Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

Awakened India – How to Preserve Our Culture and Indigenous Languages?

6

‘It is unbearable to me that the vernaculars should be crushed and starved as they have been.’[1] Mahatma Gandhi

“It is of the utmost value to a nation, a human group-soul to preserve its language and make it a strong and living cultural instrument. A nation, race or people which loses its language cannot live its whole life or real life.”[2]

‘The vital question is how we are to learn and make use of Sanskrit and the indigenous languages so as to get to the heart and intimate sense of our own culture and establish a vivid continuity between the still living power of our past and the yet uncreated power of our future.’[3] Sri Aurobindo

Today when our languages and thereby our culture is under intense pressure from Anglicization of our education system, that too from the very beginning of a child’s education, the question arises as to what will happen to indigenous languages – the languages which transmit intimate sense of our own culture and establish continuity between still living power of our past and the yet uncreated power of our future?

A sense of intellectual paralysis has seized the minds of Indian population with total surrender to perceived inevitability of the supremacy of English language and redundancy of indigenous languages. The majority of the Indian population suffers from a tremendous inferiority complex regarding indigenous languages as against the English language. The prime ministers, though not now, the president, the supreme court speak to the nation in English. The budgets and laws are presented and passed in English! Law, banking, medicine, engineering, pharmacy and advertising are mostly taught in English or influenced by English! Even the Indian numeral system, a gift of India to the world, is now being written only in English in official documents!! The last bastion Bollywood has switched from Hindi to ‘Hinglish’ or English dialogues. A sense of superiority prevails among the English speaking ‘elite’ of India. Even in small interior villages, the bastion of the deepest roots of our culture, the posters, the advertising, shop names are painted in English! From a BPL domestic worker to lower middle class parents to high net worth individuals all want their children to study in the English medium schools! Sending in a KG class at a tender age of 3 years to mug up abcdefg. The vernacular medium schools are closing down to be replaced by English medium schools! Higher education in English seems to be a norm. English language publications are retaining or increasing their lead especially with the onslaught of internet and visual media, while the vernacular language newspapers are going leaner and less in number. It seems that rather than us mastering English, English has become our master.

Today, the mere question as to ‘why only an English medium education’ elicits a hostile reaction from the most Indians, both parents as well as educators, as if the questioner has challenged them and their wisdom. Common reactions are indignation, hurt, anger, contempt and derision or a pity towards the questioner from even those who love India and are dedicated to education. Some apologetically inform that the indigenous language is also taught. The local language gets a status of ‘also being taught’, which is usually reserved for a foreign language!! It is a sort of adjustment to keep those linguistic fanatics quiet or to keep one’s own conscience clear. No one truly wants to face the question. The myths of English’s supremacy and defeatist despondency towards indigenous languages are so inexorably entrenched in Indian minds that they seem irreversible. We have become a nation of grave diggers of indigenous languages, and with an unprecedented swiftness and enthusiasm, the parents, the educationists and the governments are participating in this exercise of destroying our national wealth! Uprooting a beautiful tree from its very roots, by replacing education and communication in all walks of life in English! There will be a time in near future when the people of India will stand proudly and lonely as the first amongst the nations of the world for such a remarkable feat!

There are many questions, prejudices and myths about English and against indigenous languages. I wish to quote here some of the many comments which I have come across.

  • ‘These are all dying languages, why should we burden our child with any other language other than English?’
  • What about freedom of speech / learning?
  • ‘One cannot learn Science and Mathematics, specially the higher Science and Mathematics in any language other than English!!!’ ‘and even if one wants to teach in an indigenous language where are the books to teach!’
  • ‘Without English there will not be any unity in India!’
  • ‘How do we communicate with each other across India if there is no English?’
  • ‘English is the easiest language and Sanskrit is the most difficult language!!!’
  • ‘Children are so bored in a language class, it is all useless.’
  • ‘Can you believe it, they don’t even know how to speak in English!!’
  • ‘It is only British who brought education to India!!!’
  • ‘Without English India would have been nowhere!’
  • ‘All of India’s progress is due to English, see IT sector, science and technology, law, finance, banking …’
  • ‘There is no future for my child unless he studies in English.’
  • ‘Uncle, if I don’t learn English I will have no career.’ This was from an eight year old girl!

In cities the exodus from vernacular medium schools to English medium schools is so acute that the vernacular schools are shutting down faster than a blink of an eye. Yes, no doubt, English has gained status of an international language of communication and learning. English does confer an advantage to a certain extent especially when our nation’s interaction is mostly with the English speaking world! So let us learn and master English, but can we not at the same time retain the advantage of our indigenous languages and culture – a bridge between ‘the power of our still living past and yet uncreated power of future’?

The most pertinent questions we have to ask are what is the importance of a language? Is language just a medium of communication or is it more than that? A language is more than just a medium of communication. It is the receptacle, vehicle of the culture. It gives an identity to a group of people or a nation. It is their means of expression of something unique, a transmitter of their thoughts, philosophies, ideas, vision, and staircase of ascension to something sublime, oxygen of their culture, medium of expression of beauty, poetry and drama, a treasure of the centuries of experience, learning and wisdom. A language is a library of human civilization. A language is a soul of a culture. A Frenchman is called French, a German a German, a Bengali a Bengali because of their language. Without a language one becomes rootless and becomes disconnected from one’s own past and culture. One loses one’s identity and a sense of belonging. With that one loses a character and a purpose. One loses the contact with ancient wisdom and knowledge. A language is the mother of a nation, a culture, a civilization. Nobody would remember the Greeks today but for their still living language. It is important for us to transfer the baton of the past riches and wisdom to future generation through our languages. It is their rightful inheritance and our laziness, lameness and our intellectual blindness is no excuse for our negligent and step motherly behavior to our matrubhasha – indigenous languages.

