The Minister for the Preservation of Local Languages is a portfolio that Basavaraj Horatti seems to be hankering for. No such ministry exists yet, but that hasn’t stopped him, as Karnataka’s Education Minister, from issuing a diktat to strike out 1,400 private schools from the ‘recognised schools’ list for having English as the medium of instruction. So, at one stroke, at least one lakh children in the country’s (soon to be former?) IT capital have been punished for developing skills in English, that global as well as Indian language. This attempt to bolster Kannada is fraught with ironies, not the least of which is that Mr Horatti is actually helping to widen the existing ‘language-class’ divide. Children who cannot afford a private school education — which usually amounts to an English-medium school — will be further handicapped by the state’s latest move to exclude them from the ‘charmed circle’.
The minister’s ire is directed at the 1,400 schools that have been ‘flouting’ Karnataka’s language policy. But should he not then be reviewing the reason why the 1994 ordinance outlining the Kannada-in-Karnataka-schools policy was not enforced? But a single directive seems to be the easier way out. At a time when proficiency in English is an all-important tool, Mr Horatti’s decision has thrown Bangalore’s citizens into a tizzy. Tapping ‘Kannadiga pride’ has been a method by which successive state governments have played with sub-nationalist politics. Remember the move to delay the release of all non-Kannada movies by three weeks? Or that old chestnut about the need to revive ‘dying’ Kannada literature? Which makes us come to the problem in a logical manner: if teaching of English is acceptable, why isn’t teaching in English? Keeping Kannada alive has nothing to do with a growing proficiency in English. There is something called bilingualism. Karnataka should also learn from the example of West Bengal, which had earlier foisted a similar ‘No English, only Bengali’ policy. This had to be scrapped as it only created a generation condemned to socio-economic stasis because of its inability to communicate in English.
The buzzword for Karnataka, as in all other Indian states with their ‘own’ languages, should be ‘inclusive’, not exclusive. Considering that Karnataka could do well to see many Bangalores bloom, it should pay for the government to get rid of a complex that can only be called infantile.