‘India can’t progress without promoting Indian languages’

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By Sapan Kapoor and Riya Yadav

Sankrant Sanu – an entrepreneur, writer and researcher based in Seattle and Gurgaon – seems to be a man on a mission to secure justice for the Indian languages, hopping from one place to another, delivering lectures in schools and universities, educating the youth about the pressing need to create equal opportunities for those who wish to study in their mother tongue.

He has a reason to do so.

“Throughout the world no country has been able to progress without developing its own languages,” Sanu, an IIT alumnus, tells NewsGram in an interview, adding that English was the main reason behind India’s backwardness.

“English is the reason behind our backwardness.”

sanuSanu learnt this from his experiences of travelling to as many as 25 countries and observing their education systems at close quarters.

He says people wrongly assume that English is the way for India to progress, for his experience suggests otherwise. Sanu recalls his sojourn in the Israeli port city of Haifa while working for Microsoft and handling a team of software developers.

“At first I was flabbergasted to learn that within Microsoft development centre they used Hebrew for all operations. Besides, their number one engineering college used Hebrew, which was much higher ranked than our IITs. Later, in Russia while on the search for talents, their programmers spoke no English during interviews.

“We had interpreters for this purpose and I hired them not because of their English but because they were excellent programmers… I thereafter travelled to 25 countries to see how people were promoting their own languages unlike India which seemed to be obsessed with English and, as a result, it is one of the major reasons of our underdevelopment,” Sanu, attired in his staple kurta, says.

Moreover, while travelling through Indian villages, he took some IQ test papers with him. His intent and assumptions were that he would find bright children in Indian villages and the results thereof surprised him. In his sample of over 100 students, both in rural and urban schools, he found that rural children surpassed the urban ones by a good margin. However, the fact of the matter was that a large number of these students would usually drop out after class 8, as most of the competitive exams were in English.

“Learning English is no duck soup, as it’s a very tough language and takes years of painful labour and patience to become proficient. Therefore, a student could be a math genius but just because of his poor English, he would be deprived of all the opportunities he deserves. Nothing could be more atrocious than this,” Sanu opines.

Colonial hangover

So, why are we so obsessed with English? The answer is ‘colonial hangover’.  Even after our so-called independence, we have somehow kept our slave mentality intact. We have this great Indian inferiority complex. Those who speak Indian languages are seen as inferior beings and are discriminated against. According to a study, Sanu shares that only 10 per cent Indians know English; rest of 90 per cent literate Indians study in Indian languages.

“English is there because the state favors it and discriminates against Indian languages.”

“English is the medium of instruction in IITs and IIMs. Isn’t it? It is a pity that while a child in South Korea can become a doctor after studying in Korean, a boy in a Tamil Nadu hamlet cannot become one after studying in Tamil. Studies show that children learn the best in their mother tongue. Original creative thinking cannot happen in a foreign language. The education system has become so divorced from reality… BPO is not innovation, it’s coolie work,” Sanu laments.

The way forward

“We need a revolution and have to create a mass movement like India Against Corruption. Nayi kranti laani hogi, bhasha ki kranti jiske bina desh unnat nahi ban sakta (A new revolution is the need of the hour, the revolution of language sans which the country cannot develop). It is a matter of great regret that when the world is promoting their own languages, India is rooting for English.”

Therefore, Sanu has come up with a Bhasha Niti or Language Policy for a new India.

One of the proposals of the Bhasha Niti is to follow the European Union model. The EU has 24 equally supported languages. If someone writes a letter in any of the 24 languages, they would get a reply in that language. This is how a central government should function, he suggests.

Sanu shares an example in this regard. He spoke about a person who wrote to the PMO in Hindi a few days ago and got the reply in English. As a result, he wrote back to them questioning their response. Shouldn’t the PMO support all the languages?

“We need to put pressure on the government to change India’s language policy and create equal opportunities for those who wish to study in Indian languages. It’s a myth that the world is running after English. Even the MNCs work and adapt to local languages. For instance, for a small language like Turkish, Microsoft localises but not for Indian languages.

“It is because of our slave mentality. Why should the job interviews be conducted in English? One of my policy suggestions is that the candidate should be able to choose the language he wishes to give his interview in. IITs can have their curricula in local languages, same goes with IIMs and other government institutes as well.”

Sanu says, for this to happen, the court system should support Indian languages as well. It is a travesty of justice that in the Supreme Court people can only practice in English.

How can people have justice in a country where they cannot represent to a court in their own languages? You have people coming from the rural background and they do not understand what the lawyer is saying to the court.

“For heaven’s sake, they cannot even correct the lawyer if he says something wrong. In this manner, we are denying justice to people and holding the country back. We are creating nothing but a generation of cripples who neither know their own languages nor are they proficient in English.”

Sanu also has a subtle message for PM Modi.

“Unless Skill India means imparting skills to Indians in their own languages, it would not yield any positive results.”

He believes technology can help solve the language issue to a great extent. For instance, his guide, Professor Sangal, has come up with a software that can translate languages while keeping Sanskrit as its base.

Sankrant has been actively involved in writing, consulting and social projects. His writings have appeared in various publications in India, USA and UK. Sanu’s book the English Language Myth or Angreji Bhasha Ka Bhram Jaal has received many accolades.

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  • aspirenetwork

    I somewhat disagree to the point of view here. India is a multilingual country and not like Russia or Korea. It becomes very hard if the medical science also becomes in regional languages as the states can’t afford to make such study materials limited to their own languages.

    The ministries are struggling to integrate basic amenities and doing this will add to their chaos. Learning English hasn’t been effective due to inability to practice it. Using technology in learning a language will be much more effective than just a classroom training.

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The author is a journalist based in New Delhi and Staff Writer with NewsGram.
  • aspirenetwork

    I somewhat disagree to the point of view here. India is a multilingual country and not like Russia or Korea. It becomes very hard if the medical science also becomes in regional languages as the states can’t afford to make such study materials limited to their own languages.

    The ministries are struggling to integrate basic amenities and doing this will add to their chaos. Learning English hasn’t been effective due to inability to practice it. Using technology in learning a language will be much more effective than just a classroom training.