By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
On the occasion of the forthcoming celebration of Indian Independence, it is worthwhile to raise the issue of languages in Indian education and recall how a British system of education advocated by J. Macaulay in the 19th century to promote ‘… a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals, and in intellect…’ spread at the expense of traditional systems of education in gurukulas and madrassas.
Classroom-based English medium, mass-oriented education uprooted children and conditioned them into admirers of English civilization. Yet, as writer Dharampal stated in ‘The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous education in the Eighteenth century’, education in local languages compared more than favourably with that obtained in England in that time, with respect to number of schools and colleges.
The Anglophile brown sahib intellectual elite that British education engendered consciously or unconsciously gave no thought to the damages caused by a foreign language education set up by colonizers to their age-old civilization, the dignity, self-confidence and self-respect of the people. They were probably unaware or uninterested in the matter. Convent schools came to be regarded as the most valuable standard of education and crowds of success-minded middle-class parents deemed it indispensable to send their children to those schools.
Today, most of the English-medium schools across India are run by Kerala priests and nuns, supported by huge funds from Christian institutions in Europe and the US. Even today, Christian missionaries are going all out to spread English-medium schools not sparing even remote villages so that Indian children are cut off from their culture and religious moorings. It is widely admitted that the purpose of aggressive Christian institutions in educating only in English is to alienate Hindus both from their religious and cultural background.
In the process, Hindus have perpetuated the self-destruction started in the 18th century. And there is no end to the self-destruction activities of Hindus as dangerous as English language replacing Indian languages in all spheres of life. The weak national ego that resulted from the ensuing confusion and alienation is probably what prevents India from asserting itself effectively on the regional and global platform. Otherwise, why India, a country with over a billion inhabitants, a rich civilization and a glorious past except the recent 500 year history, should shy away from asserting its role in the world?
Contemporary thinkers, writers such as P.K. Varma, Gurcharan Das, essayists, swamis, social activists and civil society are raising the consciousness of the people on the need to rediscover the value of their own culture and civilization as well as to weed out the evils that have set the rot in Indian society. There is an awareness that Indian education on a borrowed English platform is incomplete without its own civilizational and philosophical base, it can only replicate followers and enslaved minds. After his arrest in June, Swami Ramdev has continued to press his demands on the government. One major topic is that education should be transmitted in Indian languages, English need not necessarily be a language for learning and higher education, it is the language for diplomacy and trade.
The entrenched bias that mandates that science and technology can only be taught in English is harshly criticized. Offering professional courses in English has perpetuated an inequity that favours English-educated students, especially the urban middle classes. The use of Indian languages in technology and science will help in the integration of villagers in the mainstream economic sectors and the job market. Studying in local languages helps grasp concepts better; it helps to reach out to customers and the public at large. In 1966, Pratap Vaidik, researcher and journalist, rebelled and earned for himself the right to write his PhD in Hindi. Four decades later, the demand for greater opportunities in higher and professional education in Indian languages finds resonance again in the campaign mounted by Swami Ramdev. Vaidik is one of his advisors.
Actually, there is already a number of institutions that impart education in local languages but there is a demand for more of them. MBA courses in Hyderabad are conducted in Urdu. As they grow, local languages will also add vocabulary to incorporate complex scientific terms. The idea is also to avoid overwhelming Indian languages with borrowed vocabulary. The policy is to borrow from Indian languages — if one word has no equivalent in Tamil, for example, the term for the particular word should be looked for in Telugu, Hindi, etc. Students who are fluent in English are also joining the multilingual campuses.
In a haste to earn money, many people have been led to neglect their own languages and to regard English as an indispensable tool on the road to progress. History proves that civilizations flourished in the past and contributed to progress in science, technology and arts in the world through the medium of their own language. The swami strongly advocates that national language Hindi and its sister languages must remain the language of Indian education and culture and English as a business language.
Japan is a small country where the Japanese language has allowed the country to prosper in all spheres of activity to the point that despite massive destruction in the Second World War, it managed to become the second world economic power, and they still use their own language in the teaching of technology and science. They are not so good at English and foreign languages. Similarly, China did not sell its soul to hoist itself to the top of world economic power. Three months ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao bristled at the interference of English in technical terms and immediately asked for an equivalent in Mandarin.
Recently, to reduce public expenses, the US government shut down departments of Italian and French in universities, both being foreign languages. The Indian government shut down departments of Sanskrit! One observer remarked: “Have we no shame or is it beyond our capacity even to feel ashamed?” Colonized people never fully realize to what extent they have been mentally enslaved.
To say the least the campaigner for Indian languages (Swami Ramdev) is himself quite an example of an Indian who had Gurukul education in Hindi, and has proved to the world that he could create a 1 100 crore empire. But as an ascetic, he uses the profits for the betterment and advancement of society. Reacting to the swami’s demand, the government has decided to speed up the work of the Commission for Science and Technical Terminology, and is urging the Institute of Indian languages in Mysore to increase the use of Indian languages in technical education.
Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat mistakes, someone said. Fortunately, it appears that a continuing rise of patriotism amid the larger population and a new generation of counter-intellectuals are determined to address the damages caused by alienation and a weak national ego. In the field of languages as in other sectors, the new stance that is gathering momentum is bound to bring about positive results for the country.
* Published in print edition on 12 August 2011