Let us discuss some of the myths and prejudices.

1. ‘Children are so bored in a language class, it is all useless. These are all dying languages, why should we burden our child with any language other than English?’ Children get confused if you teach many languages at the same time!

Personally, I feel that if children are bored with a language class it is the fault of the system and not the language. The language should not be taught by thrusting a pencil and a paper in the child’s tiny fingers and forcing them to write and memorize monotonously. The mind of a child is curious, darting like a kitten to explore and imbibe. A monotonous thing is boring and child certainly becomes averse to a language or any subject being taught in such a manner. The pompous adult, ‘the expert educationist’, who makes a curriculum for a child’s progress, forgets the very fundamental principle as to how they learnt a language. A child learns a language by listening, trying to understand sounds and meanings, which start in the very womb of the mother. When an infant grows, it starts gurgling, a joyous attempt to produce the first sound which tickles the listener. Gradually a child creates sounds – the approximate sounds of what s/he has heard and tries to mimic them. Slowly from monosyllables to simple words their vocabulary develops and over a period of many years they develop their language. What is a gradual, joyous, spontaneous and effortless process is abandoned in the classroom at the direction of ‘all wise curriculum experts with rigid minds’, who kill the joy of learning. If a language is to be taught to a child, it should be taught through audio-visual means. By listening to interesting stories, watching films and plays, and engaging in conversation in a particular language for a few years, the language is learnt easily. Speak often with the child in that language. Create an environment where the child speaks and converses with friends, teachers and others in that language. Isn’t that the time the education experts took to learn their own language? Meanwhile the child should be taught to control and create good hand-eye coordination and to use fingers to express interesting lines and shapes. Then it is just a matter of time before the child learns to read and write. The grammar would be automatically correct with much fewer mistakes than the mechanical and forced compartmentalization which is the way in which today a language is taught.

The language to be restored, sustained or valued should be used to teach various subjects also and not only as the language as a subject. Contrast it with English which has become the medium of learning, and not just a single language to be taught! If a language is not used as a medium of education then the child gets the message that that particular language is not of much importance and can be dispensed with. The language loses its prime position in the life of a child, a future citizen. They become the weakest link between ‘the still living power of our past and yet uncreated power of the future’. All that comes with the language, the ancient wisdom, knowledge, identity, rootedness, a sense of community and belonging is lost. The culture and then the civilization are lost. A language is nourished by its usage. The more it is used the more it becomes powerful and rich in its capacity to communicate. If neglected it becomes impoverished, words and meanings and consequently wisdom and knowledge get lost. To presume that we don’t need ancient wisdom and knowledge is nothing but arrogance based on ignorance. This thoughtless attitude is dangerous. Let us not forget that similarly we too will soon become the past in a few decades and by the same token our experience, wisdom and knowledge is going to be worthless for future generations. We are already giving a message that whatever we are doing, the knowledge and wisdom we are gaining is worth a dustbin!

The question, ‘why should we burden our child with any language other than English’, is the sign of a lazy mind, which detests efforts. It is a given fact of today that most Indians are multilingual, an advantage that is unique to Indians or Asians. And what an impact it has had on Indian minds. Most Indian scientists, the doctors, the lawyers, the IT professionals and businessmen are all multilinguals and reach to the top of their ladder both in India and abroad. An Indian mind has been made supple and capable of being multilingual by millennia of exposure and practice. A multilingual mind has more grey cells developed in their brains than the monolingual. Multilingual persons have a choice of gathering information from many more sources than the monolinguals. They have options of processing, analyzing and creating in more than one language. They have therefore an ability to think in a wider perspective than a monolingual. They become brighter than the monolingual. They are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. The multilingual is brighter, and better able to cope than a monolingual whose interactions with a wide variety of people will be limited by his limited language skills. Let us not deprive our future generation of this millennia old advantage, out of our laziness or stunted intellect or weakness of the soul force.

Let us remember that to disconnect a population from a language, stop teaching that language and substitute it with another language in all walks of life for just two consecutive generations. Once the link is broken and replaced, the future generation will never connect back to the original language and culture, as it is of no consequence to them. And if asked to reconnect – relearn a language it would be felt as an unnecessary burden and of no importance. Why would one go back to learn that which was considered inferior and discarded by their immediate forefathers? If we have only one language in the world that world will be monotonous and dull.

And the myth that the children get confused if more than one language is taught simultaneously is a cover up for parental laziness and apathy. Majority of Indians who are multilingual are solid proof against this myth. Recent research from university of British Columbia and University of Paris Descartes shows that babies can know their grammar by seven months and can differentiate between two different languages.[4]

2. What about freedom of Speech? What about my rights? Why should a state or a nation force me or my children to learn a language? Let the state impose its will on those poor people whose education it sponsors, but we are paying for our children’s education, aren’t we?

Is the freedom of speech absolute? A freedom comes with responsibility that requires sensibility and sensitiveness and not senselessness. And in a mature society one understands that there are some shared responsibilities, though not always spelled out but yet well understood. For eg. cleanliness, courteousness, respect for each other etc. So, this is the most selfish argument one can put forward. If one has money to pay one should be absolved of a responsible behavior! Languages are monuments of human intellect and some are more ancient than the Taj Mahal or Harappan civilization! Do we allow a person who pays to visit the Taj Mahal to behave differently than those who are allowed free? Can he throw stones to damage it because he has paid for it? The very idea would be ridiculous, and even if someone owned the Taj Mahal we would not allow him to damage it! We would make all efforts to protect and preserve the Taj Mahal. And yet we accept an argument that the people with money need not be responsible in preserving a much more precious monument called a language! To say that it is the state and the state sponsored poor people who should make an effort to preserve a language while the moneyed elite do not have any responsibility is a misuse in the name of freedom. Of course children should be allowed to learn and master English. And one cannot be denied the right to educate a child in English. But while child gains proficiency in English, his mother tongue should not be sacrificed at the altar of this ‘killer’ language. Let us differentiate between mastering English language from mastering everything in English language and our perceptions and our efforts will realign to save something precious to us all.

