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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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