What are the various facets of English Literary studies in India?

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lprono's profile pic

lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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With the rise of postcolonial theory, Indian scholars began to question the ideology behind the study of English literature in India. Gauri Viswanathan, for example, argues that "the humanistic functions traditionally associated with the study of literature," such as the development of the aesthetic sense or ethical thinking, are also "essential to the process of sociopolitical control". Following this line of enquiry, Indian scholars are trying to "decolonise" English literary studies. As Nilanshu Agarwal puts it

One of the major issues discussed is that in the interpretation of English literary texts, we should come out of colonial mindset. In the dissection of the text readers, teachers, students and researchers should not employ Western critical tools like catharsis, fancy, imagination, Impressionism, Expressionism, new criticism, formalism, structuralism, neo-historicism, post-structuralism, deconstruction and reader response theory etc. Rather Indian critical theories like Rasa, Alamkara, Dhwani and Vakrokti should be employed for the close analysis of the English texts.

Agarwal also asks interesting questions as to the relevance that certain Britsh authors bear to the Indian context and whether it would be more productive to remove them from an Indian curriculum and replace them with regional Indian writers translated into English. 

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ac12's profile pic

ac12 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Based on syllabi alone, British literature is still an important part of the curriculum of most Literature programs in India, both in high schools and in institutions of higher education. This is especially the case in government-run schools and universities since the syllabi at these institutions are set by the central government. Non-British authors are few and far between--the Literature examination for civil servants, for example, includes only British writers with the (somewhat arbitrary) exception of Mark Twain (American) and Henrik Ibsen (Norwegian).

Gauri Vishwanathan's Masks of Conquests: Literary Study and British Rule in India (1990) was the first major work to question the relevance of teaching nineteenth century British literature in twentieth (and twenty-first) century India. Since the publication of her book and since the rise of subaltern and postcolonial studies, there has been at least some shift in the way literature is studied in India. Unfortunately, most public institutions have been slow to respond to this change in trends; private universities and schools, however, have faculty who conduct research in—and teach—a much wider array of sub-topics within literature, including world literature and also a range of theoretical approaches to literary texts (i.e. Postcolonial Theory and Queer Theory).