Politics of mother tongue in Andhra

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun Sep 4 16:40:50 UTC 2005

>>From Asian Age,

Politics of mother tongue in Andhra
The Asianage (9/3/2005 11:37:20 AM)

Language policies of the states are generally evolved by intellectuals who
want to control the reins of power. The notion of mother tongue is used by
them as a manipulative tool. After the reorganisation of the states on
linguistic basis, each state began to give one language primacy, usually
by dissolving several tribal and caste-group dialects. Along with this,
there was an informal policy of dual language in almost all the states,
for instance, English for the rich and Telugu for the poor in Andhra

The dominant Sanskrit-centred regional language was given the title of
mother tongue and English was accepted as the modern language which
existed by the side. We have to suspect that the elite worked out a
strategy to develop a regional language which would inevitably displace
lower caste and tribal languages.

Most of the elite also urged their children to learn English so that they
could easily move into the ruling class when the time came. The new
language would seem strange to many sections of society but it would soon
displace the old language and gain dominance over all sections.
Especially so, if the old language belongs to a small and underdeveloped
people. In the process the dominant language gets absorbed into peoples
culture and it also changes their culture to an extent. In Andhra Pradesh,
for instance, the Lambada language which is spoken by many, never found
its way into the curriculum. The schools that were started in Lambada
Tandas taught only Telugu to the children whose real mother tongue was

Similarly, the Koya and Gond languages were destroyed by Telugu linguistic
nationalism. The official Language Commission (Adhikara Bhasha Sangham)
silently witnessed the destruction of several such languages and pushed
Sanskritic Telugu into all the rural areas of the state. The Kuruma Gollas
of Andhra Pradesh had their own language. Even now, Erukalas have their
own language in which they talk to each other. In fact, they even speak to
their animals in that language. It has a script which is similar to
Kannada. However, as said before, there are no schools to teach the
children that language. Since the Telugu taught in schools is heavily
Sanskritised, not many are able to understand it. I, for one, could
understand neither Telugu nor English while in school.

Kalidasas Raghuvamsham and Shakespeares Othello were alien to us. It is a
myth that Telugu is the mother tongue of all the castes and tribes in
Andhra. It displaced many other languages to occupy the throne.
Ironically, the purveyors of Telugu nationalism are now airing fears that
it will be gobbled up by English. In fact, English has become ubiquitous
in urban areas. Those who travel on Indian domestic flights know that most
upper middle-class parents speak to their children in English. It has
already become the "mother tongue" of the chattering classes who mostly
belong to the upper castes.

The political and economic power of the nation is also in their hands. It
is this class that controls the nation. In Andhra Pradesh too, the rich
and the upper-middle class speak English and read English publications.
Never have I seen a Telugu newspaper being distributed during a flight. It
is a fact that English has given them wide exposure to the world. In my
view, this transition is good. Democratisation of this class has come
through this. Of course, their food and culture remain strongly Brahminic.
I hope that will also change soon.

Ironically, those who cry hoarse about mother tongues, forget that the
English-Telugu problem also applies to the Telugu-Lambada problem. At each
stage, the change from a local language to the language of a larger group
has helped people to overcome the barriers of knowledge and communication.
The discourse that a language is foreign and colonial is nonsensical. I
feel that schoolchildren in South India are wasting a lot of time with
Hindi and Sanskrit. Instead, they should be taught only English and their
regional language.

There are several global-level patterns in the birth and growth of a
language. Some languages have grown as part of the productive cultural
ethic of the people, whereas some languages have reached the people
through migration and colonialism. For example, a Gond or Koya language
grew out of the evolution of a population, whereas Sanskrit came into
India with the Aryan migration.  Persian came into India with the
migration of Muslims of Persia.  Similarly, English has come to India with
the colonial powers.

A language gets introduced in a particular historical context and it will
grow only if the socio-economic conditions for its growth are conducive.
English has grown like that in India. Now nobody can throw it away. Hence,
the only option left for states such as Andhra Pradesh is to go for a
two-language formula. As of now, schoolchildren are being taught six
subjects both in government and private schools. From Class I to Class X,
three subjects should be taught in Telugu and three subjects should be
taught in English. Then the education system can stand on its feet.

The government must pump in more money to recruit better teachers in
English and Telugu and improve the infrastructure of schools. Text books
should be written around the theme of dignity of labour and secularism.
Only when we follow this course will our problems be solved over a period
of time.


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