“‘Our’ Ambedkar University definitely would organise talks and seminars about Ambedkar and will remember Ambedkar but only in English,” read an open letter penned by Rashmi and Garima, Dalit MPhil research scholars studying in Ambedkar University, Delhi.
AUD is witnessing protests from the student body against the imposition of the English language in every sphere of the University. According to some students, even though the problem persists in everyday activities and lectures as well, the issue is coming to the fore as admission season is right around the corner and even the entrance exam papers have been only printed in English. Students from the Progressive and Democratic Student Collective (PDSC) Ambedkar University, and Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS) are leading these protests. They recently visited the Deputy Chief Minister’s office, New Delhi, to discuss the same. According to a member of KYS, a referendum was organised on the issue wherein out of the 400 students who participated, 92 percent voted in affirmative.
To put across their case, the PDSC has released a booklet with several surveys and accounts of students who have suffered because of the exclusion of Hindi. As per the booklet, AUD uses only English as a medium for intellectual discussions in classes and also mandates students to write all exams and submit their thesis in English. The University in its brochures explicitly states that English will be the sole medium of instruction. On the other hand, the Hindi language is imposed on first-year students pursuing B.A. which often causes inconvenience to students who are used to studying in their regional language or English. Not knowing English or Hindi or both doesn’t just affect their academic performance but is also demoralising at times.
The booklet explains PDSC’s agenda for protesting, “This is not to say that we are opposed to English or any other language, nor are we arguing for Hindi to take over in any way. Our protest is against the tyranny of any one language which forces everyone to think, understand, speak and write in one language and one language alone. We are learning English, we wish to learn other languages as well, but this process will have to begin with the language we are capable of reading, writing and thinking in, at present. It is also important to recognise the politics underlying the primacy of any one language, and that it has historically been used to uphold the regime of dominant groups while crushing the rest.”
A student pursuing an MPhil in History shared her experience in the booklet, “Two or three words in every sentence require me to refer to the dictionary repeatedly. Thus the flow of reading is broken, and I can only comprehend parts of the reading. To make matters worse, the reading is discussed in the classroom solely in one language and that too at such a rapid pace that I cannot keep up with it. Even if I pick up my bottle to drink water for a moment, I lose the thread of the concept being explained in that class.”
Anup, a student of the University, thinks that the Vice Chancellor has been trying to diffuse the matter on language due to the fear of denting the University’s image at an international level. He said, “They want to preserve the perception of people as they see AUD as a liberal, elitist college, where English flows much like water.” The University had decided to establish a language cell to help students out, but there’s no active language cell in the University.
PDSC’s immediate demands are to have an active language cell which can help students learn basic English, dissolving the imposition of Hindi as a foundational language, and giving students a choice to write exams, assignments and presentations in either Hindi and English for starters. Moreover, facilitation of workshops and seminars in regional languages to ensure active participation across boundaries. If these demands are met, it will be a start in creating an inclusive environment. Apart from these, their long-term demand is to encourage multilingual learning, and for notes to be translated into multiple languages so that language isn’t a hindrance to learning.
Dean of Students Sanjay Sharma has acknowledged that the demands are legitimate but hasn’t made any confirmation as to when and how the administration will fulfil these demands. He said, “It’s a state university, but Hindi is not the only state language; there’s also Urdu and Punjabi. So, unless we make adequate arrangements, we will not be able to move in this direction straight away. This demand is legitimate, but we’ll have to see how to make it possible.”
The Progressive and Democratic Student Community’s booklet also states, “The question of language is a matter of social justice, of social equality and freedom of thought and expression.” Universities should undertake a holistic approach to educate and make sure that not knowing a particular, dominant language doesn’t deter the process. If the papers for entrance exams are printed in all regional languages, and a language cell is established to help students out, it will be a huge win for the students of Ambedkar University.