Why India’s Obsession With English Is Hurting Its Own Citizens

Posted by Vivashwan Singh in Education, Society
January 25, 2017

200 years of British rule in India was very likely to have some long-term effects. The ‘trajectory’ of the English language in India is one of them. Though we are physically free, however, we are ‘rationally’ slaves because of the ‘English stereotype’ that is embedded inside us. A language is a vital part of our life since it’s the mode of communication. This is the meaning of ‘language’ we as have heard or learnt throughout our lives. Although a language is ‘only a mode for communication’, people are, however, putting forth the English language as a ‘style statement’, or as a parameter to ‘judge an individual’s knowledge’.

In a country where the majority doesn’t communicate in English and where only a few families communicate in English at home, it seems logically irrelevant for everybody to learn English, or get a thorough ‘English education’. Subsequently, English will keep being restricted to the area of only a minority of India’s society – while most Indians will continue to utilise their local dialects in every aspect of their lives. However, ‘written work’ in India is usually done in English – including my writing of this article. That is why educated Indians gaining and spreading knowledge are doing so in a language which is alien to most of their fellow citizens, and are therefore basically withdrawing from the mainstream society around them. Thus, the larger part of Indians who use their local dialects, whatever those dialects are (and not only Hindi) are being cut off from the spread of ‘modern knowledge’ and ‘discourse’ across the country.

Numerous Indian languages have minimal educational material available even in India. This denies an average Indian the learning that a non-English speaker in some another nation would have access to. This discourages the majority of Indians from utilising the benefits of the Internet. As of 2014, the Internet has scarcely reached out to a tenth of India’s populace to some extent because of the absence of material in and on Indian dialects on the web. This, despite the fact that a few of India’s languages are among the 20 most spoken languages on the planet – Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, and Tamil, to name just a few. Surprisingly, none of them is among the 20 languages most used on the web.

Learning a language – be it any language – is about picking up a ‘skill’ that is required to gain ‘education’. It’s not the ‘whole education’ in itself. Moreover, a notion which treats ‘language’ and ‘knowledge’ as ‘equivalent’ prevents students from gaining ‘actual education’. The drift from a ‘mother tongue’ to a ‘school language’ is sufficiently complicated and confusing in a nation like India, where many people don’t talk in the ‘standard local language’, but rather, in a ‘mixed lingo’ – or, as with numerous tribal groups, a completely unique dialect. Retaining knowledge through ‘multiple dialects’, ‘all at once’, greatly confuses children at the school level. Obviously, there are advantages to being multilingual – yet this ought not to come at the cost of adapting to, and completely adopting one language. A research organised by UNESCO shows that children who begin their education in their mother tongue make a better start, and continue to perform better, than those for whom school life starts with a new language.

Regardless of these facts, India’s human resource development has been functioning mostly to facilitate the accomplishment of the ‘elites’, who have a craving for a taste of education abroad. This is the reason the ‘elite class’ ‘grasps’ the English language – while the rest of the Indians have to ‘try and follow it’. Undoubtedly, one of the prominent reasons for the need of an ‘English education’ and its use in India, is that it connects India to a ‘globalised world’. However, putting millions of students through a ‘troublesome’ learning situation so that only a handful of them can be employed by multinational corporations can hardly be justified. India’s development cannot be fuelled by multinational corporations and call-centers alone – huge numbers of which are struggling in any case. Only a tiny fraction of Indians work in such ventures.

It is basically a waste of time and assets to educate a huge number of Indians another language that most will keep struggling with. What number of occupations really require the knowledge of English keeping in mind the end goal of working? Relatively few. It is the skills that matter and not the language. One can imagine the consequences of Narendra Modi asking for votes in English, among the common masses.

Likewise, the professional world around us is to be blamed today. We should rather concentrate on modifying the ‘selection processes’ that corporate companies use, when they approach colleges.

When it comes to higher education, there are a few students (especially English undergraduates) over various universities in India (including mine) who have a mental disorder called Grammatical Pedantry Syndrome (GPS) and what’s funny is that the vast majority don’t know they have it until a psychiatrist does their diagnosis. Grammar Pedantry Syndrome is an illness or a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder where someone has a compulsive desire to correct any grammatical errors one has made, and is obsessed with taking this peculiar, constant, and vexatious action.

If you have great presentation skills in English then you are ‘useful for everything’ or else ‘good for nothing’. People need to accept the fact that around 40% of Indians refer to Hindi as their ‘first language’, as of 2014, while a negligible percentage of Indians had referred to English as the same. If an Indian aspires to study in the UK, he needs to clear the TOEFL (Test Of English As A Foreign Language). But when it comes to foreigners visiting India, they are very ‘comfortable’, speaking just English – because there’s no requirement to learn the language of that Indian state which they are visiting, beforehand.

So if English truly ‘tests’ our knowledge, then all ‘entrance tests’ should ideally be done for just the negligent percent of Indians, mentioned above. This perception should be changed. Knowledge and ideas are, and should not be restricted by dialects and languages. ‘elite Indian English speakers’ should regard every individual for what they are, and not judge them on account of their lingual incapability. This is something promoters of English education ought to consider genuinely. If the Internet presented most of its contents in Hindi in India, I, being a proud Hindi speaker, would have written this article in Hindi. The English language should be an ‘addition’, and not the ‘foundation’ of education in India.