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Skip English, focus on Indigenous Languages for India’s Development

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By Harshmeet Singh

“A common perception in India is that Indians need English to succeed. But is it the other way around in reality?”

The sky high vision and aim of becoming a world power that we carry with respect to our nation, are based on an extremely shaky education system which considers mimicking western theories the best way to impart knowledge.

With such a rich culture which is renowned worldwide, you would imagine that Indian students of social studies and humanities would carry with them enviable knowledge of Indian traditions, language and vedic sciences. But unfortunately, all our education system offers to them is western ideas and western thoughts.

Our Anglophonic education system is majorly responsible for a continuing colonized mindset that regards English as a mark of superiority. As the African and Asian nations tread the path of development, their share in the global GDP will see a surge in the coming decades. The economic influence of the English-speaking nations is set to dip in the near future.

With Spanish giving a tough competition to English in the US, English is looking for an emerging economic power that would save its status as the global language. In order to rope in Indian audience and viewers, a number of US and UK news channels have now started covering news from the Indian perspective.

India adopted a three-language for its education system in 1960s, when the Indian economy looked up to US and UK. With English taking the center-stage in this policy, the regional languages started losing ground. Despite vast changes in the economy and India’s global standing, we never thought of re-visiting our language policy for education to save our indigenous languages.

English

Some of the most renowned scientists in the world have taken birth in non-English speaking nations, thereby ruling out the perception that English is necessary for professional success in the field of Science and Mathematics. Though knowledge of English, like any other language, is certainly a handy skill to have, it is a myth that English is ‘necessary’ for professional success.

There are innumerable examples to break this myth. The onus of breaking this myth for the Indian youth lies with the Government which needs to ensure that there are ample employment opportunities for those who chose to give English a miss, and rather concentrated on other skills.

The first step in this regard would be ensuring that there is high quality educational material in indigenous languages for the students at all levels. The UGC initiated Bharatvani project is a major step in this regard. Proposed to be developed as the largest language portal in the world, the Bharatvani project aims at delivering knowledge in almost all Indian languages, with the help of multimedia formats. It plans to aggregate multimedia content from the government, writers and other non-governmental organizations and put it on a common platform. UGC also plans to rope in publication houses and different universities to make it a success.

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Is Hindi The National Language of India?

In a country like India where more than 1600 languages persist, is it possible to have one national language without moving towards chaos?

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There are more than 150 languages in India that spoken by at least 10,000 people. Out of which, Hindi is the most widely spoken language, amounting to 40% speakers in the population. Wikimedia Commons
There are more than 150 languages in India that are spoken by at least 10,000 people. Out of which, Hindi is the most widely spoken language, amounting to 40% speakers in the population. Wikimedia Commons

BY SHANTAM SAHAI 

  • 1600 languages and dialects are spoken in India, out of which, none is the ‘national language’
  • Hindi and English, as mentioned in Article 343 of the Indian constitution, are official languages of India
  • 22 languages are mentioned in the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution, all of which can be considered as national languages or official languages

India, the seventh-largest and second-most populous country in the world, home to 1.3 billion people who speak 1600 languages, is widely known for its cultural diversity. The world’s largest democracy consists of 29 states, which were divided on the basis of language. Hindi, a language spoken by 41% and known to 53% of the population, is misconceived to be the ‘national language’ of India. The Indian constitution does not mention any ‘national language’. However Hindi (along with English) is the official language of India.

Article 343(1) of the Indian constitution says: 

“(1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.”

Thus, Hindi is NOT is the national language, but the official language of India.

ALSO READ: How angry “Hindi” voters turned the tables against Congress in 1977 elections

Difference between ‘National language’ and ‘Official language’

An official language is one used for official/governmental purposes. It has a legal standing and is used in the judiciary, central legislature, and executive documents. Official languages have more to do with day-to-day work.

Whereas, a national language is a national symbol. It has a common representation of the people living in the geographical territory of the country. A national language has sentimental values connected with it, as it reflects a ‘common individuality’ (in linguistic terms) from the world.

The Indian national flag, national emblem, national anthem, national animal, national bird, or the national language, all of them are national symbols which unite us as the countrymen of India. Wikimedia Commons
The Indian national flag, national emblem, national anthem, national animal, the national bird, or national language, all of them are national symbols which unite us as the countrymen of India. Wikimedia Commons

Why India has no national language?

A national language is supposed to unite the citizens of the country under one umbrella. Other than the percentage of users, what matters more is the spread of the language i.e. if it is to unite a country as a national symbol, a language needs to have users spread in all parts of the country. As in the case of India, we have no such language.

ALSO READ: How Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism Influence Early Tamil History?

A national language needs to widespread, not only widely spoken. India has no such language. Facebook
A national language needs to be widespread, not only widely spoken. India has no such language. Facebook

As you can see on the map, Hindi maybe widely spoken, but it is not widespread. Hindi (and its variants) is spoken in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi (the capital), Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Whereas, the eastern and southern states have no trace of it. Hindi, may be known in various other parts, does not command any sentimental value in other states.

Moreover, languages other than Hindi have a significant amount of speakers. For example,

  • No. of Bengali speakers: 83,369,769
  • No. of Telugu speakers: 74,002,856 
  • No. of Marathi speakers: 71,936,894 
  • No. of Tamil speakers: 60,793,814 
  • No. of Kannada speakers: 37,924,011 
  • No. of Gujarati speakers: 46,091,617 
  • No. of Odiya speakers: 33,017,446 
  • No. of Malayalam speakers: 33,066,392 

Hence, there cannot be one national language in India. Therefore, the Constitution of India in its eighth schedule mentions 22 languages; all of which can be referred to as national languages or official languages.