3. ‘One cannot learn Science and Mathematics, specially the higher Science and Mathematics in any language other than English!!’ 

This myth is so profoundly entrenched in Indian minds that one accepts this without verification. By this standard all the non-English speaking world should be lagging behind in Science and Mathematics! The fact is there are brilliant scientists and mathematicians from Germany, Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, France, Italy, Korea, Indonesia, Iran and rest of the non-English speaking world. It would be preposterous to assume that scientists and mathematicians worth mentioning come only from USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and English speaking population of India!! And the whole world is dependent on them alone! Also the fact is all the non-English speaking countries that conduct education in their own languages – Germany, Japan, China, Russia, France, Italy, Korea are way ahead of this proud English speaking India, especially if considered from the point of view of ratio of the bright minds to their total population. They have contributed much more than Indians, if one were to just go by the patent applications filed! One of the best science institutes like Max Planck is in Germany (Population: 8.18 cr.). Japan (P:12.73cr.) is way ahead in robotics and in other scientific technology of USA or UK. China (P:134 cr.) builds better roads and bridges and cities than India, its trade far surpasses India and their education is not in English medium! 4.85 crore South Koreans exported things worth $ 557.3 billion in 2013 compare that with India $ 313.2 billion[5]! India has handicapped itself with English and taken shelter in the English speaking world and is enamored and blinded by them so much that it has not been fully able to see the progress these non-English speaking countries have made. We have not built any strong bridges with any non-English speaking countries. If we had our own national language our dependence on English speaking world would have been much less and like ancient times we would have cast our net far and wide. Today we are proud of our status as work horse for BPO – business process outsourcing – a service provider for low value work! Basically service providers are servants not thinkers! They carry out the master’s command. A nation which once boasted of great thinkers and philosophers is today proud to be a service provider! Where are our R & Ds to propel the nation as leader! We import mobiles, computers, cars, ACs, planes, tanks, military hardware from very small nations, that too not the English speaking ones! We are giants in pharmaceuticals, because we were good a copying a product! How much research have we done compared to smaller non English speaking countries! What have our English speaking geniuses produced from the Indian soil, apart from launching satellites and a nuclear bomb?? Our progress in these fields happened because we were left to our own devices and capabilities. But seriously, how many patents have been filed by our English speaking experts? What is the ratio? In fact, Prof. Anil Gupta from IIM Ahmedabad has collected tens of thousands of new ideas from simple non English educated Indians far surpassing our IITs! We have a large coastline, huge solar energy pool, and what have our English trained scientists achieved to solve the energy crisis! It is therefore not the language, but the training of the mind and the opportunities to think, invent and innovate which is the most important thing.

Decades back Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “We seem to have come to think that no one can hope to be like a Bose unless he knows English. I cannot conceive a grosser superstition than this. No Japanese feels so helpless as we seem to do….” [6]

And we may feel proud that our exports[5] are huge, we are 19th amongst 200 nations or state entities but let us consider per capita export of India[7] and our head will bow down in shame. It seems that at the top is Singapore with an export of US $ 69178 per person whereas India’s export is US $ 166.2 per person only (2010 estimate)! There are very few, about 35 odd small nations below us, many of them insignificant. It should open our eyes wide. So if the spell of the myth is broken we can start thinking logically.

A language is just a means of learning and expression and the development of mind occurs due to one’s desire to understand, learn and express. A language can make the learning easy if the language itself is scientific, like Sanskrit. Otherwise the mind’s development happens regardless of a language but depends on the teaching methodology, contents and the ability of a language to adapt to newer environment and challenges. This ability entirely depends upon the user population, its tenaciousness and innovativeness. If the teaching method induces a child to understand the subject in depth and think and apply the knowledge gained in widest possible sense, that child would be far better developed regardless of the language. In fact it would be far more easy for the child to learn in matrubhasha, where understanding a concept is much easier than a foreign language. Since science and mathematics are just concepts, s/he could learn them better in his/her Matrubhasha and if s/he especially has learnt another language/s, s/he could easily express the same in that later. And if we just cast our glance backwards, India’s contribution in all the fields be it Mathematics or Science before she came in contact with the British has been significant for the world to put India as a pioneer in various fields.

Kumar Mangalam Birla, the chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, had this to say. “Some lessons surprised me even more. Ironically, before we became more international, I used to be much more impressed by someone who could speak the Queen’s English than, say, by a chartered accountant from Jodhpur whose spoken English required some effort to understand. Now when I look across all our operations in places like Brazil or Egypt or Thailand, I see a whole host of people who aren’t comfortable in English, who need interpreters, but who are very, very good at what they do. Sadly, it took that experience for me to respect an accountant from Rajasthan — my home state — as much as a graduate of St. Stephen’s in Delhi. At one time, we even wanted to run English classes for some of our employees! Now it’s not an issue in my mind. If you can get your point across, if you are adding value, if you are competent, then bloody hell to your English.”[8]

4. “Without English India would have been nowhere.’ “It is only the British who brought education to India.’ “ All of India’s progress is due to English, see IT sector, science and technology, Law, finance, banking …” ‘ It is British who brought railways, post and telegraph, government, single currency, banking and finance, medicine to India.’

The question one should ask therefore is, before British came did India have any law, mathematics, knowledge of science and technology, sense of economics and finance? Is it that the British brought all that to India and made us an educated and a mighty nation?

