April 17, 2009
It is widely believed and often confirmed that Indians are very obsessive people. Indians have obsession for everything, practically for everything under the sun. One such obsession is “talking”. In India it is impossible to miss the chatter and the noise of a public place and it seems natural for everyone. Bus stands, railway stations, restaurants etc. are the most preferred places for this tongue exercise. These venues often give a sense that the ‘Tower of Babel’ was somewhere around here. There are umpteen numbers of topics to be discussed, argued and often quarreled upon, beginning from neighbors cow to cricket. And today the latter one has gained more importance than anything else. So no Indian will ever regret and die, thinking that he/she has talked less.
One often wonders that this conversation is one of the main factor for our unity and solidarity. And the core of all this is language that intricately binds us all together. Though there are 13 official languages, other languages that are less popular also add more color for our conversation, my point is, today we have a considerable number of people who would prefer a foreign tongue as their own and use it extensively without feeling anti-patriotic. This new tongue that many are embracing is of our oppressors – English. This option for a totally new tongue has given these converts an upward mobility in all sections, especially in their economic condition. Thus so called ‘Auntie Tongue’ has become ‘Mother Tongue’ for the majority.
English came to India with Europe’s ships and for much of the 17th and 18th Century, it was seen as ‘port’ language spoken by invading ‘Firangi’ merchants and soldiers. As British found the need of including more and more aborigines in their administrative service, they felt the need of opening English medium schools for Indians. This move replaced the British Nationals with cheap Indian graduates. It is very similar to what is happeinig in today’s IT and BPO sectors. This is also considered as a move towards the rise of Indian nationalism. As more and more natives were educated in English the awareness about freedom grew stronger. Exposition of Indians to the work of European writers, Western ideas of nationalism and the ideas like freedom and liberty were some of the areas of enlightenment. English offered Indian leaders a window into movements and with it hope.
Unaccepted by many as one of the ‘Colonial Relics’ gradually English was intricately woven in Indian blood. Many would say ‘I am Indian’ in English without feeling any pain of betrayal. Right from our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was ‘educated in English ideas but a nationalist when it came to language’ Indian political class has largely supported English education. In South English was used as effective weapon against Hindi, being forcefully pushed down the throats by fiat. In the case of Dalits, English was a language exempt from the restrictive convention of Indian Scriptures, which imbued with the traditions of caste and untouchability. English enabled them to communicate across linguistic regions, giving the low castes a ‘national wide solidarity’ and enabling their voices to be heard in public sphere. Hindi , thought to be the ‘National unifier’ but turned out to be that only English would do the job. In an Independent India, English became the protection from what many saw as the tyranny for the majority, specially in South Indian states like Tamil Nadu.
In the past confined to only Convent and Church run schools, today English is taught practically in every school and institutions. Country saw a new generation rising, the ‘Indian English class’. Now it is believed that there are more number of English speaking people in India than anywhere in the world. So many say, why can’t we be called as ‘English’. A point to be noted by the British and the Americans.
1990’s had marked the rise of India’s rise in IT and BPO industry. Global outsourcing giants saw India as a potential destination for cheap labor .India’s growing English population was just waiting for this opportunity. Cities like Bangalore simply grabbed this chance with thousands of youth finding a decent job in these sectors. Nearly 68% of jobs in these sectors are confined as voice based jobs, and English language proficiency is the main requirement for these companies. These firms provided umpteen numbers of jobs while the potential earnings for the English skilled graduates surged. For the middle class it was ‘Indian Dream’ come true. This highly visible rise of the outsourcing sector has helped to transform Indian attitude towards English language. English has become passport to lucrative jobs and entry into the country’s growing middle class .More and more software companies, as their outreach programme are supporting the spread of English literacy in schools. Making every child ‘BPO-employable.
India’s, National Knowledge Commission also underscored the advantage of English. In Indian employment and higher education, and recommended that English Should be taught from Class 1st across the country. Even in the anti-English states like Gujarat and West Bengal English language has been compulsory form Class 1st.The closer of English medium schools in Karnataka state met with severe public criticism. Rather than throwing the English language out, Indians have fought time and again to retain it. English has become too Indian to get rid of.
Today our country has ‘remade English in many voices’ There is Standard Indian English, Bengali English, Hindi English and even one of Kerala University has permitted its students to write in a mix of English and Malayalam. Another development that has shocked many is the rise in the number of English, both fiction and non-fiction written by Indian writers every year. They have become most preferred and well recognized by the International readers and publishers. We see every Inter national best seller pirated and sold in the sidewalks for a throwaway price. This tells that with the rise of writers there is rise in the number of readers too.
Presently, English rules in every sector of our country. Though there are a smaller number of people fighting against this bulldozing act, they are often neglected because it is obvious that this is for their vested interests and for the love of language. For ‘Macaulay’s children’ English is the window to the new world, step towards global opportunities, wings for a new horizon and new tongue for their old habit – talking. The English talk.