Here'sa poser to the reader to stretch his imagination beyond limits: Where would India have been today had the British not takenover the country after cruelly subjugating all revolts and rebellions by 1857? Would we be where we are today? Or would Maharashtra and Karnataka still be fighting shamelessly over whether Belgaum and Dharwar should belong to Maharashtra or Karnataka or whether they should come under the jurisdiction of the successors to the Peshwas or those of Tipu Sultan? Would we be the nation we are today or would we have remained a country of a hundred odd maharajas and nawabs each fighting the other, with the people steeped in ignorance with the caste system very much in its place? Would India have been the world'sNumber One IT nation commanding the respect of business and commercial houses all over the world or would we still be ages behind the western scientific world and the laughing stock of all Europe?
These questions arise as one watches with a sinking heart the quarrel over the future of Belgaum and the orders laid down by the Government of Karnataka that the language of instruction in government funded schools should be Kannada.
Those orders might since then have been revised but this is the time to remember what Lord Macaulay said in his famous Minutes on Indian Education on February 2, 1835 that he would ?at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanskrit books and abolish the madrasas and the Sanskrit College in Calcutta? and use the funds thus saved ?to establish in the principal cities throughout the presidencies of Fort William and Agra, schools in which the English language might be well and thoroughly taught? in the hope that the British rulers may ?form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect? ?a rather snooty and offensive approach, but for and Englishman of that era, and understandable mind-set.
What is significant is the very next sentence that has largely gone unrecorded, for Macaulay had said: ?To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the western nomenclature and to render them by degrees for vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.?
In other words, Macaulay wanted Indians to learn English not for its own sake but for transmitting knowledge garnered through English to fellow Indians in their own mother tongues. To what extent Indians have fulfilled that role is debatable but today Macaulay must be turning in his grave to see that with their command over the English language Indians are literally conquering the commercial world and, even more ironically, are being recruited to teach English to English children in England.
Macaulay may not necessarily have had such a role for Indians in his mind but he is also quoted as saying in the British Parliament words that are both astounding and noteworthy. Said Macaulay: ?I have travelled across the length and breath of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.?
Let it be said right away: There was a time when Indians did grovel before the British, but then we had the men like Swami Vivekananda to save us from utter cultural degradation and restore our national pride and our respect for our cultural heritage. In the years since our attainment of freedom, and especially in the last two decades, we have regained our self-esteem; importantly we have used the very language inflicted on us to compete with those who imposed it on us. That is the ultimate victory of the vanquished. More Indians today?about 350 million?are cognizant of English than the people of the United Kingdom itself or, for that matter, the inhabitants of the United States of America.
We have arrived. We can reach even greater heights undreamt of in the past if we understand that there are limits to linguistic or other forms of jingoism, that it is not which state we belong to but what heights of scientific knowledge we have climbed, that is relevant to our times.
If we keep harping on linguistic majoritarianism and claim exclusivity and separation on grounds such as religion and language, the time may come when Bangladesh may claim proprietary rights on some districts in Assam, adjacent to it where, by the sheer process of illegal migration, Muslims have turned out to be the majority community.
Organisations like the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti must remember on what slippery grounds they are functioning. We have to work as a nation because we have a destiny to fulfill which is to regain the glory and greatness that once was Bharat. If we can use the very weapon?English?used against us by an alien culture to disempower us, to rise to great heights, there is no limit to what we can achieve in the years to come.
With our 300 odd universities, running some 14,000 colleges and serving approximately 1.5 million students year after year, there can be no limit placed on our power to lead the world, and be looked at as torch-bearers of socio-economic development and shining examples of a people who have risen from poverty to power.
The important thing is to give education to our children, especially the very poor and destitute. To deny them the right to learn English is to deny them the right to rise to greater heights. To presume that weaker section have a low intelligence quotient is to make a mockery of our own people. A community that could produce a Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar should be able to produce a hundred Ambedkars, given the opportunity to prove themselves. That is the gift that language bestows on people. Giving education in English will have a multiplying effect. Teaching English right from standard I does not necessarily mean neglecting our own languages.
And let us remember what Macaulay himself had said. And let us remember an ancient Chinese proverb, which says: ?If you want to think one year ahead, plant rice. If you want think ten years ahead, plant trees. But it you want to think 100 years ahead, give education to people?. With education comes social transformation; social transformation leads to economic empowerment, which in turn leads to political power, a sequence worth remembering by state governments when they lay down archaic rules in the field of knowledge communication.