The British came to India because Europe heard of India’s enormous wealth, so the British, the French, the Portuguese and the Spanish came in search of India. When Columbus landed in America, he thought he had found India and they called the local population ‘Red Indians’. The British turned out to be the cleverest or the most fortunate or graced by God to ultimately take over the Indian subcontinent. So India was the richest country when British took over and not the other way round. “It is interesting to note that the problem that faced East India Company from the outset was that England, at the time, had nothing of value to offer India in the way of products comparable in quality or technical standard with Indian products.”[9] writes R. Palme Dutt. After the Battle of Plassey Britain took huge wealth from the Nawab of Bengal, and according to American Historian Brookes Adams the industrial revolution started that changed the world forever.* And the plunder just began, which left India devastated, destroyed and in enormous debt not of its own making. So if we give credit to the British for any development, it was for the handful of British to help control this vast land and a large population, and not for the explicit benefits to the Indians, which happened by the way! The development of postal and telegraph services was for faster communication, railway for faster movement of the troops and the officers and better movement of goods, the army for control and the British Education system to mould the Indian minds to be subservient to British interests. All of this was achieved with Indian money or whatever was left of it!

In fact British did not establish the British version of education system in India for the benefit of Indians or out of benevolence, but to create a subservient Indian class for the benefit of the British Empire. In reality knowingly or unknowingly they destroyed the education system in India. And successfully created a class which can be called ‘English Indians’, on Indian soil, who are more English than English themselves and Indian only by birth and skin colour! While India became geographically free, we are practically and psychologically still slaves, the ‘Anglo-slaves’, who are proud to speak in chaste English language and look down upon the ‘natives’ and their indigenous languages. And people speaking in indigenous languages now feel inferior and have become wannabe -English ‘Indians’!

5. Myth: ‘It is only British who brought education to India.’

India did have a robust education system in Pre – British Era. Brigadier-General Alexander Walker[11] who served In India between 1780 and 1810 said that “no people probably appreciate more justly the importance of instruction than the Hindus”. According to him, “they sacrifice all the feelings of wealth, family pride and caste that their children may have the advantage of good education”. He also found that this love of learning was no exclusive characteristic of the Brahmins but “this desire is strongly impressed on the minds of all the Hindus. It is inculcated by their own system, which provided schools in every village.” He adds that the “spirit of enquiry and of liberty has most probably been effected by the soodors [Shudras] who compose the great body of population, and who were in possession of the principal authority and property of the country”.

Here are some highlights of The British Government surveys.[10]

W. Adam’s Report[12] of 1835 showed that in the then states of Bengal and Bihar, there were 100,000 indigenous elementary schools, or one school for every 31 or 32 boys of school going age, as the author calculated.

The Madras Report which was the most comprehensive showed that there were 12,498 schools containing 188,650 scholars…

..that the Shudras did better in the matter of female education than the upper class Hindus including the Brahmins.

Survey of Indigenous Education in the Province of Bombay (1820-30), there were 16 schools of higher learning in Ahmednagar; and in Poona there was as many 164 such schools out of a total of 222 educational institutions of all description. Brahmins constituted only 30% of the total scholars in that province.

Madras Presidency reported 1,101 schools (with 5431 students) of higher learning, Rajahmundry heading the list with 279 such schools. Trichinopoly had 173, Nellore 137 and Tanjore 109. These taught 5,431 scholars who learnt here, according to their specialization, the Vedas, or Law, or Astronomy, or Poetics, or Music, etc.”

F.W. Robertson,[13] Collector of Rajahmundry District, names 66 text books including the Ramayana, various Shutcums (Krishn Shutcum, Suryanarayan Shutcum, Jankeya Shutcum, Narayan Shutcum), and various Charitums (like Vamana Charitum, Mala Charitum, etc.). Some text-books, like the Visvakaram-Purana, were special to the manufacturing classes. Adam names 29 text-books taught in elementary schools in Bengal, and 120 books taught in higher Institutes. These related to such subjects as Grammar (20), General Literature (11), Law (17), Vedanta (4), Logic (31), Astronomy and Astrology (19), Medicine (4), etc.

In his Report on the Punjab,[14] Leitner names hundreds of textbooks – Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and Gurmukhi – taught in Hindu and Muhammadan schools of different grades in the Punjab. For example, text-books taught to Sikh students of Gurmukhi schools are divided into two sections: those taught to the beginners and those taught to advanced students. To the first section belonged Balopdesha, Panj Granthi, Janam Sakhi, the tenth Guru’s Panj Ekadash, Bhagvat, Tulsi Ramayana, Vishnu Purana, Pingal (10 parts), Ashwa Medha, Adhyatma Ramayana, Vichara Sagar, Moksha Pantha, Surya Prakash, the sixth Guru’s Guru Vilas, Vashishtha Purana, and Daswan Askandha.

In the Punjab, according to Leitner, “female education is to be met in all parts”. According to him, the Punjabi woman has not only been “always more or less educated herself, but she has been an educator of others”.

It tells us that out of the total number of 175,089 students, both male and female, elementary and advanced, only 42,502 were Brahmins (24.25%); 19,669 were Vaishya students (about 11%); but 85,400 were Shudras (about 48.8%); and still 27.516 more were “all other castes”, meaning castes even lower than the Shudras including the pariahs (15.7%). Thus the higher castes were only about 35% and the Shudras and other castes were about 65% of the total Hindu students.

In Malabar, out of 1,588 scholars of Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics and Medical Science, only 639 were Brahmins, 23 Vaishyas, 254 Shudras and 672 “other castes”. Only in the Vedas and Theology did the Brahmins have a near-monopoly, as the Shudras and the “other castes” had in other branches of advanced learning like Astronomy and Medical Science. In Astronomy, out of a total of 806 scholars, Brahmins were only 78, Vaishyas 23, Shudras 195, and other lower castes 510. In Medical Science, the share of the Brahmin scholars was only 31 out of a total of 190. The rest belonged to the Shudras and “other castes”.

