The National Education Policy’s refusal to consider English as an Indian language is a back door effort to impose Hindi
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 proposes a three-language formula whereby schools must teach at least two ‘indigenous of India’ languages. English is conspicuous by its absence in this category, threatening access to the teaching of English in public schools. This played into popular notions that English is nothing more than a “colonial imposition”, not “native” to Indians. It is time to step back and throw away these notions and recognize that English is truly an Indian language. Rather than trying to justify controversial historical criteria for “native”, we need to focus on what English is for India today: an ambitious, cosmopolitan, and widely spoken language that we have adopted.
The history of language and learning in India has been fraught with pitfalls. Education in traditional knowledge systems has been highly discriminatory, especially on the basis of caste. Teaching in English has emerged as an emancipator and equalizer, enabling people from all social groups to break away from exclusionary knowledge systems. The dialect and vocabulary of regional languages ââremain indicators of caste and community and allow for further exclusion. English offers the opportunity to master a language that no one can claim exclusively as their own in India. This helped maintain its appeal long after the British left. Middle-class Indians, many of whom have never studied English, want their children to attend English schools, not only because of a promise of jobs, but because of the respectability that English represents. . This has made English a path to unique economic and socio-cultural mobility which has given us a global advantage.
English is the world’s lingua franca; it is the world’s preferred language for commerce, science, diplomacy and culture. Fluency in English has enabled India to gain a foothold in these areas and its diaspora to thrive across the world, especially in the field of technology. The association between English and stable, well-paying careers is obvious and apparent.
Today, the Indians are giving shape to a new thought through English. Science has relied on it to bring together the best minds of the country and create a solid foundation for research, innovation and education in the field. We drafted a Constitution and shaped essential rights and ideals in English. Legal processes in India rely heavily on what has become the international language of law. It is the language of our courts and of some of our greatest jurists such as HM Seervai, Nanabhoy Palkhivala and Krishna Iyer. Indian authors have also produced enduring English literature. RK Narayan, Khushwant Singh, Vikram Seth, Shashi Tharoor (who made big words cool), Aravind Adiga, Chetan Bhagat, Shobhaa De, Arundhati Roy and many more gave us rich Indian English which is as much ours as it is any other “mother tongue.”
Part of everyday life
Our debates on language are often detached from practical reality; the truth is that in India the use of English is already much more widespread than it is recognized. Languages ââborrow from English with abandon. No matter what part of the country we are from, we talk on cell phones and say “hello”, “thank you” and “happy birthday”. Regardless of the language spoken, SMS uses the Roman alphabet (in practical Indian English keyboards), and sending emails in any other script is unknown. We have English words for many parts of everyday life, and all Indian languages ââdepend on it. Would a car / bicycle mechanic, electrician or postman be able to do the job without a little English? Do we have a well developed and widely known vocabulary of medical jargon in another Indian language? Each town has its own awesome English slang. How long can people hold a simple conversation on their own without using English words? The convenience that even a passable knowledge of English lends to general communication is unparalleled.
English is most popular in areas of India where opposition to the âHindi, Hindu, Hindutvaâ homogenization agenda is strongest. The NEP’s refusal to see English as an Indian language is just a back door effort to impose Hindi nationwide, restricting the autonomy of schools and states. In Tamil Nadu, a bilingual policy has worked successfully for decades. The children continued to learn Tamil while enjoying the practical benefits of English. The NEP threatens this and will not be acceptable to the people of Tamil Nadu.
The point is that today English has become essential for success in India. For an ambitious middle class, knowing English is a great emancipator – a path to a better future. By making rich contributions to the country and the world through English, we have made it our own. The time has come to recognize it.
Karti P Chidambaram is Member of Parliament of Sivaganga and Member of Congress Committee of India