For The Love Of Language - Karnataka's Language Policy And Indian

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Oct 2 08:50:51 UTC 2006

For The Love Of Language - Karnataka's Language Policy And Indian

September 27, 2006
Shantanu Dutta

There has been a lot of news coverage for the decision by the government
of Karnataka to shut English medium schools in the state if they do not
switch to Kannada at the primary school level when schools reopen after
the Dusshera holidays - if they follow the state board syllabus that is.
The policy was notified in 1994 but was largely dormant till now, and at
last count the revived policy had affected at least 2000 schools. The
press might be taking a larger note of events in Bangalore, because in the
IT hubs of the country, if a tree is cut or a man sneezes, someone will
write a blog on it, and someone will send a TV camera over to cover the

But even as the country tries to integrate at one level - "One India",
etc., and even attempts to integrate it's economy with the global economy,
fissures keep appearing at another level. The Karnataka and Kannada issue
is by no means the only divisive issue active in India today. For months
now, the schools in the four Naga dominated districts of Manipur - Ukhrul,
Chandel, Senapati and Tamenglong are being pressured into adopting the
textbooks and syllabi of the Nagaland Board of Secondary Education and
eventually to affiliate with the Nagaland Board. This obviously is the
precursor to the districts being eventually asked to be part of the
greater Nagaland that is being demanded.

One of the dangers of the "One India" or the "One World" phenomena is the
great insecurity that it creates in minority people groups as cultures and
languages get swallowed up and there is a struggle for minorities to keep
their identities alive. There is a report from Peru's Summer Institute of
Linguistics that 30 of the 100 basic languages in Peru have disappeared in
the last few decades and another 12 or so are about to disappear. As
monolithic cultures take shape and global languages like English
increasingly take over the language stage, the smaller and less spoken
languages will gradually disappear or fall into disuse.

Different entities are reacting to the need to preserve their identity in
different ways. Countries like Australia have recently decided that even
within the English speaking world, they need to preserve their own
Australian culture and norms and have recently decided that to become a
citizen of Australia, it will no longer be enough to just be a speaker of
English - one will need to know according to the Prime Minister, John
Howard "a good deal more about Australia and about Australian customs and
the Australian way of life."

It is important in a diverse country like India to preserve the delicate
balance of culture and prevent hegemonies from developing. Many of our
people, our tribes are small, dwindling groups with fragile, shaky
languages, cultures and identities. They are struggling to keep afloat as
a people. It is so easy for them to be swamped completely and obliterated
out of the anthropological map. The Kannadigas are large enough in number
to be able to speak for themselves and fight for the preservation of their
culture. But the lesson we should perhaps learn from these linguistic
movements like the one in Karnataka( and now ULFA again in Assam) is the
need to always to strive to maintain the complex balance between avoiding
chauvinism and preservation of threatened identities.

Shantanu Dutta is a doctor by training and a development professional by
vocation. He is an onlooker on events happening in India and the world in
the realm of society, politics and the many intangible events that
populate our lives.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list