Why do Bengalis living outside Bengal still speak Bengali?

Justice Markandey Katju-

Bengalis whose forefathers left Bengal several generations ago ( many over 100-200 years ago ) still speak Bengali ( apart from English and Hindi ), whereas my ancestor left Kashmir about 200 years back and I can’t speak Kashmiri ( which is totally different from Hindi ). Tamilians and people of other states often speak their native language even when they live outside their state of origin, but that is because their forefathers shifted outside their native state only recently ( 20-25 years back ).

Some people say it is because Bengalis are fanatics when it comes to their language, but that is a facetious argument. To understand the real reason one has to delve into history.

The first big British base in India was in Bengal after the battles of Plassey ( 1757 ) and Buxar ( 1764 ) when the ‘Diwani’ of Bengal was granted to the British by the Mughal Emperor by the Treaty of Allahabad in 1765. Before that the British had only been merchants, but by that grant, the British became rulers of Bengal.

From Bengal, British expansionism began westwards and southwards until British rule gradually encompassed the whole of India.

Now wherever the British armies went the civil administration was established. This required a lot of native clerks, low-ranking officials, and commissariat staff who knew English, the language of the rulers.

Bengalis were the first people in India who had learned English. This was because the first big British base in India was in Bengal, and this resulted in Bengalis being the first people in India to come into contact with the British in a big way, and learn their language e.g. Raja Ram Mohan Roy ( 1772-1833 ).

Due to their knowledge of English, Bengalis were in great demand by the Britishers outside Bengal wherever the British armies went and a civil administration was established. A ruler wants intermediaries between himself and the local people, and these intermediaries were the Bengalis, who were initially clerks and low-rank officials in the British Empire ( later, of course, their descendants became University Professors, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and even High Court judges and ICS officers ).

Wherever British rule was established ( particularly in North India ) a mini Calcutta quickly sprang up in the cities, i.e. a colony of hundreds of Bengalis living in close proximity. For instance, George Town and Lukerganj in Allahabad were predominantly Bengali localities for quite some time ( though now things have changed ).

In a locality where a hundred or more families living close to each other speak Bengali, it is obvious that the children will also speak Bengali ( though in addition, they could speak Hindi, the local language, and English, which they learned in school.

This did not usually happen with other communities who had migrated outside their native state. For instance, my ancestor Pt Mansa Ram Katju was a Kashmiri Pandit who had migrated from Kashmir about 200 years ago with his wife and his wife’s brother Bhola Nath Dar and his wife, to a princely state called Jaora ( in western Madhya Pradesh ) where he got employment in the service of the Nawab of Jaora. For several generations, my family lived in Jaora in the Nawab’s service, until my grandfather Dr KN Katju shifted to Allahabad to start law practice there.

Now Pt Mansa Ram Katju and his wife and her brother and his wife would be knowing the Kashmiri language, but they were the only Kashmiri speaking people in Jaora. Since people in Jaora spoke Hindi, the children of Pt Mansa Ram and Bhola Nath Dar probably could understand Kashmiri ( since their parents spoke it ) but they probably could not speak it fluently ( except a few sentences ) as the environment was of Hindi speakers, and they too started speaking Hindi fluently.

Their children ( i.e. Mansa Ram’s and Bhola Nath’s grandchildren ) probably could neither understand nor speak Kashmiri ( except a few stray sentences ). Probably the same happened to other Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated from Kashmir 150-200 years ago.

Thus the Kashmiri language died out in 2 generations amongst the Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated then from Kashmir ( it is still spoken by those who remained behind in Kashmir until the exodus of the 1990s ), because there were no large Kashmiri speaking localities at one place. In the cities to which Kashmiri Pandits went, there were just a handful of Kashmiri speaking Kashmiris, and their descendants could only speak Hindi ( which was spoken all around ) and English (which they learned in school)

But the situation of Bengalis who had left Bengal was different. Since they lived in large congregations of Bengalis in cities where many people spoke Bengali, their children could also speak Bengali ( in addition to Hindi and English ).

This is why Bengalis still speak Bengali, although their ancestors had migrated from Bengal 200 years ago.