Destroying Minds and Skills
The Dominance of Angreziyat in Our Education
Societies which have put vast amounts of energy and thinking into providing good quality education and opportunities for acquiring diverse skills for their people are today not only prosperous but also well ordered. We seem to have done the very opposite. On the one hand our policy makers have helped destroy through wilful neglect and contempt the vast reservoir of indigenous skills and knowledge systems acquired and nurtured over centuries by our own people. On the other hand they have failed to create a viable system for the acquisition of modern skills and education for all those who are abandoning their traditional occupations. Consequently, it is not just corruption but also sheer incompetence which is leading to a breakdown in our society.
The New Colonisers
So far the world knows India primarily as a country which has earned the dubious distinction of producing the largest number of illiterate people in the world. In the next 50 years we will also be able to claim that we are among the distinguished few nations of the world which has the largest number of people illiterate in their own mother tongue! By retaining English as the medium of elite education, professions and government functioning, even after being formally freed from colonial rule, we have ensured that the schism that was deliberately created by our colonial rulers between the English-educated elite and the rest of society has grown even further and acquired deadly dimensions. A hundred years ago our intelligentsia, even when it learnt English, still remained rooted in its respective regional languages and mother tongues. Tagore knew English but chose to write in Bengali, thereby nurturing his language as well as the overall intellectual climate of Bengal. Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi could express complex ideas in English more simply, elegantly and effectively than most British. Yet he wrote with even better grace in Gujarati and even Hindustani. However, the great-grandchildren of our Tagores, Ranades, Premchands and Gandhis are today all writing mostly in English. Worse still, even our scriptures and ancient literary texts are read by our educated elite mainly in English. Consequently, the mental, emotional and intellectual colonisation has proceeded with greater rigour and pace in post-Independence India than during colonial rule. The brown sahibs of the British era spoke English only in office. The brown sahibs of today have let English become their language for love making, talking to their infant children and even scolding their pet dogs!
However, this does not mean that they have acquired enough proficiency in the language for it to act as an effective instrument of knowledge aqcuisition and communication. Far from it. Teaching quality is so poor even in our English-medium schools that, barring a few exceptional institutions, too many of our students are ill-equipped to make sense of even newspaper reports, leave alone read serious books in English. The few who have a good command over the English language consequently behave and get treated like an imperial race, and the others who cannot are viewed as a sub-human species. The former are largely cut off from the lives, feelings, problems and aspirations of the non-English knowing population. Their aspirations are directed either towards migrating abroad or attempting to create small pockets of affluence for themselves so that while being situated, for example, in New Delhi, they can pretend they are living in New York.
In well-functioning societies, the educated elite tend to provide intellectual leadership to the rest of the society. In our case, our colonised intelligentsia is so alienated from its own people that it has made our society resemble a body whose head has been severed from its torso. However, the head is arrogant enough to pretend it can manage on its own. In reality, both are rotting, the headless body and the bodiless head.
This communication gap exists not just between the different strata of society but also within families. The elderly, especially grandparents, have traditionally played an important role in the socialisation of children, giving them sanskars and an initiation into their community's culture, values and knowledge systems. Today's English-educated children tend to treat their non-English speaking relatives as ignorant and illiterate. Tarzan comics and cartoon films are taken more seriously than grandmother's stories. Thus the future generations of the educated minority may be more information-rich about computers and business opportunities, but will grow up lacking wisdom which can best be imbibed from a close intergenerational interaction.
This dual system of education has taken away so many opportunities from the vast mass of our people that the new generation which is being denied good quality English education is going to grow up feeling even more demoralised, incompetent and inferior than the present cohort. In the next few decades, as India integrates more with the global economy, the lifestyles of the Indian elite will become even more alienated from the rest of the people. Since the moneyed elite of today flaunt their opulence more and more before the deprived through television, cinema and even the print media, the anger and rage of those excluded are going to get far more explosive than at present. They will avenge themselves in the Laloo Yadav way through politics. A person who knows no English at all is virtually unemployable except as a peon or labourer. However, he/she can, like Phoolan Devi, become an M.P., or like Yadav, hope to become a Chief Minister and get power and money through politics because he/she cannot hope to get it through education and talent.
Deskilling of India
The tragedy we have created for our society through this educational policy is of epic proportions. India was not too long ago known the world over for its industrial skills and crafts. Indian steel was world famous and so much in demand that ancient Roman historians are known to have expressed concern that their coffers were getting emptied buying steel swords (and silks) from India. Our architectural tradition created many more wonders than the famous Taj Mahal, the temples of Khajuraho and Konarak, perhaps more than the rest of the world put together. Our weavers produced fabrics which have been the envy of the world for centuries. Our craftsmen produced jewellery, icons and art objects which are unparalleled in beauty of design and exquisite workmanship. Yet none of our engineering colleges would condescend to admit sons of lohars even as students, leave alone teachers, in their metallurgy departments. This, when their practical knowledge, honed through centuries of practising that craft would be far superior to that of our formal degree holders. Why? Because they do not have the English education necessary for “studying” today's science and technology books.
Likewise, our traditional sthapathis who inherited the skills required to design and make architectural wonders like the Jantar Mantar, the beautiful ancient temples, havelis and palaces found in every corner of India -- that too made with environment-friendly materials -- have no place in modern colleges of architecture. They have been degraded to the level of masons, mistris and labourers at the lowest rung of our building industry only because they do not have access to English-medium public schools. Similarly, our traditional weavers capable of designing and making fabrics of a spectacular variety, do not find jobs as textile designers and engineers in the modern factories because they could never hope to get the degrees required for those jobs. Our agricultural universities can be blissfully ignorant about the vast knowledge reservoir of our farmers whose produce -- long staple cotton, varieties of spices and fruits, wheat and rice -- have eager buyers in the world market. Their knowledge of food storage, soil conservation, use of safe pesticides, biodiversity and medicinal values of plants has hardly any takers in the scientific establishment because they cannot write research papers in English. We learn to value neem and turmeric only when the international scientific community endorses their many wondrous qualities.
