The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is nothing if not persistent. It has tried time and again to stamp out English from our fair land but thanks to opposition from successive political parties, its efforts have failed. English education has always been of great, if worrying, interest to the RSS and not in a positive way. The RSS chief himself has said that English education is simply not enough to teach humanitarian and patriotic values.
Now an RSS affiliate, the Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN), has decided it must try and influence the new education policy, which is to be formulated soon. The foremost recommendation is that the medium of instruction from elementary to higher levels in schools should be in the mother tongue. Foreign languages should not be offered as an alternative to Indian languages in schools at all. It is not that the RSS is ploughing a lonely furrow in this matter. For two decades the Left Front followed a ruinous policy of not having English in government and government-aided schools in West Bengal, thus hobbling children who came out of them and knocking them out of the reckoning for good jobs later in life. The policy was later retracted.
In the past, leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav have railed and raged against English, even asking that it should not be the language used in Parliament, quite forgetting that our elected representatives speak myriad languages and not all of them are conversant with Hindi. But when it has come to their own children, nothing but the best of English-medium private schools will do, followed up by higher studies abroad.
The RSS is of the firm and shortsighted conviction that imposing Hindi is the only way Bharatiya culture can be inculcated in the people.
English has given India so many advantages that it would take the very daft or very prejudiced not to see this. English is a universal language and knowledge of it has given Indians a tremendous advantage over, say, the Chinese. Our students can easily integrate in educational institutions abroad, our workers don’t need special education classes to get jobs abroad and a huge outsourcing industry is sustained by our knowledge of English. And now the RSS would have us fritter it all away in the name of some culture it feels we must have.
English education is today sought by all sections of society. I recall an instance when someone working for me needed to get his children into school. Thinking I was doing him a favour, I helped him get admission to a good government school. Within months, he had pulled his children out and put them in a private English-medium school. He is one in millions who will pay well beyond their means for an English education, howsoever substandard it may be. Anyone in his right mind should be promoting English, instead of trying to suppress it.
In fact, Indian English today is so vibrant and evolving that many Indian words are now included in the English language. Indianisms are freely used across the world and this has enriched a language which we have really made our own. Yet, the RSS sticks to its outdated guns. An editorial in its mouthpiece Panchjanya some time ago says, “Hindi is the language with the potential to chase away English from the country...Although we have attained freedom, we are still the slaves of English.” This is dressed up with the usual verbiage about the dangers of foreign culture and celebrates the fact that Hindi is very powerful. If so, it is passing strange that the RSS should be so worried about English.
I notice that the heartwarming interest in education does not stop at getting rid of English. Of course, the SSUN has asked that the education policy get rid of its usual bugbears, anything deemed ‘insulting’ to Indian culture, traditions, sects, personalities and incorrect interpretations. We have reason to break out in a sweat over what the RSS might find insulting, often it is just plain facts which it deems uncomfortable. Now the SSUN is no novice in the field of effecting changes in textbooks. With the might of the sangh parivar and its own well-organised campaigns, it has led the charge in getting books banned and facts thrown out of the window.
It sets its distorted bar very high, it even wants the IITs and IIMs to begin teaching in Indian languages. All I can say is, for heaven’s sake, leave the few remaining institutions of excellence alone and don’t try and dilute their standards with your ideology. Isn’t it funny how proud we are of our authors in English who have often beaten out native English speakers for huge literary prizes? Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri come to mind. I cannot quite see Sea of Poppies getting such critical acclaim if it was first written in Telugu and then translated into English. But I digress.
The SSUN has a few thoughts on how research should be conducted in the country. As always, its patriotic heart is worn on its khaki sleeves. It feels that research should be geared to national requirements. In which case, may I ask, if scientists in the West thought of national requirements first, would they have worked so hard on vaccines for diseases which affect the third world like Ebola? No, they would have said, we don’t have this disease in our countries so why work on something which does not concern us. Research is geared to benefit mankind, or, if you wish to be a little more practical and venal, industry requirements.
We can dismiss all this as not really serious and part of the RSS’s routine bellyaching about the education system. But that would be at our peril. It has been determined to fashion an education system which conforms to its worldview ever since the NDA came to power in 2014. It has been beaten back, but the HRD ministry has given in to its demands on appointments and postings more often than not. This is dangerous. Education is a subject that has a far-reaching impact on our children. It should be dealt with by experts and at last count, I don’t recall anyone in the RSS who qualifies.
English is not shackling us as the RSS would have people believe. It is a passport to so many opportunities in a globalising world. And for once, luck is on our side. If nothing else, these cultural and linguistic commissars should look at what people aspire to. They want their children to speak, read and write English. They want their children to get white-collar jobs, for which, by and large, English is a requirement. They seek to be global citizens, for which English is the best passport.
So, the RSS should leave education to those with domain knowledge. A new uniform clearly has not meant a new mindset. Thank god, it has not had its way on English, or else I would not be writing this column in English and you would not be reading it.