[Editorial Analysis] English is an Indian language

Mains Paper 2: National
Prelims level: National Education Policy
Mains level: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

Context:

• The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 proposes a three-language formula under which schools must teach at least two languages that are “native to India”.

• Conspicuous by its absence in this category is English, threatening access to English instruction in public schools.

• This has played into popular notions that English is no more than a “colonial imposition”, not “native” to Indians.

• It is time to retire and reject these notions and recognise that English is very much an Indian language.

• Rather than trying to justify contentious historical criteria for “native”, we must focus on what English is to India today: an aspirational, cosmopolitan, widely spoken language we have made our own.

An inclusive language:

• The history of language and learning in India has been fraught with problems.

• Education in traditional knowledge systems has been highly discriminatory, especially along caste lines.

• English education emerged as an emancipator and equaliser, allowing people across social groups to break away from exclusionary knowledge systems.

• Dialect and vocabulary in regional languages are still indicators of caste and community, and enable further exclusion.

• English presents an opportunity to master a language that no one can exclusively claim as their own in India.

• This has helped sustain its appeal long after the British left.

• Middle-class Indians, many of whom have never studied English, want their children to attend English-medium schools, not just because of a promise of jobs, but of a respectability that English represents.

• This has made English a pathway to unique economic and sociocultural mobility that has given us a global advantage.

• English is the global lingua franca; it is the world’s preferred language of commerce, science, diplomacy and culture.

• Competence in English has enabled India to establish itself in these areas and its diaspora to thrive across the world, especially in the field of technology.

• The association between English and stable, well-paying careers is obvious and apparent.

• Today, Indians give shape to new thought through English. Science has relied on it to pool the best minds of the country and create a strong base of research, innovation and teaching in the field.

• We have drafted a Constitution and given shape to essential rights and ideals in English.

• Legal processes in India rely heavily on what has become the international language of the law.

• It is the language of our courts and some of our greatest legal minds such as H.M. Seervai, Nanabhoy Palkhivala and Krishna Iyer.

• Indian authors have also produced enduring English literature.

Part of daily life:

• Our debates on language are often detached from practical reality; the truth is that in India, the usage of English is already much more pervasive than people acknowledge.

• Whatever part of the country we are from, we talk on mobile phones and say “hello”, “thank you” and “happy birthday”.

• Whatever language one speaks, texting uses the Roman alphabet (in convenient Indian English keyboards), and emailing in any other script is unheard of.

• We have English words for many parts of daily life, and every Indian language relies on them.

• Would a car/cycle mechanic, electrician or postal worker be able to conduct tradecraft without some English?

• Do we have a well-developed and widely known vocabulary of medical jargon in any other Indian language? Every city has its own impressive English slang.

• How long can people hold a simple conversation on their own without using any English words?

• The convenience that even a passable knowledge of English lends to general communication is unparalleled.

• English is most popular in parts of India where the opposition to the homogenising ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva’ agenda is strongest.

• The NEP’s refusal to consider English as an Indian language is simply a backhanded effort to impose Hindi nationwide, restricting the autonomy of schools and States.

• In Tamil Nadu, a two-language policy has worked successfully for decades.

• Children have continued learning Tamil while also benefiting from the practical advantages of English.

• The NEP threatens this, and will not be acceptable to the people of Tamil Nadu.

Conclusion:

• The fact is that today, English has become essential to success in India. For an aspirational middle class, knowledge of English is a great emancipator — a path to a better future.

• In making rich contributions to the country and world through English, we have made it our own. The time has come to recognise it.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the southwest monsoon, consider the following statements:

1. Weak monsoon means rainfall less than half the normal.

2. Vigorous monsoon means rainfall 1 ½ to 3 times the normal.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Providing autonomy to the states in language policy in education is more viable than a three-language formula. Comment.

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