The data shows that the share of the Brahmins in certain areas was indeed very low. For example, in Seringapatam, it was only 7.83% in Madura 8.67%; in North Arcot, Brahmin boys were 9.57%, while the Shudras and “other castes” were 84.46%.

According to Adam’s findings, Burdwan had 13 missionary schools, yet they had only 1 ChanDal student while the native schools had 60. The former had only 3 Doms and no Muchis while the latter had 58 and 16 respectively. Of the 760 pupils belonging to the lowest 16 castes, “only 86 were found in the missionary schools and the remaining number in native schools”.

As teachers, the Brahmins were even less represented. Out of a total of 2,261 teachers in these districts, Brahmins were only 208, or about 11%. In this region Kayasthas were the teachers par excellence. They were 1,019 in number, or a little less than half the total. Other teachers belonged to other 32 castes. ChanDals had six, Goalas had five, Telis had eleven; while Rajputs had only two, and Chhatri and Kshetriya taken together had only three.[14].

This shows that the education in Pre British India was extensive in its content and outreach, reaching out to all sections of society even in the remotest village. Non Brahmins formed a significant part of learning and imparting education and that education was of primary importance to all strata of society.

Rather than bringing education to India the British took a leaf out of Indian Education system. The Indian system of education was so economical, so effective that some of its features were exported to England and Europe. The “monitor”, the “slate”, the “groupstudy” were directly borrowed from the old Indian practice. A short account of this practice is available from an eye-witness report of a European named Pietro Della Valle published in 1623. But 200 years later, around 1800, two Britons, Dr. Bell and Mr. Lancaster, who were servants of the East India Company, introduced in England a “New System of Schooling”, embodying Indian practices of teaching. Both claimed originality for themselves. In the controversy that ensued, it was found that both had borrowed from India without acknowledgement, of course. In this connection we have the testimony of Brigadier-General Alexander Walker who served in the East India Company from 1780 to 1810. While reporting on teaching methods in Malabar, he says that the new British “system was borrowed from the Brahmans and brought from India to Europe. It has been made the foundation of the National Schools in every enlightened country. Some gratitude is due to a people from who we have learnt to diffuse among the lower ranks of society instructions by one of the most unerring and economical methods which has ever been invented”. According to him, by this method, “the children are instructed without violence, and by a process peculiarly simple“.[15]

And what became of that education?

Leitner[16] found that 8000 pupils still received their education in the indigenous schools of Punjab in spite of “the 26 years of repressive education of the (British) Educational Department”, And what was Mahatma Gandhi’s take on the British Education System.

According to Mahatma Gandhi (almost 80 years ago)

Today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or hundred years ago.[17]

The British administrators instead of looking after education and other matters which had existed began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that and the beautiful tree perished.[18]

He writes, “I find daily proof of the increasing & continuing wrong being done to the millions by our false de-Indianizing education…”

What he wrote is even more valid today and so prophetic. “The school must be an extension of home there must be concordance between the impressions which a child gathers at home and at school, if the best results are to be obtained. Education through the medium of  a strange tongue breaks the concordance which should exist. Those who break this relationship are enemies of the people even though their motives may be honest. To be a voluntary victim of this system of education is as good as the betrayal of our duty towards our mothers.

English is today studied because of its commercial and so called political value. Our boys think and rightly in the present circumstances, that without English they cannot get Government service. Girls are taught English as a passport to marriage. I know several instances of women wanting to learn English so that they may be able to talk in English. I know families in which English is made a mother tongue. Hundreds of youth believe that without the knowledge of English, the freedom of India is practically impossible. The canker has so eaten into the society that in many cases the only meaning of education is knowledge of English. All these are for me signs of our slavery and degradation. It is unbearable to me that the vernaculars should be crushed and starved as they have been. I cannot tolerate the idea of parents writing to their children, or husbands writing to their wives, not in their own vernaculars but in English.

The foreign medium has caused brain-fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses. The foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own lands. It is the greatest tragedy of the existing system. The foreign medium has prevented the growth of our vernaculars. If I had the powers of a despot, I would today stop the tuitions of our boys and girls through a foreign medium and require all the teachers and professors on pain of dismissal to introduce the change forthwith. I would not wait for the preparation of Text books. They will follow the change. It is an evil that needs a summary remedy. (strong words indeed.)

Among the many evils of foreign rule, this blighting imposition of a foreign medium upon the youth of the country will be counted by history as one of the greatest. It has sapped the energy of the nation, it has estranged them for the masses, it has made education unnecessarily expensive. If this process is still persisted in, it bids fair to rob the nation of its soul. The sooner, therefore educated India shakes itself free from the hypnotic spell of the foreign medium, the better it would be for them and the people.”

“about (English) ‘the rottenness of this education’ and that ‘to give millions a knowledge of English is to enslave them … that, by receiving English education, we have enslaved the nation’.* He was enraged that he had to speak of Home Rule or Independence in what was clearly a foreign tongue, that he could not practice in court in his mother tongue, that all official documents were in English as were all the best newspapers and that education was carried out in English for the chosen few. He did not blame the colonial powers for this. He saw that it was quite logical that they would want an elite of native Indians to become like their rulers in both manners and values. In this way, the Empire could be consolidated.* Gandhi blamed his fellow Indians for accepting the situation. Later in his life he was to declare that ‘real freedom will come only when we free ourselves of the domination of Western education, Western culture and Western way of living which have been ingrained in us. Emancipation from this culture would mean real freedom for us’.”[19]

The reason the original Indian education system withered away was because, “The teacher of an indigenous school was an idealist, but the system itself was founded on realistic public financial support. Schools were supported by the grant of rent-free lands and monetary assignments. During the British rule, this support was withheld or drastically curtailed. The data for rent-free lands to support local needs like the police, the temples, the education has not been fully worked out but that this portion was very large is beyond doubt. Dharampal shows that it was sometimes as large as 35% of the total land, and sometimes even 50%. Leitner gives the names of many hundreds of scholars who were endowed with such lands but whose grants were terminated and as a result of which the institutions they ran so well died down within a generation. The Collector of Bellary District wrote: “There is no doubt that in former times especially under the Hindu Government very large grants both in money and in land were issued for the sake of learning.“[20]

6. ‘Without English there will not be any unity in India.’ ‘How do we communicate with each other across India if there is no English?’ 

