RK Laxman’s 50 year old cartoon – relevant even today
Fifty years earlier, RK Laxman’s cartoon made us smile. Today, the status remains as bad as 50 years ago. Today, it is no longer a smiling matter – it is tragic.
80% of India’s population
The Indian education system excludes a vast majority of Indians from higher education as Indian higher education system is predominantly in English. This puts a premium on English – and discounts Indian languages in the educational sweepstakes. The disadvantaged students who have studied in Indian languages ensure that their children get the ‘advantage’ of English education.
The negative effect this on Indian self esteem is not even a point of discussion here.
The principle of exclusion (a colonial idea), is a dominant marker of the entire Indian education system – rather than inclusion. British (and before that, Islamic rulers’) colonial-imperial practices supported foreign languages on the backs of the Indian taxpayers’ contribution – and actively worked on destruction of local cultures.
For instance, in the erstwhile State Of Hyderabad (equal to about 10%-12% of modern India), ruled by the Nizam, a large non-British kingdom, 2000 year old local languages like Telugu and Marathi were considered uncouth and barbaric languages – compared to a 700 year old language like Urdu, which was supported by the State. Paeans in praise Urdu can be heard even today – much like the ’emergence of Hinglish’ is being celebrated in contemporary India.
Thus anyone without the knowledge of Urdu was excluded from the system of governance, administration and interaction with public services and utilities. So it is now in India, with English.
Desert Bloc Colonialism
The centres of Indian thought, Takshashila, Nalanda, etc. were destroyed by Desert Bloc invaders. First was the destruction of Takshashila in 499 AD – by the Huna (Western history calls them White Huns, Romans called them Ephtalites; Arabs called them the Haytal; The Chinese Ye Tha), who came,
sacking monasteries and works of art, and ruining the fine Greco-Buddhic civilization which by then was five centuries old. Persian and Chinese texts agree in their descriptions of the tyranny and vandalism of this horde.” (from The Empire of the Steppes By Rene Grousset, Naomi Walford).
The White Huns, was a Central Asian, nomadic tribe, roaming between Tibet to Tashkent, practicing polyandry. Takshashila lying at the cross roads of the Uttarapatha (West calls it The Silk Route) – from Tibet, China, Central Asia, Iran – and India. The destruction of Takshashila (Taxila) meant that students and scholars would need to travel for an extra 60 days to reach the other Indian Universities of the time.
Mohammed Bakhtiar Khilji destroyed the Universities and schools of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Odantapura and Jagddala around 1200 AD. This marked the destruction, persecution and decline in Indian education, thought and structure. 600 years later, the British further damaged the Indic system of education, with State subsidies and patronage of Western education – the watershed being Bentinck’s proclamation in 1835.
Thus, the reduced (quality and quantity) output from the ‘Indian thought factory’ led to stasis and the decline that we see today – through the prism of last 800 years of violence and destruction of Indic thought. This problem gets further magnified with the existing and continued subsidy to English language /Western education by the Indian Government.
Many centuries ago, Indians (under Islamic rulers) thought that Persian was the most important language in the world. And then it became Urdu. Now there are hosannas to English. Persian and Urdu were languages that the ruling class foisted on the Indians. As is English.
Access Control and opportunity loss
This restricts 80% of India’s population from contribution and access to opportunity. Without looking at it from ethical or social equity viewpoints, but purely as an economic question means, we should look at the cost of this policy.
How does this hinder India. India loses every year about 200,000 highly educated people to the West. These 200,000 people have been educated at subsidized Indian Universities at a considerable cost to the poor Indian taxpayer. What return does the tax payer get from this? Negative returns.
The make up of these 200,000 people that India loses. 100,000 are students who leave India, mostly never to return. Another 100,00o are ‘captured’ by the Western organizations and systems. The other aspect of this loss is that this loss of people, directly and disproportionately, supports Western dominance of economic and academic systems – by India.
Something’s gotta give
What happens when English stops being an important language in the global sphere? What use will India’s investment in English be at that time? And this will happen sooner than we imagine – at a greater cost than we believe.
The combined GDP of the English speaking world is 14.1 trillion (2003 figures) – of which the US contributions is more than 71%. By a similar comparison, the next largest bloc of multi-nation, same-language speakers is the Spanish whose combined GDP is US$ 3.20 trillion. The French speaking bloc comes a poor third at US$2.20 trillion. The English speaking bloc, in spite of their temporary dominance, is still worried about the French attempts to keep its Francophone flock safe. It is but a matter of time that the US contribution will decrease – and hence, trade denominated importance of English will decrease.
Will we become a nation that loses control over its future? The danger of becoming a South American clone is all too real. After, Spanish decolonization, the South American countries persisted with Spanish practices – and Spanish language. We all know how South American countries tracked the descent of Spain into dictatorships and instability.
The decline of the (Greco-Roman) Byzantine Empire, was similar. After the split of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Western, over the next 200-400 years, Greek language became the official language of the Byzantine Empire. Eastern Europe followed the lead of the Byzantine Empire and used Greek extensively – at a cost to their own language. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Eastern Europe lagged Western Europe.
The cost of switching from English
Assuming that a 100,000 essential books need to translated into local languages, at a cost of say Rs.100,000 per book, it still amounts to Rs.1000 crores. Is that a large sum of money for modern India. Hardly.
What is the loss to India? How much does this reduce India’s growth rate by? Hard numbers to quantify – but definitely big numbers.
So, why does contemporary India persist with this policy.
Because all the high and mighty, finally want their children to ‘escape to the West’, with a good education from India – at the cost of India’s poor. This vested interest makes this policy go around.
The UK, in its death throes, is using English as a last prop – to remain standing. The British PM Gordon Brown has decided that
“In total, two billion people worldwide will be learning English by 2020. But there are millions more on every continent who are still denied the chance to learn English.
“So today I want Britain to make a new gift to the world: a commitment to help anyone – however impoverished and however far away – to access the tools they need to learn English.”
Also, the British are co-opting the US in this exercise. Gordon Brown made a visit to the US to
propose that together Britain and America strive to make the international language that happens to be our own far more freely available across the world. I am today asking the British Council to develop a new initiative with private-sector and NGO partners in America, to offer anyone in any part of the world help to learn English.
But, the most interesting, was this post by a Quebecois, where he makes a case with a question ‘Is the English Language Bubble About to Burst?’ Worth a read, this post.