The use of the English language has always been a contentious subject in independent India.
It was after all the language of the colonialists, imposed on a subject people by force. It was then, as it is now, spoken by a tiny minority of Indians. It never became the Lingua Franca that some claim it to be. In fact, it never could attain, despite Macaulay's dream, the status of Sanskrit or Arabic, as those languages shaped the religious and spiritual lives of Indians the way English never would. In that sense, it was never the equivalent of Latin in England: It was rather like the French of the Normans, a symbol of a scandalous subjugation.
The argument that colonialism civilised India has been long debunked. The import of English education in India was the cultural side of de-industrialisation, an act of destruction rather than creation. It was no mere coincidence that abolition of East India Company's monopoly on India trade moved lockstep with the introduction of English education: The enterprise of turning Indians into consumers of English goods needed reshaping of their tastes. Evangelism was the other half of this enterprise at the beginning, but it was the mill-owners and not the clerics who called the shots eventually. So, English was designed to be the language of higher education and of the professional class, but then, education and profession in India were designed to be separate from cultural and spiritual life.
It's no surprise, then, that the key argument of retaining English as the language of education and professional life is driven by commercial considerations. India aspired to become the world's back-office, channelling its English-speaking young people into doing cut-price process work. The billion-dollar IT Service companies shaped the new megacities, the imagination of young Indians and further reinforced a model of professional education in English. Nativist tendencies manifested in the preference for vernacular in state education systems in the 70s and 80s were exposed and hopelessly out of date in the new India of the 90s and the new millennium: English, on the back of back-offices, became a very Indian language of opportunity.
But is this great Indian success story really a success story? The smugness of educated Indians about a world-leading IT industry was punctured as the Chinese IT companies arose: Unlike the Indian companies doing grunt work and living on the margin, the Chinese IT companies competed on the cutting edge of innovation. Suddenly, the Indian consumers' affinity to English is a handicap: India's internal market did not allow its companies the same type of launchpad that the Mandarin-using Chinese consumers did for theirs. In fact, the English culture as a whole became anti-innovation, as for the Indians, the 'location of culture' stayed abroad, in London and New York, and lately in Silicone Valley.
Besides, the dominance of English also meant a strangely narrow outlook for the educated Indians. The most tragic consequence of this is the failure of educated Indians to engage in Asia - and the gradual abrogation of third-world solidarity that shaped much of Indian policy-making when the humiliation of colonialism was fresh in memory. In the neo-liberal rush to the market in the Nineties, those ideas and connections, including Indian engagements with Russia (driven by geopolitics), Iran and other parts of Europe, declined or became solely channelled through the English language and world-view. Even the most die-hard racists among the colonial administrators conceded that Indians were good at learning languages, but that was no longer correct in the post-liberalisation India.
All this happened as the Indian society became more unequal, cities grew and a service-sector fetish limited the government's attention to other sectors of the economy. English never became the language of possibility which it was tipped to have been. Instead, the persistence of English facilitated the development of a two-tiered education system, subverting the already-flawed meritocracy with yet another layer. It's not surprising at all that nativism has now taken hold of India's political imagination, rejecting everything foreign.
It may sound paradoxical but India should ditch the English language to remain open and global. My case is opposite that of the nativists - I don't think India was the fountain of all knowledge and all answers can be found in the ancient Indian texts. English language proficiency isn't the same as openness; China does a lot more exports and is more open to outside ideas than India is. In fact, English speakers in India work as gatekeepers and cultural arbitrators, not allowing any direct import of outside ideas into India's vernacular cultures. Therefore, despite the vast expansion of higher education in India in recent years, there are little efforts towards producing translations other than that of the textbooks. The protective layer of English is actually the reason why 'not invented here' syndrome is so common in India and 'WhatsApp university' can sway the public sentiment so easily.
Obviously what I suggest here is against the vested interests of Indian middle classes - and therefore will never be considered. But India is fast reaching a point when it won't be able to squander the productive and creative potential of its people at the rate it does today: The squeeze on the Globalization of the earlier variety, the rise of a Sinosphere next door and transformation of work and business would force it to confront the questions of inclusive development and competitiveness. And, at that point, it will have to look at its own languages for salvation.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth 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 self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.