This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ankita Mukhopadhyay. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Obsession With English: Why Are Local Indian Languages A Matter Of ‘Shame’?

More from Ankita Mukhopadhyay

By Ankita Mukhopadhyay:

I studied in an English medium school since the beginning. For me, learning to communicate in English was an utmost necessity as a child, because it was a sign of me being ‘educated’. Many Indians of my generation have faced a similar situation – they belong to a generation where private schools have mushroomed up and their parents, having ‘suffered’ after being educated in the vernacular, decided to put their children in an English medium school. With economic liberalisation in the 90s, English became a language learnt by most privileged young children in ‘English medium’ schools. Currently, according to the latest data compiled by the National University of Education, Planning and Administration (NUEPA), the number of children studying in English-medium schools has increased by a staggering 274% between 2003 and 2011, to over 20 million students. After two decades of rapid economic growth, landing employment has also become equated with knowing English, especially due to the software boom and the expansion of the service sector.

English was handed to India by the British along with colonialism. It is a remnant of our colonial past, much like the railways. But unlike the telegraph, it is here to stay.

The hegemony of English around the world has propelled upper and middle-class Indians to pursue education in English with a vengeance. Knowledge of the language makes us more coveted in the job market, more acceptable as educated individuals in society. It is not a new trend to see youngsters talking to each other in English to appear cool and distinctive from the ‘local’ population. In schools, if children talk to each other in Hindi, or another local language, it is not uncommon for parents to say, “I send you to English medium to talk in Hindi? Wasting your parent’s money!”

Coaching classes have sprung up to capitalise on our new obsession with learning English. It is not uncommon for us to be embarrassed by a family member who can’t speak English ‘correctly’. Why has knowledge of English become a social status? Is speaking in an Indian language a matter of shame?

India is a country of myriad languages and it is difficult to pin down one as the official language. Hindi is one of the working languages of our country alongside English, but our national language isn’t just Hindi. There are still many schools in India imparting education in the vernacular, and it is sad to see the lack of social mobility in vernacular educated students. Studying in the vernacular is treated by the average Indian youth today as a sure shot method of escalating down the society’s ladder of progressivism. Students who don’t know English are demotivated so much by society and by the education system that they lose confidence and begin doubting their value addition to the academic atmosphere. Even speaking in any other language in the workplace, school or college apart from English is becoming a bane for teachers, administrators, children and parents alike.

English has created opportunities, and its adoption for all major examinations like the JEE Advanced, AIPMT, UPSC has cemented its status as the dominant language of the country. It is not surprising to see many Indians today who claim to be monolingual. In a country that speaks 780 languages, 220 have already been lost in the past 50 years, according to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India. And we are on the road to losing the other 560 too.

Our vernacular education is dying, languages like Sanskrit are considered the most ‘atrocious’ subjects to study at University. I remember seeing young students choosing languages like French over Hindi/Marathi as a second language in school – because it was more “global”. The fascination of integrating with the ‘Western world’ motivates us to discard our heritage and shun those who are sticking to it. Despite not having English as its first language, China has outrun India in every area of economic endeavour in the last 35 years, except in computer software industry and agricultural research. Why? Because the language of a country isn’t directly proportional to development.

We shouldn’t let the vernacular die for something that isn’t even our own. Our feeling of accomplishment of knowing English is dangerous, and unfortunately, we all feel that just because we speak a particular language, we own it. Yes, English is a universal language. And we should learn to live with the fact that most of us aren’t the top-most speakers of the language. No language can be perfectly mastered, but no master of a language should deter another person from trying to speak it. You can know your vernacular language, yet learn a foreign language. The logic of Indians who speak to their children in English is absurd. I once heard a lady tell her son, “Don’t talk in Hindi. It is crass.” I was amused at the fact that she decided to shun her entire heritage at one go by labelling her identity as ‘crass’.

Education in the vernacular isn’t a disgrace – it is a source of empowerment. It is an assertion of our culture. Just because a foreign language helps us stand out on a world forum, doesn’t mean it’s a sign of civilisation. If this were true, Japan, Germany or France wouldn’t have been functional countries today. It is necessary to know English, but it shouldn’t be a hegemonic language. Speaking, writing or communicating in our mother-tongue shouldn’t be a matter of shame.

You must be to comment.
  1. Srinivas

    When Karnataka tried to make Kannada compulsory all the “minorities” rose up in jiffy and challenged it in the court. As long as such narrow mentality prevails, there is no hope for other languages in India. Only Hindi will strong arm itself, in true UP and Bihar goonda style

More from Ankita Mukhopadhyay

Similar Posts

By Arun Kr Jaiswal

By Kritika Nautiyal

By Jeet

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below