No language is just a language. Each word we speak, or write, is meant to communicate. Not just what we want to say, but also what we are. Language is inseparable from Identity. Just look at us, we have articles in many languages, sometimes on the same topics, not just to reach more people, but also to tell people who we are: We are Indians, and we want to speak to as many of our brethren as possible.
The ideological Right in India has been associated with language too. Hindi, a lot of time. And opposing English, even more often. Vajpayeeji was the first to speak in the United Nations in Hindi, and we love him for that. Our present PM, though not a native Hindi speaker, has spoken in Hindi often and effectively in India and abroad. Speaking in Indian languages is a matter of national pride.
So why did Yogi Adityanath, the new poster boy of the Right, make English compulsory in Government schools of UP from nursery on wards? Is this a betrayal?
English is more than just another language for us. It was the language of our rulers for a long time. It was the language, like Farsi before it, that invaders used to pass decrees with little consultation or participation of us Indians. Of course we resented it, but then the British left, and we still had a country that needed to be governed as one. This time, we chose English. We made a symbol of oppression into a glue. We made a compromise, as mature people often do. In the cultural arena, where languages thrive, Indian languages have been achieving greater milestones. Our hearts beat in our languages. Education is not all about the heart though.
Education is about the head. Anyone who has had technical education knows how important English is. We have either suffered, or seen people suffer because their knowledge of language falls short. We can’t grasp, and we can’t express even what we have grasped if we are not fluent in the language. The reality of the world is that English is, ironically, the Lingua franca. Either by design or by accident, many states have taken advantage of that fact. If you map excellence in technical fields versus English proficiency of states, the correlation would be pretty high. North India has lagged as successive governments have neglected this. Mulayam Singh Yadav even talked about banning English altogether from curriculum. Unfortunately, this has led to language barrier that is perpetuated by those in power, where they use the language to keep the “masses” out. Blindly opposing English is not going to help anyone.
This move by Yogi Adityanath is a practical politician in action.
This is what it looks like when someone is committed to repairing a leaky boat. This is a decision that will have impact for decades. The children coming out of this system will be better able to cope with the demands of the world. This is not enough. Of course it isn’t. The problems of education in UP are much bigger than just language proficiency. This, also, is not the only thing Yogi is doing. We have already written about his attack on cheating mafia. There is also a bigger thrust on education in many other ways. This is a leader with courage to do things many of his supporters would disagree with. English is a tool for those born without privileges that many of us take for granted. Not reservation, education will change their lives.
I think the CM understands what identity is about. It is not just about the social or economic class you belong to, its also about where you want to go. In that context, English has too long been a language a few use to humiliate or lord over others. Its time it became a language that the masses speak and reach the corridors that were denied to them. There is a reason our page started in English.