Thus, by making English education the hallmark of qualification for careers, we have marginalised and impoverished all those who carried the rich legacies of our traditional skills and technologies. We have destroyed the self-respect of the majority of our people, making them feel worthless and despised. All we are giving by way of “social justice” to a few among these deprived millions is reserving a few thousand government jobs of peons and clerks.
The children of these skilled technologists are deserting their inherited occupation at a rapid speed because they earn pitiful wages in them. The makers of Kanjeevaram sarees would rather have their children get a peon's job in a government office. Children of our traditional metallurgists have taken to menial unskilled jobs like rickshaw-pulling and street vending. Those who merely buy and sell gold, make crores of rupees, but a skilled goldsmith, after 20 years of being on the job, even in a city like Delhi, would not be earning more than Rs. 3,500 a month. A bank clerk earns at least four times as much. His only advantage: he has acquired a smattering of the English language.
When sons of skilled weavers turn rickshaw-pullers, children of sthapthis become bus drivers, and skilled shipbuilders take to vegetable vending, it amounts to a genocide of skills. Stalin destroyed the economic base of his country by physically exterminating the peasantry in the name of collectivisation. We may not have physically killed our farmers and other skilled groups, but we have, by undermining their skills and knowledge, destroyed their self-respect, marginalised them economically and destroyed their capacity to compete by making English the magic key which opens the doors to opportunity. If we take away the disadvantages that ignorance of English brings with it, our traditional technologists -- ironsmiths, weavers, carpenters, sthapathis and other metallurgists -- would fare much better in gaining entrance to scientific and engineering institutions as well as in the world of manufacturing.
The Costs of Neglect
The entire society is paying for this crime. Our modern architects functioning with borrowed knowledge make unlivable and ugly buildings and homes. Our modern offices need to use artificial lights even in broad daylight in a country where sunshine is abundant. There is no provision for ventilation, with windows sealed for air conditioning in a country where power breakdown is a daily occurrence. All these stupid buildings result from simply copying designs from western books and magazines. Our Ambanis and Singhanias produce fabrics whose designs are either straight copies of western designs or so garish that their own wives would not be seen dead in those sarees. In fact, they are seen proudly wearing the “ethnic chic” produced by our traditional weavers. It is not a coincidence that only the products of our illiterate or semi-educated, poor artisans have eager buyers in the international market. India's foreign exchange earnings come primarily from exporting cottage crafts, handloom textiles, traditional jewellery, leather goods, handmade fabrics, spices, raw cotton, mangoes, basmati rice and other farm produce.
It is our traditional artisans' products which act as reminders that we were once a great civilisation. The famous iron pillar of Qutab Minar in Delhi made centuries ago by our traditional lohars still stands proudly without rusting or corroding. The steel being produced by our modern degree-holders is of such poor standard that even the not too quality-conscious Railway Ministry has alleged that tracks made of SAIL steel crack up and corrode within months of installation, causing numerous rail accidents. Temples and houses made by our traditional sthapathis have withstood the ravages of centuries. Even as ruins, they look aesthetic and grand. The housing colonies designed and constructed by our modern degree-holding architects look like eyesores from the day they are built and start falling apart before they are occupied.
The modern sector of our economy is not an earner but a guzzler of foreign exchange. Our industries have become a dead weight on our economy and dare not face international competition. They are either grovelling for government protection or foreign collaborations -- often both, and yet not able to put their act together. This is the reward our western educated elite get for treating their own people like colonial subjects. There was a time when only the West treated us with derision and contempt. Today, even our Asian neighbours laugh at the pretensions of our educated elite. The Japanese, Chinese and Korean elites may not speak as good English as the products of our Doon School and St. Stephen's, but they communicate much better with the world and are more respected in international fora than our self-styled representatives. After all, what do they represent? Grovelling poverty, mass illiteracy, a sickly malnourished population, a rich land turned into one of the worst environmental disasters, an inefficient and corrupt government! And it's a callous elite which does not even believe in sharing a language with its own people, leave alone wealth and education. Today, we are merely ridiculed and spurned in international forums, treated as pompous failures and self-righteous beggars. If we continue in the same manner, we will be treated as virtual untouchables by the rest of the world. Our leaders will be put through quarantine before being allowed to attend international meetings for fear that they may be carrying the many deadly disease germs India is so famous for. Today, our educated elite laugh at and express disdain for the likes of Laloo Yadav, his rustic manners, his dehati accent, his strong-arm tactics, his semi-literate wife brought in as a dummy Chief Minister. If we don't start fixing our education system immediately, we will be saddled only with such tragi-comic figures for our leaders. Our Chidambarams and Jaswant Singhs might as well forget about coming to political power through the electoral route. After all, a man like I. K. Gujral could not win a seat in the parliament on his own strength. He has to be beholden to Laloo Yadav for his present seat and to Akali Dal for winning his previous election.
From Clerks to Peons
Actually, the problem is not just that the educated elite are divorced and alienated from their country's people. Our education system is poor even from the point of view of the elite themselves. The British are accused of having introduced a system of education designed primarily to promote an army of clerks, Indian in colour, but English in habits, tastes and values. They at least functioned to a purpose and produced efficient clerks. However, our post-Independence schools and colleges are not even producing clerks, but people whose skills don't qualify them for anything more than a peon's job. The following extract from a letter we received from the secretary of an NGO gives an idea of the communication skills of our college educated:
For the wide spread functioning of the above said activities. The organisation seeks your concolidation and collboration in the above said activities. If your organisation is going land with hand.
Intimation maybe requested to Yours sincerely, XYZ
One can well imagine what brilliant grasp of law such a linguistic genius would have acquired. This particular judgement, in fact reads as if the honourable judge neither knows nor respects the ABC of law. It is not surprising that he went out of his way to exonerate a medical doctor accused of child rape.