This is the saddest comment any one can make of his country and its citizens and leadership. A nation that needs a foreign language to maintain its unity is not an independent nation, it is still under a foreign influence and not being able to exercise its freedom, instead it is a tacit acknowledgement of its intellectual slavery and impotency to confront and eradicate persistent underlying divisions.

And what are the implications of this unity? Sri Aurobindo wrote, “The disappearance of national variation into a single uniform human unity, of which the systematic thinker dreams as an ideal and which we have seen to be a substantial possibility and even a likelihood, if a certain tendency becomes dominant, might lead to political peace, economic well-being, perfect administration, the solution of a hundred material problems, as did on a lesser scale the Roman unity in old times; but to what eventual good if it leads also to an uncreative sterilisation of the mind and the stagnation of the soul of the race?” [2]

Then, “how do we communicate with each other across India if there is no English?

I think the division that exists in our emotions and minds were fostered and exploited by various leaders — political, religious, regional — for their ulterior motives than to find that which was unifying. India was treated as a single entity by British and the others who came to India for its wealth, regardless of its geographical divisions into hundreds of princely states. To them India existed as a diversity in Unity – a single colossal trunk of a beautiful tree called India with its diverse enriching branches spreading in all directions far and wide.

How did this India communicate across its length and breadth before British or its language ever set its foot on Indian soil? Which language did we use to communicate with each other? Or else as someone naively suggested, “the Indian’s did not travel and therefore there was no need to communicate’. It is simply that history about the travel and trade and therefore communication of Indians says it otherwise. Indians not only travelled extensively within the country for business or pilgrimage, but travelled across the oceans and did enormous trade with many countries in the world without an iota of the knowledge of English which would have been anyhow quite superfluous.

The language that was non regional and cutting across the Indian masses was Sanskrit, a common thread that ran across India and its education system. But to talk of Sanskrit as a national language raises red flags because of prejudices, misconceptions and myths that have been built around it out of ignorance and preferences for the religious-political-regional-intellectual power equations so that a sane mind is not allowed to think objectively through the web of confusions and confabulations.

Some of the most powerful myths that have entrenched themselves in our minds are,

  • ‘Sanskrit is a language of the Brahmins / the Aryans / the Hindus.’
  • ‘And if one wants Sanskrit than why not Arabic or German?’ This is to deliberately and mischievously hint that Sanskrit is encouraged to promote Hinduism.
  • ‘Sanskrit is a dead language.’
  • ‘Sanskrit is a very rigid language and its grammar is inflexible.’
  • ‘It cannot express the thoughts of modern day science, mathematics, arts, philosophy.’
  • ‘English is the easiest language and Sanskrit is the most difficult language !’
  • ‘What is the use of a language, which has no place in my day to day life?’
  • ‘All the world must speak in only one language – that is English.’

A segment of people out of their political need, religious or intellectual prejudices, preferences, ignorance and ego or regional power plays have used the arguments that Sanskrit is a Brahmin / Aryan / Hindu language – implying that the desire of those who argue for Sanskrit is indeed trying to establish a Brahmin / Aryan / Hindu hegemony. Indeed this argument is so powerful that most people who may have even the slightest opening to go through the merits shut up and withdraw. But the argument actually seen dispassionately should fall flat on intense scrutiny.

Do we ever allege that English is a Christian language to establish hegemony of the Christians over India and therefore should be banned from its usage? And what about Bengali, could we say that it is a Hindu language in India and a Muslim language in Bangladesh? Or for that matter Malayalam, is it a Muslim, Hindu or a Christian language, as all of them claim Malayalam to be their mother tongue? Do we call Japanese a Shinto language? And are Russian and Mandarin communist languages? Do we say that since Hitler gave his orders in the German language, the German language should be banned?

So the argument is not only absurd but deliberately misleading. And why this Aryan language tag? Just because the word Arya was found in that language and some people took liking to it! In fact Swami Vivekanand praised South India, which has contributed richly for the promotion and preservation of this most noble language!

And, the argument that if Sanskrit is promoted, why not Arabic or German be promoted. Indeed one can learn whatever foreign language one wants to learn whether be it Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese or any other foreign language. Indeed one should not be shy of learning any foreign language as it adds to our national asset. And most Indians working in Arab countries learn basic Arabic anyways. But otherwise the argument is a deliberate, mischievous and poisonously divisive argument which has no merit. As for example Arabic language is spoken by the Arabs in their own countries. Arabs are proud and capable people who can look after their own language and culture and it is preposterous to assume that Arabs need India’s patronization. They do not think themselves inferior or weak and in need of our support to save their language and culture!

To call Sanskrit a language of the Brahmins / Hindus / Aryan is therefore not only absurd, but purposefully mischievous and downright unjust to the language itself. 

Language belongs to the user, regardless of his colour, caste or creed. English is spoken by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others. Just by using English a Hindu or a Muslim does not become a Christian. He remains what he is. If so called Brahmins used or misused a language, then it was not the fault of the language itself. Indeed by learning the language one could have an access to the same information and wisdom which a Brahmin was supposed to have had. That is what the pre British Education system in India did. Sanskrit was a common thread that passed through and integrated people from all around. To say otherwise is precisely to play in the hands of divisive and downright prejudicial, selfish or ignorant obstructionist forces, which have no ‘noble purpose’ than to keep the masses away from the richness of the most beautiful and noble language. No language in the world has suffered such enormous socio – politico – religious – intellectual prejudice and persecution as the Sanskrit language, which sustained and enriched all walks of human life on Indian subcontinent for more than 5000 years.

