The New Anglophones in India
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 27 Jun 2022
After about two hundred years, in 1947 India became free of the British yoke. Politically we won freedom but technically and educationally we did not get independence at that time. It is a pity that even now after seventy five years, we hardly feel free in these areas.
In 1947, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke of the path breaking event, but he spoke in English to give vent to his emotions. Every year on 15 August, the Prime Minister (PM) gives an address to Indian citizens from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort in Hindi. This was a difficult exercise not only for Nehru but to succeeding PMs also.
It was only when Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later Narendra Modi became PMs that they could communicate well in Hindi language. As a matter of fact, when Vajpayee was the Foreign Minister of India, he gave his address to the United Nations in Hindi — a uniquely symbolic gesture for the independent country.
Apart from political freedom, our university system continued to be dominated by the British system of education both at the University level and even at the school level. Whatever modern knowledge we needed to acquire, we had to learn the English language; speaking it properly was a sign of good upbringing and education. In addition, all literature — in sciences, mathematics, history etc was available largely in this language. With some efforts — school level subjects — history, general science, mathematics etc began to be be available about twenty years later in Hindi and some regional languages of India.
This is how the evolution in our academic sphere continued for several years. But today, a new idiom is manifest among the educated people even in the Hindi language heartland. They feel that they must show their knowledge of English while speaking or conversing by using English vocabulary even when Hindi words are available. For example, use of words like table, chair, dinner, as well as educational, technical and cultural terminology are a must for these persons. No wonder that the so called English medium schools thrive in the country.
One reason seems to be to show that they are a higher species of people in comparison to the ordinary villager or low level worker in industry or railways. With commerce, economics and management dominating employment avenues, use of English has become almost mandatory for such people. In science, technology or AI (artificial intelligence), English language is absolutely essential. Even in China or Russia, the use of English for these subjects is common.
Similarly, the subject of medicine is propagated through this medium. Recently, because of the political and military turmoil in Ukraine, many Indian students of medicine who were studying there because of lower fees, had to return to India. The medium of studies for Indian students studying in Ukraine was largely English.
Unfortunately, the earlier forms of medicine — homeopathy or Ayurvedic prevalent in India, find themselves at a disadvantage since most research in allopathy (western form of medicine) is done in English.
To counteract the dominance of the English, some political parties such as BJP — the political party of Mr Modi, largely use Hindi language at political rallies and do not disregard it as used to happen earlier. The Indian film industry is dominated by Hindi films and songs that further give an impetus to Hindi. Travel by train or bus also promotes it.
Today, be it politics, economy, or studies in higher education, the situation in India is complex. Incidentally, 22 languages enjoy constitutional status in India. Two of these are Nepali and Sindhi languages with very few speakers speaking them. Fortunately the ancient Indian language Sanskrit is also included and receives encouragement both officially and educationally. I am not sure if this complex situation prevails in other emerging economies also, but as long as this dichotomy persists in India, the new Anglophones will take advantage of the situation and try to sustain themselves in their privileged positions. England, the country which boasted that the Sun never sets in the British Empire, must be smirking at the linguistic confusion in India.
It is difficult to do away with this dichotomy. Let us at least be aware of the situation before we find a solution to it. Towards this goal, the languages of the UN — French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese besides English, must be encouraged. Perhaps one day German and Hindi will also become part of this category.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. email@example.com
Tags: Anti-imperialism, British Colonialism, British empire, Cultural imperialism, Cultural violence, History, Imperialism, India
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Jun 2022.
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