English: Can Indians Do Without It?

GRK Murty

Language is a tool—a tool to communicate, and prosper; prosper socially, psychologically and economically; and ultimately be happy with oneself. Getting down to the brass tacks, language, incidentally, has no race, caste, creed, and religion. Though Greek and Latin were not from Britain, its elite were not considered elite unless they had mastery over these languages; Sir Isaac Newton wrote Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

(“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) in Latin.

“How beauteous mankind is!” It has developed language for the ‘formation and expression of human thoughts and aspirations’. It has no ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ shades; it embraces everyone and outcasts none; nor does it warrant to be outcast—it is only a question of knowing or not knowing it. The more languages a man learns, and the more countries he visits to meet people and experience their cultural moorings, perceptions, and aspirations, the more he becomes a

‘humanist’—like M N Roy who is said to have learnt 16 languages and visited some 20 countries. And English is a language—a “language of international science, commerce and public relations”; a language which India has been romancing with for quite a number of decades; a language that has, unlike many Indian languages that have mostly remained even to date as languages of mere literature with little or no scientific and technical terminology, by virtue of its travel across continents become rich in scientific and technical words, has helped many Indian boys and girls become bright scientists and business leaders on various global platforms; a language, thanks to which, India is today exporting the voice of its girls and boys to earn a few more dollars.

English—today’s Sanskrit—has indeed become a link language of India, a nation of bewildering multiplicity of languages, facilitating a Bengali speak to a Marathi; a Punjabi to a Tamilian; a Gujarathi to an Oriya. It is English, as the tool of communication that is ‘binding’ the academic India ‘together’. It is India’s language of ‘international intercourse.’ It continues to remain as the associate official language of India. It is no exaggeration to say that no person can keep abreast of scientific developments, for that matter modern developments in any walk of life, unless he masters the language in which more than two thirds of the world’s periodical literature is produced. And that lingua franca of the world is English. China—a country that maintains a growth rate of around 8% even in today’s economic meltdown across the globe—is envious of our competency in English that catapulted us on to the global pedestal of computer sciences, and is struggling to catch up with us and also dethrone us from the pedestal by mastering English with singular devotion—teaching English has indeed, become a national mission of China.

Today, no one is prepared to lose the advantage that one has derived from one’s relationship with English for more than a century. A growing awareness that to be a patriotic Indian one need not ignore English is taking deeper roots in today’s youth that is enjoying the fruits of liberalization and globalization. They are rooting for more of English, for any attempt to minimize the value of a language that is most widely used in the domain of science and technology is sure to handicap us in a competitive world. Any deviation from this proven importance of English is incompatible with our cherished goal of becoming the economic power of the 21st century. Also, “experience shows that a society”, as Eric Ashby propounded in his Chancellor’s Lecture in Johannesburg, “however successful it may have been in the past, will not long survive if it cannot cope with the tasks of a new era,” and hence “every civilized society tends to develop institutions which will enable it to acquire, assimilate, and advance knowledge relevant to the tasks which, it is thought, will confront it in the future.” He further adds: “To forbid the student to learn where and what he will, or the teacher to teach whom and how he will is to put a curb

on the hazardous adventure of thinking; and a nation, where thinking is rationed, simply cannot survive in today’s world.” But man the builder is man the destroyer too. On the historic night of India’s independence, Dr. Radhakrishnan reminded the people of “our national faults of character, our domestic despotism, our intolerance, which have assumed the different forms of obscurantism, of narrow-mindedness, of superstitious bigotry” and warned that “when power outstrips ability, we will fall on evil days”—days when we may fancy forbidding the kids from learning a particular language, forbid the teachers from teaching a specified language, and so on. However, the choice of language to be mastered to acquire the necessary competency to compete in the global job-market is, of course, the right of an individual. And the Constitution of India guarantees that freedom of choice to every Indian. And exercising that choice is the gift of democracy.

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