Very few of our policemen know how to register an F.I.R. in legible hand leave alone one that is factually accurate and grammatically correct. Their ignorance of the law is frightening though expected. Their low educational skills make it virtually impossible for them to read and understand even bare acts leave alone legal treatises in antiquated Victorian English. But they take no time to pick up those provisions of law which help them fleece money. A linguistic analysis of the petitions filed by our lawyers even at higher levels, leave alone district courts, reads like products of a deranged brain. Here is an extract from an F.I.R. drafted by a Chennai lawyer in a murder case:
My husband's sister Lands of aggiculture lands buying try to Arunchalam. But my husband overtake same Land buying my husband another sister's husband for 9 months. The problem dated warning for my husbands dated 27th April 1993 murder to my husband. The 5 members of speeches of my husband murder to doing ease for you. Also warning for me. My husband murders above 5 members promised. Related persons but deployed for me. Department of police something rupees alloted for received anybody. No action and Responses.
Respected Sir, this problem solved for me. The murder of my husband and brother Annamalai warning. Enquired for the problems solved please, Sir, Thanking you...[XYZ]
I hear similar gibberish even in elite business chambers and ministerial pronouncements. Most of us Indians sound mentally retarded when we propound our ideas in English. We are today becoming a nation of linguistic cripples which is an important reason why the work calibre of our professionals is so shoddy. A person who cannot handle any language competently is unlikely to be able to handle concepts or ideas required to think things through. Most of even our MBBS doctors are so poorly equipped in English that they cannot possibly follow the latest medical information already available in international journals even if they are inclined to access it. Therefore, too many of them practise quackery after having procured medical degrees of doubtful worth.
While we are churning out millions of unemployable matriculates, B.A.s and M.A.s, the country is facing a real shortage of skilled electricians, plumbers and a host of such technicians because we are simply not investing any money or energy into this area. Under our traditional occupation-based caste system, every child picked some or the other valuable skill from his parents, a skill which had been developed and perfected through generations. Today, everybody wants to be a white-collar pen pusher because that alone brings status and money. Only those who cannot make it, take to blue-collar occupations, but without the required skills for them. The electrical wirings in our public buildings are a virtual death trap; our water treatment plants are a scandal; our power stations are forever breaking down, our municipal sewage pipes frequently leak into water pipes. Most of those actually operating these services could not spell the word “hygiene” leave alone know how to provide a clean water supply. The fault is not theirs. The children of our impoverished farmers and artisans learn what they can by simply watching other ill-trained people. Their own educational skills are not such that they can acquire this knowledge through self-study.
Our colonial rulers could at least run their exclusive enclaves efficiently and provide functional civic amenities for Civil Lines areas. Our post-Independence elite cannot even ensure clean water supply or regular electricity in the opulent and exclusive New Delhi areas. Frequent tragedies like mid-air collisions of planes, collapse of newly-built bridges, breakouts of fire in public buildings, power breakdowns, dysfunctional telephones and general civic chaos are as much the products of sheer incompetence and inefficiency as they are the offshoots of corruption.
Thus while our policy makers have destroyed the traditional skills of our people, they have denied them good quality modern education and opportunities for acquiring new skills necessary for running today's economies. The sarkari school system meant for the poor is a mockery in the name of education. These schools function mainly to provide naukris for the teachers and a host of babus of various grades who man our education departments and ministries. Consequently, there is very little teaching going on in them today. The little that happens is of such poor quality that anyone who has gone through 11-12 years of that exercise has for all practical purposes become a dysfunctional human being, and is unlikely to be able to think coherently on any subject except those areas of life not touched by school education. To top it all, they acquire contempt for any manual work. A son of a farmer or lohar who has studied up to matriculation or B.A. is likely to despise his father's occupation even while he himself is skilled for no other, and therefore, likely to end up adding to the large army of unemployable youth.
Among the many very saddening exposures to how our schools are destroying brains, I would like to cite one. While I was on a visit to Vitner village of Maharashtra some years ago, the people there proudly introduced me to a teenage boy as the brightest and most diligent student of that village. I asked him to write an essay on himself and the boy sat down dutifully to do the exercise. After about 45 minutes, he brought a two-page neatly written essay on Mahatma Gandhi. I was puzzled and asked him why he didn't write about himself. Somewhat embarrassed he told me that they had not “taught” him to write on “that topic” in school. If this is what our school system is doing to our brightest and most hard-working, we can well imagine the fate of our not-so-bright and less-than-average students.
I have been experiencing the products of this devastation year after year in the Delhi University college where I teach. As with that village student, my first assignment to even my B.A. students is an essay on themselves. Most of them (except the few from really well-functioning schools) look as bewildered as that village boy and many simply cannot write more than 6-7 lines that do not go beyond giving the student's name, father's occupation, the area he/she lives in and a couple of other identification points. Their excuse is the same: this topic was never a part of their curriculum. Over the years only a handful have given me something resembling an essay. This was the case even though many of them came from non-sarkari schools.
Even our private sector in education functions abysmally because of the very low standards set by government schools. Most of the private schools, especially those that have mushroomed in small towns and villages are worse than teaching shops because, for all the money they charge, they give students very little in return.
Nehruvian socialism has wrecked our economy with its policy of nurturing the supposed commanding heights of our economy by exploiting and depressing the farm sector and other segments of the vast unorganised sector. Its counterpart in education was the belief that a handful of institutions like Mayo College and St. Stephen's will provide us the talent to run our entire society and economy for one billion people. The result is there for all to see. The few talented people this country produces are desperate to find a foothold in foreign countries largely because they feel threatened and choked by the inefficiency and corruption all around.
If we do not begin to put our act together in the field of education, think beyond a few elite schools and colleges, and aspire to high quality secondary level education for every child in this country and opportunities for acquiring real skills, in a few years we will need to start thinking of importing skilled manpower and well-trained professionals to run even our basic services and civil amenities, as well as our universities and colleges, perhaps even our primary schools.
