, comes close. For that reason, I am calling this era, 'dhikaara yugamu,' the age of defiance. In the past, society was divided between free people and the enslaved. Soon, the enslaved defied the power of the free and freed themselves. In the past, women were not allowed to be educated nor were they allowed to work. Now they are asking themselves why they were not considered more productive in society? These days, women are performing all kinds of work....Until recently, in most countries the wealthy held power. And now the poor are challenging the power of the rich'.