Digital colonisation: Are we still accepting the dominance of English, at the cost of our local languages?

The dominance of the English language over Indian web space is making the regional languages suffer.

Internet as a technology is seen with great optimism when it comes to the development of the world. Since 2016, the number of Indian internet users more than doubled, from 342 million in 2016 to 697 million in 2020. All thanks to Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio who provided fast and cheap cellular data to almost every Indian. Also, with the availability of Indian and Chinese smartphones at low prices, the new data plans suddenly made internet access affordable to the vast population of the country. 

With so much presence of Indians on the internet, the country’s webspace is still dominated by American companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. This dominance of foreign companies on the Indian internet is creating a kind of digital hegemony ultimately leading us towards ‘digital colonisation’. However, there is another aspect to this digital colonisation that often goes noticed and that’s the dominance of the English language over Indian web space.

Now here comes a point to think: Have you ever thought that because of the dominance of the English language on the Indian internet, regional languages of the country are suffering the most?

After India gained independence from the Britishers, we slowly came in the term with the fact that we cannot opt for one national language at the cost of other regional languages. Then why is it so that English is gaining aspirational value today, despite the fact that it is not a language spoken by everyone in the country?

What is digital colonisation?

Under classic colonialism, Europeans deprived native people of their land, exploited their labour, exercised governance, and perpetuated dependency and plunder through strategic underdevelopment. Corporations like the East India Company played a pivotal role in this process. In their pursuit of profit and power, Europeans took ownership and control of critical infrastructure, including ports, waterways, and railroads.

Let’s not forget that be it the British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, or Spanish, they all initially entered the countries that they later colonised to do business. It was only gradually that they extended their business interests and started intervening in governance, eventually taking complete control over the countries.

Colonising a country no longer requires its physical invasion with military strength or so but can simply be done by controlling activities through networks and databases with a single click or by simply using the power of a language.

Similar to the age-old colonisation, digital colonisation is deep-rooted in the design of the tech ecosystem for the purposes of profit and plunder by foreign power. Today, in most countries including India, the English language has created its dominance. And to no one surprise countries like ours are, accepting the language dominance, but still, there are countries like China, Japan and some European nations, where native languages dominate over English. 

For instance – The Chinese-controlled internet is already a world apart from that used by the rest of the globe. They use the Chinese language on internet and also the government of China blocks the netizens in China from accessing many of the apps and websites used and developed in other parts of the world. Chinese people mostly use apps made in China and avoid the usage of other online applications. Another example of dominance of English in the Indian computing systems can be well explained by comparing Indian laptops to Japanese laptops. The keyboard layout of Japanese laptop will be typically in native Japanese, while most laptops in India have an English QWERTY keyboard.

English language is taking over the Internet:

Raise your hand, if also think that English has become the official language of the Internet.  Most of the Websites are available only in English. The English-speaking United States dominates in active Internet users, e-commerce, Internet advertising, and almost everything. English language is quite literally taking over the planet. English is everywhere, it dominates.

But this is a worrying situation especially when it comes to India as we give a lot of importance to this foreign language, conveniently forgetting our own Indian languages. India is a country who is known for its diversity, whether its people, culture or language. It, therefore, becomes highly important for us to protect our regional languages. Our culture is connected to our language, so there’s one thing that’s clear that if we want to protect our culture, we have no option of losing our regional languages.

Regional language content rules OTT platforms in India:

There has been immense internet penetration in India in recent years. The popularity of OTT platforms is no secrete in India. Indians are crazy when it comes to movies and online web series. With the acceptance of OTT platforms in India, the demand for online regional content has also grown. These online platforms are not only useful in spreading the availability of regional content but have also created their demand.

When it comes to watching OTT shows, India does not conform to stereotypes. According to a report, contrary to popular perception, regional content contributes to more than 40 percent video consumption, with Tamil, Telugu, and Bengali topping regional language viewing patterns. Platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix are dubbing their shows in different Indian languages to have a greater outreach. India has also seen a number of new promising platforms with regional content coming up in recent times.

The regional content should be watched and promoted with the help of these platforms to spread the Indian regional content in various parts of the world. Let the world know that regional content is equally capable of applaud when compared to English content. Let us all take our step towards digital equality.

Author: Mahima Joshi

Mahima Joshi is a writer at The Wonk. She is a postgraduate in Journalism, who is just curious about everything that is happening around. She is an enthusiastic reader especially concerning gender dynamics in mythological stories.

One thought

  1. Much better article than the 1 written a day later by The Indian Express – Digital colonisation: How Indian languages lost out to English on the internet

Leave a Reply