If McCaulay was against Sanskrit and uprooted and replaced it with English it was to facilitate the British aim of consolidating power and control over a population which would be subservient and continue to assist the British in siphoning off of enormous indigenous wealth. The British acted in their own self-interest and it was neither their responsibility nor to their advantage to support and sustain indigenous culture or the languages. That responsibility was and is entirely ours.

This brings us back to other arguments.

7. “Sanskrit is a dead language’.

A language is dead when it is no more in use. Sanskrit is still actively spoken, written and read by many in India and abroad. Sanskrit is the language of the soul of Mother India. It is the language of aesthetics, profound wisdom, spirituality, science and of the highest intellectual achievements of our ancestors not only of India but the Earth itself. It is plastic, versatile and scientific. It is a language of and for the genius as well as common minds of humanity. And it is actively used, albeit the numbers have reduced drastically solely due to apathy shown to it by all of us. The neglect of the language is sadly due to ignorance, prejudices, such myths and intellectual paralysis, which has given up its thinking cap and replaced it with blinkers of intellectual slavery. The slavery to English medium – to the writers, producers, directors, anchors, jockeys, philosophers or anyone or anything else with an English label – is such that we take pride in considering anything Indian inferior compared to that which comes from the English speaking world especially from U.S.A. or U.K.! With such an overwhelming surrender and one sided partisan perception one is not only actively ‘killing’ Sanskrit, not yet dead language, but also suffocating mercilessly all her daughter languages. Today’s great Indian diversity will in future become a second hand English speaking monotonous dull uniformity, subserviently echoing the western thoughts and deeds, by losing its indigenous identity and free independent thinking. Indians of all hues suffering from a great inferiority complex – the parents, the educationists, the media and the governments are enthusiastically out their digging the mass graves of Sanskrit and other Indian languages by promoting education in exclusively English medium from the very beginning of child’s life, as Mahatma Gandhi said “for its commercial and so called political value”. As of now the Great Indian ‘linguo-cide’ is on – because of our active collusion in the neglect of the mother of all languages. This divests our future generation of its rich inheritance. ‘Sanskrit ought still to have a future as a language of the learned and it will not be a good day for India when the ancient tongue ceases entirely to be written or spoken.’[21]- writes Sri Aurobindo in ‘ The Hour of the God’.

8. English is the easiest language and Sanskrit is the most difficult language’. ‘Sanskrit is a very rigid language and its grammar is inflexible.’

The biggest myth is that Sanskrit is the most difficult language and English is easy. Indeed it is the other way around. Sanskrit is indeed a ‘dev bhasha’. The Sanskrit verbal adjective sáṃskṛta- may be translated as “put together, constructed, well or completely formed; refined, adorned, highly elaborated”. It is derived from the root saṃ-skar- “to put together, compose, arrange, prepare”, where saṃ- “together” (as English same) and (s)kar- “do, make”.[22]

Sanskrit language is not only refined but also the most scientific. It must have been ‘put together’ by the sharpest minds with great power of observation and an objective scientific spirit of analysis. “The structure we find (in Sanskrit) is one of extraordinary initial simplicity and also of extraordinary scientific regularity of formation,“[23] writes Sri Aurobindo.

The renowned British Sanskrit scholar Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1854-1930) wrote,

“Since the Renaissance there has been no event of such worldwide significance in the history of culture as the discovery of Sanskrit literature in the latter part of the eighteenth century.”[24]

Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900) in Science of Languages p. 203, calls Sanskrit the “language of languages”, and remarks that “it has been truly said that Sanskrit is to the Science of language what Mathematics is to Astronomy.”

Rick Briggs[25] from NASA writes in Artificial Intelligence (1985), ‘In the past twenty years, much time, effort, and money has been expended on designing an unambiguous representation of natural languages to make them accessible to computer processing. These efforts have centered around creating schemata designed to parallel logical relations with relations expressed by the syntax and semantics of natural languages, which are clearly cumbersome and ambiguous in their function as vehicles for the transmission of logical data. Understandably, there is a widespread belief that natural languages are unsuitable for the transmission of many ideas that artificial languages can render with great precision and mathematical rigor.

But this dichotomy, which has served as a premise underlying much work in the areas of linguistics and artificial intelligence, is a false one. There is at least one language, Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1,000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own. Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigor until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence. This article demonstrates that a natural language can serve as an artificial language also, and that much work in AI has been reinventing a wheel millennia old.’ He further states “there was a language (Sanskrit) spoken among an ancient scientific community that has a deviation of zero… A further similarity between the two systems (Sanskrit and artificial intelligence) is the striving for unambiguity. Both Indian and AI schools en-code in a very clear, often apparently redundant way, in order to make the analysis accessible to inference… In the Indian system, inference is very complete indeed..”[25]

A great linguist and the founder of the Linguistic Society of America, Leonard Bloomfield, commenting on Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, a book on Sanskrit grammar, called it “one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.” [26]

A language which is ‘consistent in inference, with zero deviation,’ akin to a computer program (…‘reinventing a wheel millennia old’), and ‘the greatest monument of human intelligence’ is accused of being rigid and inflexible, by those who would want the same inflexibility when they travel by a plane or a rail or a car that the brakes should work with zero error, that their confirmed booking should have zero error, that a nurse should give them the precise medicine with zero error and their servants, subordinates and employees should understand them with the zero error as to what they conveyed to them!

