French study in French, Germans in German, Japanese in Japanese. Why do Indians study in English?
A national newspaper carried an article some time ago that bemoaned the disparity in education between the haves and the have-nots, between the 20 per cent who study in English medium private schools and the 80 per cent who study in vernacular government schools. The author proposed an outlandish solution to bridge the disparity: ‘Introduce English in government schools right from nursery to bring the education standards on par for all children.’
I was amazed at this proposal. How can an Indian want more colonisation instead of getting rid of the remnants? Why would Indians want to hold on to that colonial language baggage that was burdened with them in 1835 on the suggestion of Thomas Macaulay? Don’t they know that the intention was to make the ‘natives’ lose pride in their clearly superior culture and make them mental slaves of the British without them actually realising that they were made into slaves? Why would a free India want to continue with English as the preferred language at the expense of Indian languages and at the expense of Sanskrit, which is the basis of those languages and is praised the world over? In which country the upper classes do not to speak in their mother tongue?
Amazing as it is, many of the Indian elite actually want an ‘English India’. They feel more at home in English than in their mother tongue because of their education in English medium. And so far, they were even allowed to feel superior to the masses, who don’t speak this ‘world
language’. This fact does not prevent many of them from castigating “the Brahmins” as those who unfairly ‘oppress’ others.
However, at present, a churning is taking place that might shake this privileged position. There is a certain resurgence of an Indian identity, and tradition and
language are major aspects of it. The Prime Minister
taking his oath of office in Hindi and several MPs in Sanskrit might have put the English speaking elite ill at ease. Those who are fluent only in English may fear that the NDA government does not share their conviction that English medium is a must for higher education. The English speaking class naturally has an interest in
continuing with the status quo, where jobs at the top level require fluency in English whether it is in the judiciary, the defence forces, in academia, science or administration.
“India has a huge advantage because her population speaks English”, they claim. But two points are not made clear: First, only a small percentage of Indians actually speak English – only about 15 per cent know English and only about one per cent speak it fluently as a primary
language. Second, it is not easy to learn a foreign
language which one doesn’t hear spoken in one’s daily life, but only for a few hours in school. It is, of course, easy if you hear it spoken from childhood at home.
Nobody says that children should not learn English. But why demand from teenagers fluency to write essays, understand thick textbooks and the question papers in their exams? They need to learn the basics, like students in other countries, do. Why burden them so young with tomes in an alien language? This happens in no developed country, but only in a few former colonies of the British, including India. English medium in education has an advantage only for those few who want to study abroad and is easy only for those who hear English at home.
No authority counselled the parents that it was a blunder, as their children will be neither good in English nor in their mother tongue. They are unlikely to break through the glass ceiling that separates them from the haves. In fact, they would be much better off if they went to a Gurukul like Baba Ramdev did, obtain knowledge that truly matters, develop body, mind and spirit and discover the purpose of their lives.
Baba Ramdev made me realise how odd it is to continue with English in India. He himself had escaped English education and the slave mentality that often comes with it. There are few people who are as knowledgeable,
energetic and successful in transforming their vision into reality, as he is. He is connected to his roots via Sanskrit and can see the damage that the British have inflicted on India. During his talks across the country, he kept thundering: “French study in French, Germans in German, Japanese in Japanese. Why do Indians study in English?”
It happens occasionally that children from a
non-English background get into prestigious higher
education. The super 30 of Bihar who crack the IIT
admission test are an example. But they could have honed their outstanding talent for maths even better if they had not this huge language hurdle to overcome.
The push for more English medium schools in recent years and the proposal to introduce it even in government schools is difficult to understand. Those planning the
education policies, themselves fluent in English, don’t seem to realise that English medium for children from the non-English background is too tough. The disparity can’t be removed in this way. It can be removed by giving them books and question papers in their mother tongue, also for higher studies.
Can India, 70 years after independence, finally make a gradual transition to teaching all, including higher
education in the respective mother tongue and teach Sanskrit and English as obligatory languages and others optional? In Europe with over 20 states and over 20 languages, each child is taught in his mother tongues right till university level. India could adopt this model. Technical terms could be sourced from Sanskrit.
As much as the English speaking left liberals may deny it, Sanskrit, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Vedic philosophy unite India even today. It would be foolish to further dilute this glue by promoting an “English India”, while the West discovers the value of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy.
(The writer is a scholar of German origin and works on Ancient Indian Heritage)