By Harshmeet Singh
“Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully; we find it difficult to provide instruction to all. The effect of this education on Hindus is prodigious. No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. It is my firm belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respected classes 30 years hence. And this will be effected without our efforts to proselytize; I heartily rejoice in the prospect”
- Lord Macaulay, in a letter to his father dated 12th October 1836
I clearly remember my first few days in the sixth grade. As we entered the senior wing of the school, speaking in any other language than English was prohibited. All the students were asked to talk in English irrespective of their proficiency in the language. If you had any doubt in the class, you had two options, either to ask the teacher in English or stay quite if you aren’t confident enough about your English speaking skills. Unfortunately, most children chose the latter option. The school’s theory was that if made compulsory, the students would invariably learn to converse in English. Though I won’t support or contradict this theory, I can certainly vouch for the fact that forcing the student to learn an alien language at the cost of killing his inquisitiveness defeats the entire purpose of education. Sadly enough, the same push for English continues in most schools even today.
Lord Macaulay’s push for English medium schools in India was meant to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.” Macaulay’s plans almost backfired when this class of education started giving birth to English educated patriots who conversed in English but were ready to fight for the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality. Legends such as Bhagat Singh belonged to this school.
Yet, compulsory introduction of English did more harm than good to the Indian education system. For starters, it created an abyss between the 10% English speakers in the country and the rest, with the minority group dictating the terms and writing the fortunes of everyone. To make things worse, these 10% people regard themselves as far superior as compared to the remaining 90% just like the British, who took themselves as far superior to Indians.
For a country that takes extreme pride in being the largest democracy in the world, such a small portion of population dictating terms to the entire system and justifying the use of English without accounting for the nation’s humungous underprivileged populace is a grave injustice. With the English speakers asserting the compulsory English clause over the others, it is reminiscent of the British when they called Indians as the ‘White man’s burden’ and educating them as their duty. Our love for the foreign language has made us exactly what Macaulay wanted us to become – “Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.”
We often lament the fact that our younger generations have lost touch with our culture. But it isn’t their fault. Culture is closely related to language. The day we decided to make English as our primary learning language, we should have braced ourselves for the gradual erosion of our culture. Excuses such as learning English to become a world power do not hold ground. World powers like Japan, Russia, China and Korea take extreme pride in their regional language and have never attempted to enforce English on to the school system. A nation that wants to forget its history and imitate alien values and customs can’t bid a claim at becoming a world power. It is time we come out of the Macaulayian system of education and encourage the younger generation to raise their voice, irrespective of its language.