Tuesday, May 01, 2012

English : A Boon or a Curse

I came back from China on 27th April after an Eleven days trip. It was extremely difficult to communicate there, as the number of people capable of speaking or understanding English in China, was extremely limited.
With my Indian mind set, I could in a knee jerk reaction,perceive that Chinese people who do not know English are very Backward. But taking into cognizance their infrastructure, their total dominance over International Trade, their rate of Growth, one has to admit the obvious that the Chinese state is way ahead of India.
The inference that is drawn out of this dichotomy is that Knowledge of English has no bearing on the development of a Nation. India way ahead of China in their knowledge of English is lagging way behind their rate of growth.
Thence the question that arose in my mind was that ‘Has English been a Boon or a Curse for India’.
There are 36 nations in the world that have democratic from of governance. India perhaps is the only developing nation that fits in this bracket of Democracy.
To trace the roots of this aberration one has to delve into the history of India. Lord Maculay an Indian Civil Service Officer, in 1835 advocated English language over Sanskrit and Arabic as the medium of education for the “emancipation of Natives”. The stated objective was couched in diabolical words. The actual objective was manufacturing of English educated Babus to run the state machinery.
I have a strong perception that had the English Masters been smart enough, they would had taken pains to learn Indian language and administer through their acquired knowledge of Indian Languages.
To transfer the burden of learning a foreign language they brought in English as the medium of education for Indian Natives. The consequence was that the uninitiated Indian now armed with the knowledge of English language was able to rummage through Rousseau and Voltaire . The British Government was now teaching Indians revolutionary literature and hoping to make clerks out of them.
Though substantial numbers did join the bureaucracy and became their stooges, yet a significant number of Indians did hoist their flags of revolt. The breed of rebels in India was largely made up of lawyers trained in Macaulay inspired English medium education. Bred on Rousseau and Voltaire the concept of civil rights and liberty became their mainstay.
This accelerated the Freedom Movement and the ouster of British Government. Hence if the British Bureaucrats had learnt Indian Languages and the knowledge of English Language was alien to the natives, it is unlikely that the ideas of rebellion would had germinated in such an environment. Rousseau and Voltaire were not available in Indian languages and without their influence concepts of civil liberties would had remained incongruous. There was no history of a Freedom movement or any other civil liberty movement during the long Mughal Rule.
The same train of thought ushered in Democracy at the stroke of a Pen, with no cooling period. India till then had had only Imperial / Monarchy form of Government. These leaders did not vacillate even for a moment and formed a Republic with powers vested in People.   
At the time of Independence there was a move to declare Hindi as the National Language. Tamilnadu or Madras led the opposition to Hindi. The classic reply of Kamraj deserves to be quoted. When it was cited that Hindi was spoken by the largest number of Indians and hence deserved to be given the place of National Language, Kamraj retorted that “Rats are the most commonly found animals in India, hence by similar logic can we make a rat as the national animal.”  He even threatened to secede from India. The Central Government wilted and put off the declaration of a National language till some time in future. The some time is yet to arrive even after Sixty Years.
Today India has about 20 officially recognized languages. With strains of Parochialism running high, there was a need for a link language. English fitted the bill.
The first speech by the head of state Pt. Nehru on the eve of independence was made in English and this set the trend. Suddenly English was the language of the State and the Elite. With the level of 12% literacy on the eve of Independence, English was certainly an alien language to at least 90% of the population. Today though the rate of literacy is respectable 75%,yet access to English education is extremely limited.  Still most of the state’s work and commerce is transacted in English. This has made state and education inaccessible to a large number of people. Young people first struggle to master the foreign language and then the subject of education.   
English has become the Berlin Wall dividing the East and the West, today in India. People living in the Western part are unaware and unconcerned  of the hurdles faced by the people living in the eastern side and the people living in the Eastern side can merely look with an envy at the people living in the western side of the wall without mustering up the courage to scale the wall.
Without being taught in Mother tongue one’s growth would always remain stunted. No Nation has progressed on the bulwark of a Foreign Language. Neither can India.
Hence when English has been a Boon for India before Independence it has become a curse for the development of India after Independence.

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