Our leaders have given us a sickly legacy of substituting ideology for ideas, using radical rhetoric as a substitute for sensible politics. We, the educated elite, not only swallowed phoney rhetoric avidly but were deeply mesmerised by it as long as it was being mouthed in the correct Oxonian English. Today, when Laloo Yadav or Rabri Devi use similar rhetoric of “social justice” we feel outraged because they are speaking in dehati tones that we so despise. No democracy can be made to function meaningfully by a tiny informed elite who shut out all information and knowledge from others by speaking, reading and writing in a language no one outside their charmed circle understands.
Those who feel convinced that the country can't manage without English should at least have the good sense to ensure that it becomes the language of mass literacy and education, and that there are enough schools and teachers available to provide quality English education to our people. Today's ruling elite may not know how to manage our economy and society, but at least can appear as respectable suited-booted beggars before IMF and the World Bank and do a bit of crisis management. Tomorrow's ministers and bureaucrats will not even know how to write a coherent letter to various aid agencies asking to be bailed out. Fifty years from now we might have to hire foreigners to beg on our behalf just as today we hire western professionals to lobby with foreign governments because our diplomats know little diplomacy.
This article will look strange coming from someone who earns her living teaching English literature, does most of her writing in English, edits Manushi in English, and could not keep alive its Hindi edition for more than nine years.
Closing Hindi Manushi was a source of great grief for me. Its publication had to be suspended because we could neither mobilise enough subscriptions for it nor get good writing to fill up its pages. As long as it survived, the Hindi Manushi lived off the English edition. Most of the articles were translated from the English edition; its printing and related costs were also subsidised from the funds mobilised by the English edition. Had we kept it going longer, it would have killed the English edition as well.
However, this set back with the Hindi edition cannot simply be attributed to Manushi's failure. The last 15 years have seen the progressive collapse and closure of almost all serious magazines in Hindi -- Dinman, Dharmyug, Saptahik Hindustan, Sarika, Ravivar and so on. Even a half serious magazine like Vama could not be kept alive by the Hindi world. Many small magazines in Hindi were started, but died prematurely. Today, apart from Hans which is indeed an important and serious literary forum for the Hindi readers, the market is dominated by magazines that cater to the needs of housewives or supply gossip about film stars or semi-pornographic sensation mongering types of glossies.
We too could have kept Hindi Manushi going if we had opened our doors to grants from the government or international aid agencies. However, I am convinced that the long-term consequences of taking that route are more harmful, even though in the short run it seems to pay off. Hindi and other regional languages will become vehicles for serious thinking, learning, analysis, higher education and planning only if English is put in its proper place, as a language of communication and understanding developments in different countries of the world, a language for accessing the latest in science and technology. The Chinese, Japanese, Thais, the Koreans and the Germans all use English in that way without becoming slaves of it as we have become.
I came to understand the full implications of the great harm being done by the dominating position of English in India as I went through the process of acquiring proficiency in it. For all my English-based education, I find myself a linguistic cripple. Even today, despite years of working in it, writing or even speaking in English does not come easily to me. I make all kinds of silly mistakes and find myself groping for words, unable to fully express my ideas and thoughts in English. I rarely make such mistakes when I write or speak in Hindi or Punjabi. English has not become the language of my dreams, my prayers or even humour. I find it really hard to crack a joke in English. At the same time it has seriously impaired my ability to write in Hindi or my mother tongue, Punjabi because most of the information giving material on important issues as well as literary writings from other languages are available only in English. Hindi and regional languages starve for want of such material.
As someone educated in English-medium public schools, I too grew up thinking that the English language opened many new windows to the world, and took for granted a whole range of new opportunities it provided to those of us who acquired some skill in using it. Yet, I was not prepared to downgrade learning Hindi as well as my mother tongue, Punjabi in the way our school system encouraged us to do. For instance, we were given black marks every time any of us was caught speaking in Hindi. I got golden stars for everything else, but persevered in earning occasional black stars for relapsing into Hindi while conversing with friends. This was still the way convent and other elite schools operated, even when the days of Irish nuns were over and we were being taught by South Indian “sisters”. This discouragement was institutionalised in other ways too. As a school affiliated to the Indian School Certificate system modelled after the British Senior Cambridge exam system, we were offered a choice of “lower” or “higher” Hindi on reaching class IX. The lower Hindi course was the obvious choice of all my classmates because it was absurdly easy -- as though designed to give a smattering of knowledge of Hindi to a foreign tourist. Therefore, it was easy to score high in it for those who had a working knowledge of Hindi. I insisted on opting for higher Hindi even though my school refused to provide me a teacher for the relatively far more difficult course. From class IX to XII, I studied Hindi on my own, and scored very well despite lack of any guidance.
Even before this option of “lower” Hindi was offered to us, I was among the very few in my class -- perhaps the only one -- who chose to read serious Hindi literature for pleasure while most of my classmates swooned over Mills and Boon romances or “school girl” comics. That made one feel somewhat isolated, but I did not think much of it nor aggravated myself over the issue. Till then I saw studying or reading Hindi a matter of personal choice and did not interpret its downgrading as a serious political issue. In fact, I enjoyed reading English literature as well, and opted for the English Honours course when I joined Miranda House as a B.A student. It was then that I was first jolted into recognising the many harmful effects of the dominance of the English language in our society. Our school had a somewhat homogenous population. Virtually every child came from middle or upper middle-class families, and somewhat similar cultural backgrounds. Therefore, intermixing was easy and smooth.
In Miranda House, I experienced for the first time the bringing together of a relatively heterogeneous group of people with enormous differences in their family's income and educational levels, cultural background and social status. We had students from extremely affluent, westernised, high status families brought to study under the same roof with daughters of bus conductors, small shopkeepers, clerks, scooter drivers, low level government employees, and even wealthy merchants. The divide was not merely economic, but also cultural. The symbol of that divide was the English language. It was not enough that you be able to speak and write in English -- the accent in which you spoke, the slang you used, the kind of school you learnt your English in mattered much more than being a diligent student, just as the neighbourhood you lived in and the social status of your family mattered much more than how you performed in class. The contempt of the English-speaking elite for the Hindi speaking “behenjis” of Miranda House and their near total refusal to have any interaction with the latter was far more deadly than the inequities of the traditional caste system. These new Brahmins were more arrogant and far less useful for our society. They behaved as though India was a little island off the coast of England. Too many of them were outraged when, as President of the Miranda House Union, I began to address all general body meetings in Hindi and conduct most of the Union business in Hindi.
