[lg policy] Karnataka: Kannada At The Crossroads: It ’s judgment time

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 25 13:43:11 UTC 2009

Kannada At The Crossroads It’s judgment time

By Ramakrishna Upadhya

The govt needs to convince the court and the people that it is
prepared to lend more than lip service to the cause of Kannada.  The
Supreme Court is currently grappling with a very fundamental and
emotive issue, the outcome of which will have a far-reaching bearing
on the country’s language policy and the education of our children.
The matter is so complex and the consequences of the court’s verdict
having a lasting impact on generations to come so huge that the
Supreme Court Bench dealing with the issue would do well to carefully
analyse the pros and cons before arriving at a conclusion.

At the heart of the controversy is the Karnataka government’s
insistence on “imposing” Kannada as a medium of instruction at the
primary level and a stiff challenge to this by a batch of private
schools on the grounds that the parents desire their children to study
in English medium. It’s not Karnataka’s problem alone as many other
states are facing a similar dilemma. The debate has been going on for
over a decade and the Karnataka high court sought to put a lid on it
by declaring in its judgment on July 2, 2008 that the private schools
had a right to choose the medium of instruction. The State government
has invited the high court’s wrath as it dilly-dallied on implementing
the order. Finding itself in a tight corner, the state government has
now approached the Supreme Court, essentially pointing out that the
courts cannot interfere with a “policy” decision which is the domain
of an elected government.

Rich heritage

India is a multi-lingual state with a rich heritage of languages which
have survived and thrived for centuries. The proceedings of the
Constituent Assembly show that there were fierce debates on the need
to protect and promote the diverse linguistic and cultural heritage.
The decision to carve out the states on linguistic basis was the
result of a consensus that a pluralistic society will survive best
when each of its individualistic elements is allowed some space to
breathe and grow according to its needs and genius.

Education, which was on the State List initially, was shifted to the
Concurrent List by the 42nd amendment to the Constitution, but broadly
it is left to the state governments to decide on the policy matters.
The old Mysore state, which later became Karnataka, was enlarged with
the inclusion of many ‘Kannada-speaking’ areas which were dispersed in
the neighbouring states, at the time of reorganisation of boundaries
on linguistic basis. With over 80 per cent of the people being
Kannadigas and a large section of other linguistic groups also being
geographically and historically linked to the language, Kannada
naturally became the official language of the state. Until perhaps
1970s, there was no controversy regarding the medium of instruction as
most children studied in the Kannada medium, whether in the cities,
towns or villages. Those who could afford and felt the need, switched
over to a handful of English medium schools that existed at the high
school level or the college. But with the expansion of knowledge, job
opportunities and the rise in economic status of a vast number of
people, came the “craze” for English medium schools, which are
perceived to be the gateway to better jobs, higher social standing,
accumulation of more wealth and so on.

The government should have woken up to the transformation that was
taking place in society and taken steps to improve the quality of
education across the state. It needed to invest in the infrastructure,
the number of schools, the quality of teachers and the overall
management of education. The government on its own should have opened
English medium schools, wherever the need was felt, while at the same
time ensuring that the Kannada medium schools were in no way inferior
in the dissemination of knowledge, even if less “glitzy,” but more
affordable to a vast majority.

But, whether by lethargy or design, the government allowed the private
operators to mushroom, turn education into a lucrative business,
squeeze parents anxious to give their wards the “best” education
available completely dry. The parents do know that they are getting
suckered, sending their children to what are euphemistically called
‘English medium schools,’ but in reality, a vast number of them mere
dungeons, dispensing so-called education. But in the absence of better
alternatives, the parents are left with little choice.

Mother tongue

Educationists are unanimous that at least in the formative age, mother
tongue is the best medium for better comprehension, overall
personality development, an understanding of linguistic heritage and
also cultural “rooting” of our children. The CV Ramans, the CNR Raos,
the UR Raos or the Narayana Murthys of this country surely did not
have their basic education in English medium, but their outstanding
contributions to the country speak for themselves. What the education
in one’s mother tongue in initial stages also does is to help a person
learn through reading the richness of indigenous literature, develop
love and affection for his own people and become a more well-rounded
personality. In the mad rush to embrace the English medium from
primary school level itself, we are perhaps in danger of creating
“aliens” who will see nothing beyond material gains.

But the government needs to convince the court -- and the people --
that it is prepared to render more than lip service to the cause of
Kannada in education. It has to present a credible roadmap with
investment plans for improving the government schools and their
infrastructure to make the parents believe that their children do have
a future even when they study in Kannada medium schools. To the
Supreme Court which lamented the other day that those who study in
mother tongue will be “unfit even for clerical jobs,” the state needs
to gently remind the judges that most of the toppers in the recent IAS
exams or Karnataka’s own CET, came from rural, humble backgrounds. The
final verdict of the court will perhaps depend on how genuine and
persuasive the government can be in its argument.


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