Economic tokenism and language policy in India

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Mar 8 16:04:57 UTC 2005

The Times of India Online

COUNTERVIEW: Economic tokenism can't secure its future

TUESDAY, MARCH 08, 2005 12:00:00 AM

Language is closely linked to political economy. Chidambaram forgot this
simple principle when he decided to fund Urdu education. The logic behind
the budgetary support is that Urdu is a dying language and it needs state
support. If Urdu is dying it is because as a language it has ceased to be
of any use to people. In independent India, the court language is English,
the language of opportunity.  The state should aggressively promote
English as an economic tool.  Instead, we see the finance minister opening
his purse strings to promote Urdu. No language can survive on patronage if
it can't enable people to compete in the job market. What is needed are
more good schools which will offer secular education with or without Urdu.
Is Urdu being clubbed wrongly as the language of Muslims? The cultural
discourse in the 19th century posited Hindi as the language of an
anti-colonial identity. This attempt to construct a 'native' identity was
at the expense of languages like Urdu and local bhashas. Hindu
communalists appropriated this language politics.

The Indian state has only reinforced the Hindi language politics as policy
without challenging its communal character and even now prefers to club
special treatment for Urdu with minority welfare.  Chidambaram has been no
different. Are we now to assume that the education departments in UP and
Bihar spend enough to recruit teachers for all subjects other than Urdu?
The lack of teachers for Urdu is very much a part of the larger crisis the
educational system in these states is facing; the lack of public
investment in education. If the state is serious about reviving Urdu, it
needs to give the language its rightful secular space. It could begin the
process by doing away with the official Sanskritised Hindi and adopt
Hindustani as Mahatma Gandhi had suggested. A communal language policy has
to be challenged politically, not by economic tokenism.

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