The manner in which English literature was taught and the attitudes sought to be inculcated through it left me thoroughly disgruntled. But since our university system is not flexible enough to allow switching courses mid-way I had to stay stuck. After my B.A, I tried changing to history, but my application was not entertained because I had not studied History up to then. It was only after getting my Master's degree in English that I could secure admission in M.A. History. But in well-functioning universities, even Indian History is taught only in English. Our ancient India expert, an internationally famous historian, was proficient in neither Sanskrit nor any other Indian languages -- modern or ancient.
My job as a teacher of English literature in a Delhi University college has only deepened my conviction that the domination of English is causing enormous damage to the people of our country. It is systematically undermining their self-confidence. For example, most of my students have very poor skills in the English language; most of them cannot function efficiently in it, leave alone use it as a vehicle of creative thinking. At the same time, they have almost stopped reading anything even vaguely worthwhile in their respective mother tongues because acquiring skills in those languages brings no reward. None of my English honours students this year was even aware of the Tulsi, Balmiki or any other literary versions of the Ramayana though they had seen Ramanand Sagar's TV Ramayan. Their knowledge of English literature is confined to reading and mugging up guide books. Not one of them has seen or used a standard literary text. They could not follow those texts without help, even if they tried. If six poems of Donne or Shelley are prescribed in their course, they will never read a seventh even from the guide book.
Thus the system has effectively destroyed their intellectual curiosity and undermined their own linguistic and cultural identity. They know only khichri Hinglish. Lack of deep roots in any language has impaired their ability to handle ideas, nuanced thoughts, or even emotional, cultural complexities. Consequently, the thing is put in neat watertight categories of moral vs. immoral, good vs. bad. They have forgotten how to ask serious intellectual questions and, therefore, are not likely to find answers.
i am what i am
i am my own special creation
so come take a look
give me the hook
or the ovation
it's my world
that i want to have a little pride
and it's not a place
i have to hide in
life's not worth a dam
till i can say i am what i am
i am what i am
i don't want praise
i don't want pity
i bang my own drum
some think it's noise
i think it's pretty
and so what if i love each sparkle and each bangle
why not see things from a different angle
your life is a shame
till you can shout out i am what i am
i am what i am
and what i am needs no excuses
i deal my own deck
sometimes the aces sometimes the deuces
it's one life and there's no return and no deposit
one life so it's time to open up your closet
life's not worth a dam
till you can shout out i am what i am
i am good
i am strong
i am worthy
i am useful
i am true
i am somebody
not to beat up on a dead issue but korea, france, japan & china for the most part are highly homogeneous in race/ethnicity and have the entire nation claiming a single language (or its dialect) as native -in other words promoting one language doesnt come at the expense of another!so not comparable to india at all - 'hindi', if at all it needs any 'saving', has to be saved by it's native speakers as is the case with malayalam or tamil- & a tamilian speaking hindi while living in delhi or a marwari learning tamil to make cash in madras lies outside the scope of this debate - just b'cos 60% understand or speak a language doesn't make it easy for the other 40% to learn it - & if such logic were to be extended to other spheres, would only accelerate the demolition of india's diversity
kya bolti tu?! mumbai's identity crisis
mumbai: if bombay were a person, her acute identity crisis would keep psychiatrists busy.
what is bombay? who are its people? which languages do they speak? how many languages do they know? which language do they think in?
when students participating in the pukar monsoon workshop 2004 explored these questions, they concluded that every bombayite is a work-in-progress documentation of bombay’s evolving linguistic fabric. this is the story they decided to tell, through pictures and audio stories.
as it is with the city, so also its people who don’t know whether to label themselves indian, bombayite, punjabi, bengali, middle class, or all of the above. and every day, they communicate with others like themselves, who may know a language they know, or not. often, the mother tongue is discarded because it is not used enough.
darius mistry, who is doing his 12th in arts through the national open school, has a tamilian mum and parsi dad. says darius, “when my parents got together, they spoke to each other in english, so i ended up speaking neither. i guess there are millions of people like me, with an identity crisis. i know english, hindi and marathi, and as long as i can use these to communicate nothing else matters. my parents are okay with it.”
while some parents are comfortable with their children having no more than a working knowledge of their language, others lament a loss of language in their city-bred children. like anusha iyer’s mother. iyer is doing her second year at rachana sansad’s academy of architecture. her parents are tamilian but her mother refuses to pepper her tamil with english, preferring unadulterated tamil instead.
says iyer, “when we watch tamil movies, mum’s always mumbling that she wishes we could understand the poetry behind the songs.
for some expressions, there can be no translation.” iyer’s grandfather is the tamilian children’s writer, v k krishnamurthy, or vandumama. iyer’s greatest regret is that she cannot read any of his books because they are in tamil. says iyer, “my dad says that if i knew tamil, i could have translated the books…”
the city that brings people together also creates chasms: between generations and within the same ones too. the communication gap is literal, when you don’t share a language.
grandparents and grandchildren know a smattering of each other’s languages. and the city-bred boy knows his mother tongue less than his cousins back at wherever they’ve all come from.
the loss is felt deeply. so other ties are knotted, with people from the larger community called bombayites, in a state called maharashtra.
says iyer, “at architecture school i realised that 75 per cent of the staff and students were maharashtrian. i also realised that for my profession, i needed to be able to talk in marathi. i told my friends to only talk to me in marathi. at first people made fun of me, but i don’t care; i’m still going to speak in marathi.”
agrees shruti garodia, a second year student of arts at xaviers college. “it is essential to know marathi. i’m learning driving, and it even helps with the cops. i’ve seen that when my father speaks to them in hindi, they’re harsh on him. but when he talks in marathi, they go easy. people appreciate you more if you talk in marathi.”
advait sambhare, a fifth year architecture student at jj says the language he speaks in changes depending on which part of bombay he’s in.
