[lg policy] Fwd: NYT: The Reality of English's Role in India
haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 7 19:18:38 UTC 2014
Forwarded From: Fierman, William <wfierman at indiana.edu>
Date: Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 1:50 PM
NYT: The Reality of English's Role in India
*The Reality of English's Role in India*
By MANU JOSEPHAUG. 6, 2014
NEW DELHI — Please mark the answer that best represents the truth (as this
is not to ascertain your ideology, but your aptitude for a job with great
English is a foreign language.
A) True. It came from outside India
B) False. The former prime minister Manmohan Singh and the former deputy
prime minister L.K. Advani also came from elsewhere, but they are Indian
now. A language belongs where it lives.
C) True. English is foreign because it is not the mother tongue of the vast
majority of Indians.
D) False. English is in fact India’s only national language, far more
influential than even Hindi.
E) All of the above.
This question has yet to appear in any objective-type exam, but it has
long bothered Indian society and is at the heart of a protest by hundreds
of young Indians who are objecting to, among other things, the intrusion of
English in one of India’s most prestigious tests — the civil services
examination. To be precise, they are protesting one of the two screening
tests that hundreds of thousands take every year to qualify for the “main”
exams. Only a few hundred survive, to be inducted into a system that may
eventually take them to the top levels of bureaucracy.
Candidates have the option of taking the screening tests in English or
Hindi, but even the Hindi version has passages in English to test their
comprehension of that language. Hundreds of candidates who have taken the
tests and failed, or aspire to take the tests, have hit the streets of the
capital protesting the English passages, which they say put those who are
not proficient in English at a disadvantage. They have thrown stones and
burned buses. They have also, oddly, held up protest signs in English.
Any battle against English in India is at once a battle of the poor against
the rich, the village against the city, tradition against modernity and the
regional elite against a more cosmopolitan elite. On Monday, the government
tried to placate the mobs by announcing that the English passages would be
scrapped, but as the protesters have other demands, they have not ended
The general opinion among bureaucrats is that the protesters are a
disgrace. Srivatsa Krishna, a civil servant, wrote in The Times of India
that the government should study the video footage of the protesters,
“identify the specific culprits and ban them for life” from taking the
exams. He found it ridiculous that the exam’s candidates would protest a
requirement to possess “English skills of 10th-class levels.”
In almost every state in India, the guardians of culture have tried to
restrain the growth of English, but its power has only grown because of its
promise of material and social benefits. Most of the cultural guardians
themselves send their children to English-language schools. The medium of
instruction for higher education in India is almost entirely English.
A politician, Yogendra Yadav, lamented in The Indian Express that “the
entire system of higher education that controls white-collar jobs” is
loaded against students who did not attend English-language schools. But
then, that is the reality of the nation. The dominance of English dims the
prospects of students who are too poor to attend an English-language
school. But the government, for various reasons, including cultural
prejudice, has not done enough to take English to its poorest. Most of its
free or cheap schools do not have English as the medium of instruction.
In South India, there have been no protests against the English passages.
Historically, that region has protested against the supremacy of Hindi.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his first public speech in the south
after assuming office, he spoke in English.
English is indisputably Indian now, and the most useful language in India.
But it is not the most beloved, nor the medium of abuse during road rage.
That special place Indians will always grant only to their mother tongues.
So the correct answer is “E.”
*Follow Manu Joseph, the author of the novel “The Illicit Happiness of
Other People,” on Facebook. *
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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