By Samyak Purkait
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
India is a diverse country, with its more than one billion people speaking a large number of languages and dialects, some of which are officially recognised. However, perhaps no language has had a more profound impact on our society and our education system than English. Due to its universal acceptability, English is the only language out of so many vernacular languages in our country that evokes such heated responses, like the one we witnessed in the recent UPSC English row, and I am quite certain that we have not heard the last on this emotive issue. Well, that brings us to the fundamental question of whether we actually need English in order to become a developed nation. Does English substantively matter, or are we Indians obsessed with it? Do we use English just to show off that we belong to a particular “elite class of the society?”
Now even a quick glance at some of the nations of the world will reveal a remarkable result. Most of the developed economies of the world do not use English as their lingua franca. Take for instance countries like China, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, and South Korea to name a few. These are economic powers to reckon with, and yet neither do they use English as their main language, nor do they focus so much on the study of the language as we Indians do. Closer home the picture is quite different. India, and probably the entire subcontinent, is obsessed with English. If one can’t speak English, then one is more or less written off in a job interview, and if one can’t write English, it becomes very hard to get good textbooks to study from. We are obsessed with a “convent” education just so that our children can do two out of the 3 R’s (read and write) in English properly. Why are we so obsessed with English? It probably has something to do with the fact that the British ruled us for nearly two centuries, leaving a lasting imprint of their language behind. We continue the legacy. We change the names of our cities to Mumbai from Bombay, Kolkata from Calcutta, and yet we are not gracious enough to accept our mother tongues as the sole lingua franca; the language which will be spoken in a job interview, the language which will be used to write an exam and still get a good job, and finally, the language that will be treated with respect and not be mocked or dismissed from corporate boardrooms.
It’s time we realise that English is not the sole criterion for development. Yes, English is important. Yes, we need to learn English and learn it well so that when we go outside our country we don’t remain mute spectators. However, it is also equally important we learn our national language, our mother tongue properly. Steps should be taken to make vernacular languages more important in school curriculums. We should embrace our own culture rather than attempting to appropriate someone else’s.
I would like to finish my article by saying that the irony of our situation is further highlighted by the fact that this article is in English.Samyak is someone with wide variety of interests from social work to politics to sports etc. A fun loving extrovert sort of person, he is always willing to participate in constructive forums which help hone his soft as well as hard skills. A keen observer of political events and always willing to scratch the surface and go deeper into the political actions of politicians.