“when i am at dadar, i speak in marathi. but if i’m in bandra or south bombay, i use hindi. i’m maharashtrian; but i haven’t studied marathi as such because i’m from an icse school. i know spoken marathi, i speak it at home, and am fairly fluent. but over the last two-three years i have become sensitised to knowing more marathi. i’m not so sure that marathi should be the official language, though.
there is as much parsi, sindhi or goan influence in the city as maharashtrian.
“but english is universal: rickshawallahs and bhajiwallahs speak it too. the other day i told a rickshawallah i did not have change, in hindi, and he said to me, ‘cool hai’. english has become more personalised because of films and the media.”
you could say bombay’s fickle, a serial divorcee incapable of finding an identity and keeping it. or, you could say that bombay, like vishnu, has many forms and that makes her special.
dear madhu, tbk and others,
i think even china and korea, although are adopting english, are not changing the medium of instruction or government work in english. they are just teaching people english as a language to empower people with its knowledge without making changes in the medium of education or the languages in which various public bodies function. in india, even smallest govt or non-govt bodies, which are supposed to work for common people, function in english, so pathetic.
i am afraid that people (like us) who raise such issues are attached to rss or vhp type brigades who hijacked this issue earlier and tried to implement in a very sankritized and puritanic way though unsuccessfully whilst their leaders kept sending their children to english medium schools.
countries such as japan, germany still teach and learn in their native languages inspite of repeated attempts made by the victors of ww ii to impose the english language. their success on all fronts is there for all to see. even countries such as korea and china taught their own language till the present. they are now in the process of switching over to english.
i think they are making a big mistake. countries such as in india, singapore, malaysia, etc. suffer from sever mental servitude syndrome (smss) and as pointed out by the author by more and more youngsters adopting the western nonsense the problem is becoming compounded.
the countries adopting english instead of their mother tongue will suffer the same fate at some point in the future where their identity will be masked as in the case of india.
it is said that basic research is best done in the mother language. we think and implement the best in our mother tongue. india has become a master at reproducing whatever suits it from the west, instead of innovating and inventing which used to be it's forte in the past.
as you can see from my response, i am also an unfortunate victim of the system. i would love to see it not happening for the future generations if we take corrective actions today.
more power to people such as the author.
madhu kishwar has emailed me to post this. -------- dear kris, just as i rejoice in the new world of opportunities opened up by the it sector for people world wide, including in india, i welcome people learning english for enhancing choices in life and getting access to better jobs and business opportunities. the japanese, the chinese, the koreans, the german, the french are all learning english as and when they feel the need to communicate with the world outside. but in none of these countries, it is necessary to know english to get the job of a railway official or school teacher, a doctor, lawyer or judge. in india, by contrast, even if you are a first rate scholar in marathi or punjabi, apart from getting the job of a marathi or punjabi teacher — you will not get anything more than a peon’s job if you do not know any english. even to get the job of a humble school teacher, you must know some english, otherwise you cannot get a higher secondary, b.a or m.a. degree. think of its implications with some concrete examples. india is known for its great architectural wonders — ancient temples, forts, palaces, havelis and even the few ordinary homes that survive in pockets of india are testimony to our great and unique architectural heritage. as with all other traditional arts, crafts and technologies – these skills were passed on and honed over centuries from generation to generation through the jati system. the inheritors of our architectural tradition are known as sthaptis who study the science and art of constructing buildings, including decorative aspects like making stone idols and intricate carvings from traditional texts as well as by hands —on learning under traditional masters. not many people are aware that sthaptis are today allowed to build only temples, not ordinary homes and offices. do you know why? because they do not possess a certified degree from any of the modern schools of architecture where all subjects are taught in english from text books published in america or europe. the result is for all to see – our so- called modern architects build the most unliveable homes and buildings – their idea of a good home or office is to make it a carbon copy of one in new york or toronto. visit the school of planning and architecture in delhi as a case study – you will find that the conference room of this institution needs atleast 30 electric lights even on a summer afternoon because the way it is constructed shuts out all natural light. our architects use materials that are totally unsuitable for our weather conditions because their knowledge of materials and designs come from western text books. no school of architecture in india, condescends to study our traditional building methods and materials which produced such exquisite buildings. here is a case of shutting out, disowning all knowledge from our past, simply because it is not in english and not certified by the west. the result is for all to see: a country which produced numerous architectural wonders (not just a taj mahal in agra or a konarak temple in orissa) spread in the length and breadth of the country in every village, town and city of india is producing the most ugly dysfunctional buildings for our everyday use. we do not even know how to preserve our ancient monuments well because modern architectures have no clue about the building principles used in those strucures. since our traditional technologists were taught to respect local materials, weather conditions and cultural requirements of their clientele, we also find an enormous amount of aesthetic and structural diversity in traditional architecture from one region to another. compare a traditional home in kerala with that in goa, manipur or rajasthan and you will appreciate what a rich diversity it represents. by contrast, the homes, shops and offices built by our “modern” architects are identical in design and use of materials – the modest ones resemble ugly boxes and posh ones are carbon copies of western homes and offices. my article on “symbols of mental slavery” which i will soon post on sulekha will explain the implications of this further. in every field including science we have disowned and shut out knowledge and skills honed by our people over centuries and replaced them with copycat knowledge from the west. people without a sense of past, cannot be firmly rooted in their present and, therefore, cannot build glorious futures. no doubt, some indians are doing very well for themselves today – but india is not doing well. there are very few places in the world where there is so much filth, squalor and disorganisation as in most parts of india. by contrast, japanese, koreans chinese, germans, don’t just produce a few successful individuals. their success lies in carrying the entire society together. very few of them know good english but the economies of these societies are better linked to the global economy and they get much better respect in the world because their countries are counted among the success stories. by contrast, a few lakh indians might get glamorous jobs and feel they are part of an international elite but india is still pitied and looked down upon for having failed to combat poverty and illiteracy. for all the english knowing people, india accounts for less than 1% of world trade. there are two main reason why this is so. 1) the social and cultural gap between the educated elite and the rest of society has become unbridgeable in large part due to the english language. the aspirations of the english educated elite are all directed outwards while the rest of millions have been shut out from all opportunities. 2) by being trained through the english language, we have developed skills that make it easy for us to adopt to the working systems of the west where others lay the ground rules, create systems while we go and run them to other people’s requirements. we do not know how to create systems, institutions, devise laws, policies that can work in india and meet with the requirements of our own people. our copycat elite is incapable of leading india out of the collective mess we are in. not surprisingly, the biggest success stories of india are from the nri community or those like infosys who are connected with and servicing western economies. i too rejoice in the success of all these people because they give us hope. but it hurts me deeply when i find people within india associate indianness with corruption, inefficiency, shoddiness, and being incapable of team work. as for so meone in delhi writing a letter in hindi to someone in kerala and getting a response in malyalam – i do not deny the need for a link language. but that link language cannot be english. how many people can i communicate with in a village of andhra, jharkhand, and assam if i speak only english? please don’t jump and call me a hindi chauvinist when i say hindustani qualifies for being the link language eminently. count the number of states that are comfortable in hinudustani and compare it with the number of people who are fluent in english. the hindi film industry has reached the hearts and minds of people in every state of india. bollywood songs are sung from laddhakh to kanyakumari – by ordinary people in villages, not just the elite. even when illiterate people from tamilnadu or orissa come to delhi or other north indian cities, they pick up some elementary hindustani within six months and become fluent in it within 2-3 years. by contrast most of our b.as, m.as and even phds don’t handle english with equal ease. many can’t write 10 correct sentences in english, despite years of training in it. a person’s thinking is seriously impaired if they are not well rooted in at least one language. it is through language we grasp ideas and concepts. linguistic cripples grow up to be intellectual cripples. they may at best get jobs at call centres where they are expected to mug up a few lines and do mechanical responses, but they don’t develop the skills to be innovative and creative.
the following news article shows that due to a lack of a coherent win-win policy by state governments english medium schools with nursery rhymes like "london bridge is falling down" will proliferate over good native medium schools that also teach english as a second language from class i. please check comment #104, #52 & #31 among iothers for a possible approach in previleging the native language, but also teaching english as a strong second language. the revenge of angrezi
ms. kishwar, your points about the damage to the local languages are well-taken, as are your points about the perils of viewing ourselves through others' biased prisms. by all means, launch programs to promote local literature and theater. demand better quality cinema. do whatever it takes. with due respect though, the answer does not lie in de-empasizing english. the immediate concerns of a society where perhaps no more than 30- 40% (optimistically) constitutes the middle class, are perforce economics-oriented. yes, it could be that colonialism and the speakers of english were a *cause* of the problem. it still doesn't follow remedying that history by going after the language will lead to progress. you really seem to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. the level playing field you want to create by de-emphasizing english simply is not going to come about. as i said in my first letter in response to your article, people will find other ways of looking down upon others. nor are these attempts at level playing fields anything new. recent history is littered with the results of similar experiments in the economic sphere. let us take stock of what we have and move forward instead of embarking on these attempts at social engineering for the "common good". globalization in commerce is a reality as is the fact that english is a huge benefit in this game. this is staring at us in the face. contrary to your assertions, *any* degree of facility in the language is good. one need not be able to recite hamlet's soliloquy to field customer calls. if your assertion is that even a basic level of fluency is lacking in the educated population ( a rather dubious premise, but let's assume that), by all means improve those standards, just like you would in math or computer literacy, if you find your students wanting. i don't mean any offense by this, but your point of view seems to be at least driven by english being the language of "those colonists". let's get over this colonial mindset. it is an arrow in the nation's quiver, one that you want to keep finding fault with and throw away. in the meantime, we are not out of the woods yet (if i may stretch the metaphor). there are other practical aspects to consider. as someone said in one of the original comments, how is an official going to communicate when he sends a missive in hindi and receives a response in malayalam? sure, we can come up with a local link language, but aren't you reinventing the wheel? finally, india is on the verge of an economic breakthrough- one that is long overdue, given the talents of her people. it is indeed of utmost necessity for the country to make this leap to feed and clothe her huge population. any hiccups in this will certainly derail the process. turning inward most certainly will. i apologize in advnace if i may have been somewhat harsh in the sentiments expressed here, but they had to be stated. rgds, kris
responses from madhu kishwar. she asked me for help in posting these since she was having some difficulty in posting these. madhu kishwar comments: i am really delighted to have been introduced to sulekha and getting the opportunity to have my article put on sulekha website. i am very impressed at the vigour and quality of debate and want to thank all those who responded to my article "dominance of angreziyat in our education". i apologize for the delay in responding to all the responses because last few weeks i was constantly in and out of delhi - the city i am based in - on several short trips. since i don't carry a laptop, i did not have access to the internet through those trips. i got numerous interesting responses to my article. i cannot deal with them all in one go. therefore, i will be responding to them in installments. on may 16, ag wrote: its only in cr*y countries like india, that people start with terms like "my heart beats for india.. every single rich sob who built [america] had but one goal-his individual personal wealth, well being prosperity and what not.. not a single one said. chalo let me do something for america…a little bit of individualism goes a long way… solve your personal problem the country will automatically benefit from your progress…." ag, americans did not just go about solving their personal problems. they also build powerful social, political, cultural and economic institutions, which allowed individuals not only to pursue the goal of personal advancement but also to provide social security for those who were unable to "compete" successfully and amass wealth. societies make progress only when there is a sense of "we" that includes, but also transcends "i" and "me". that sense of "we" comes when different groups and individuals in that society share some common aspirations and evolve some common goals, and every citizen feels he / she has a stake in that social system. for example, no matter how rich and opulent a person's individual home may be, that person will not fully experience a sense of well-being if he / she lives in a disorganised, disorderly, squalor ridden neighbourhood. no neighbourhood can be well ordered unless people in that neighbourhood share the desire to keep it clean, orderly and safe, if people only keep their own homes clean and chuck all the garbage on the street. the rich interiors of those homes will not only bring down the property prices of all homes in that area, in comparison to a clean and orderly neighbourhood but also affect the overall mental and physical health profile of people living in the unsanitary neighbourhood. what is true at this micro level of neighbourhood is also true for a macro level - that is the nation. one of the main negative fallouts of the divide created by the disproportional clout of the english language and downgrading india's our rich languages is the loss of this sense of "we" and some sense of common goals and aspirations. it is the healthy balance between "me" and "we" that we have lost and need to restore before it is too late. those who think english is the language of opportunities would do well to remember that while it opens doors for a select few and provides them the wherewithal to be internationally competitive, it shuts all doors on those who are denied the opportunity to get a good education in english. we are so enamoured with our ability to be able to communicate and work with people in new york, london, toronto and sydney. but we don't seem bothered by the fact that english acts as a barrier in communicating with millions of people living in our own country. we don't seem to care that we are destroying the self-confidence and self-respect of our own people by making them feel worthless in their own country if they don't have at least a working knowledge of english. you want to qualify for medical school, you have to know english even if you want to practice only in india. you want to train to be an engineer or architect in india you have to know english. india is perhaps the only country where there is no medical or science journal in any of the indian languages, including, which are spoken by millions. india is the only country where no social science journal is published in any of the indian languages. all '"eminent" historians write their histories of india in english. all "eminent" sociologists publish their micro and macro level studies of indian society in english. all scientists publish their findings in english. think of its implications: if i am not well - trained in handling the english language, all the new knowledge being generated about the past and present of indian society is inaccessible to me. not surprisingly, scholarly conferences on indian history, politics, sociology, even indian religion are mostly held in american, british, even australian and german universities than in bhagalpur or bhatinda university where few even among the professors are likely to be fluent in english. the arrogance and insensitivity of the english knowing elite hits you hard when you consider the fact that india is one of the very few places in the world where pharmaceutical companies do not bother to write the names of the medicines they produce in any indian language. all our allopathic medicines are labelled in english. the accompanying literature about directions for use, side effects, precautions are all provided only in english. today, even the fashionable among ayurvedic drug making companies have taken to the use of english. most doctors, including those who work in government office and service low-income groups, write their prescriptions in english. given that most of our bas and mas cannot write five correct sentences in english and only a tiny percent among the educated sections can make sense of things written in english, imagine what it means for those who are barely literate to decipher their prescriptions and understood the nature of treatment and medication prescribed to them. does this happen in thailand, china, indonesia, germany, france, italy, russia, turkey - anywhere except in a few of the most "backward" of all nations? this has consequences far beyond what we dare acknowledge. those who study through various regional indian languages, and know only a smattering of english, do not have access to all the knowledge and information being produced in various disciplines, including politics, history, geography and sociology of india. consequently, most of our small town phds and mas are only truly mal-educated. a large proportion of them have never read anything other than cheap guidebooks - many of which are in turn written by poorly educated people. this is an important reason why it is very difficult to get god schoolteachers in india. this is an important reason the level of "higher" education in india is sinking rapidly, except in a few institutions that provide quality education to a select few who are proficient in english. if we are so convinced about the virtues of english, why not make that the one and only medium of education? why are we condemning a large proportion of our population to live in intellectual ghettos, denied all opportunities of advancement in their own land? my response to those who say we need to educate people, doesn't matter in what language is as follows: the choice of language is not as inconsequential as some people make it out to be. language is the key link to one's culture, one's heritage. one of the reasons why indians have so deeply internalised the view of their colonial masters about indian society is that very few among the educated elite are able to read and use indian language sources of indian history and society. consequently, we depend on the accounts written by colonial administrators, foreign missionaries and sundry foreign travellers to get a sense of our past; scholarly studies and translations of indian epics and dharmic texts are also mostly done by western scholars. as a result, their biases, their interpretations, their critiques become our self view, and we begin to define our problems, our successes, our failures and even our aspirations through the eyes of outsiders. for example, too many among the educated indians have been convinced that the biggest problem faced by india is its "overpopulation". how do we get this convinced of this? because this is the view of power elites in the west that indians need to cut down their fertility rate or else they will remain poor. those ho hold this view tend to be oblivious of the fact that singapore and hong kong have a much higher density of population per square mile than has india. these states do not even have the abundance of natural resources that india has. and yet they are prosperous economies. but we go on and on cursing our population size because others have convinced us that we are poor because we are too many. we celebrate those who are celebrated by the english-speaking world. we ignore those who are disapproved of or looked down upon by this power clique. today, if you ask anyone among the english educated elite in india to name five good indian authors, they are likely to name the likes of vikram seth and arundhati roy. they might even name shobha de! but very few, if any, are likely to name an o.v. vijayan who writes in malayalam or vijay tendulkar who writes in marathi. why? because these writers wrote for fellow indians in indian languages and won indian literary awards not a british or american award. never mind, that they are great writers and have given us profound new insights into our society and made significant literary innovations both in form and content. can we think of an important chinese, japanese, german or french writer who has never written in the language of his own people? writers elsewhere get international recognition after they have been read and admired at home. in india, we are intellectually browbeaten into admiring those who are smart enough to get recognition in the west. we pay attention to ayurveda and traditional healing practices only when western scientists condescend to endorse them. neem and turmeric are taken seriously only when western pharmacists discover and endorse their many wondrous uses; otherwise, we treat it as mumbo-jumbo. this habit of looking at our selves through the eyes of others has profound consequences in every aspect of life - including decisions that affect the everyday lives of millions in india. we operate with borrowed knowledge - be it in devising political institutions, health care systems or designing our homes and offices. the accompanying article entitled "symbols of mental slavery" will make this point clear. i will respond to other comments tomorrow. madhu kishwar