Indeed in my personal research to study the speech problems of cleft palate children, I came across Sanskrit varnamala, arrangements of alphabets, which is so scientific or mathematically precise that it made me see through the maze and helped me understand and analyze the problems in just few weeks that could have taken me years to understand. It was a ready reckoner, as the phonemes were well organized regarding their three characteristics of voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation, apart from that the consonants and vowels have been arranged separately. It was much easier to understand and use than the modern classification of phonemes according to International phonetic alphabets, for the purpose of analysis.[27]

On the other hand the difference between English and Sanskrit is glaring. “In English, for example, written symbols A to Z represent most, if not all, phonemes. Though some of the phonemes require a combination of these alphabetical symbols like ‘ch’ as in church, ‘th’ as in thought. The problem is all these alphabets are not pure phonemes, but a combination of a consonant and a vowel. Further, the arrangement is haphazard, with vowels and consonants intermingling at irregular intervals. And there is no reason for a particular arrangement of alphabets. They are as if picked at random and strung together.”[27} Sanskrit varnamala is on the other hand the most scientific. In ancient time a child was taught the varnamala in 10 – 12 days. Since the pronunciation of written symbol was consistent, once learned there was much less effort required to remember a spelling of a particular word in relation to the way it was spoken. In English there is no consistency in written symbols and pronunciation. For ex. Put / but, do /go, and how does one pronounce Gloucestershire ? Is it Gloster or there is a ‘ou’, ‘ce’ in it? It actually taxes one’s brain and memory space to remember who is going to pronounce what word in English in which way in which country, that too in just the present time space? Whereas Sanskrit gives consistency and there is no scope for mispronunciation and therefore misunderstanding, even after a thousand years! And yet Sanskrit is accused of being rigid, inflexible and a difficult language! This blinkered view, devoid of any truth has caused much damage to Sanskrit and Sanskrit derived modern Indian languages.

‘The intellectual debt of Europe on Sanskrit literature has been undeniably great. It may perhaps become greater still in the years that are to come. We (Europeans) are still behind in making even our alphabet a perfect one.’ writes Prof. Macdonell.[24] “The Sanskrit language is the ‘devabhāşā’…It is the language of the Satya Yuga based on the true and perfect relation of vāk and artha. Every one of its vowels and consonants has a particular and inalienable force which exists by the nature of things and not by development or human choice.” Writes Sri Aurobindo[28]

9. ‘It cannot express the thoughts of modern day science, mathematics, arts, philosophy.’

This is from those who are either simply ignorant and extremely prejudiced or just blind to the reality. The impact of Sanskrit on mathematics, science, and arts is so overwhelming that a cursory attempt should show them the light. From the most profound philosophies, the richest literature, music, dance, sculpture, paintings to complex mathematics, metallurgy, medicine, ship building, architecture, physics, chemistry, astronomy, indeed in every aspect of life the language has its impressive foot print. Its ability to express from the most simple to most sublime concepts is rarely matched in the history of mankind.

This brings us to our core question. Why and how to preserve our culture and indigenous languages and yet retain the advantage of English that we have or want to master?

Why?

Because, ‘Language is the distillation of hundreds, if not thousands of years of experience of a collective… So when the language disappears you’re really throwing away that whole library of knowledge.’[29] – Rachel Nez, Navajo speaker.

How?

First we must make drastic changes in our thinking process and approach the challenge at national level. We must come out of this intellectual subservience to English that is suicidal for our culture and languages. Even the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh have proudly retained their languages and the culture despite being swallowed by and being the part of the British empire for centuries. It is therefore preferable to teach children at least up to high school or 12th level in their mother tongue. And creative models already existing with bilingual / multilingual teaching medium can easily solve our problem for those who aspire to put their children in English medium stream and yet want to remain connected to their language and culture.

Let us make some sweeping long term changes and commit ourselves to stand by them till we succeed. A turn around in the erosion of our language and culture is certainly possible.

  1. Let us declare indigenous languages as national treasure or assets. Let us call them intellectual monuments of immense value to be preserved, protected and nourished and a responsibility of all Indians to contribute in the process.
  2. Let us make Sanskrit, a non-regional language, a compulsory base language from the first day of child’s education throughout India. A language that is a common thread through most of the Indian languages and as a mother language which fosters better understanding of different Indian languages. This should continue at least through high school and junior college. There should be strong disincentives for those who refuse versus those who learn. It is not the responsibility only of the poor, who depend on the free education from the state but also of the financially self-sufficient citizens and the rich to pass on this rich heritage to the future generations.
    To those sceptics who scoff at the suggestion, I would quote Sri B. R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of Indian Constitution. When questioned as to why he was among those who sponsored Sanskrit as the official language of the Indian Union, He retorted, “What is wrong with Sanskrit?”[30] Indeed, “Our whole culture, literature and life would remain incomplete so long as our scholars, our thinkers and our educationists remain ignorant of Sanskrit”. Said ex-president of India, – Dr. Rajendra Prasad[30] By teaching and learning Sanskrit we will reconnect ourselves to the soul of our nation. As Sri Aurobindo said, “…each language is the sign and power of the soul of the people which naturally speaks it. Each develops therefore its own peculiar spirit, thought-temperament, way of dealing with life and knowledge and experience. If it receives and welcomes the thought, the life-experience, the spiritual impact of other nations, still it transforms them into something new of its own and by that power of transmutation it enriches the life of humanity with its fruitful borrowings and does not merely repeat what had been gained elsewhere. Therefore It is of the utmost value to a nation, a human group-soul to preserve its language and make it a strong and living cultural instrument. A nation, race or people which loses its language cannot live its whole life or real life.”[2] Let us remember that it is our duty to the future generations of India to pass on ‘the most powerful and the most valued of our legacies, the Sanskrit language.’ (Jawaharlal Nehru), ‘the greatest language in the World’ ( Max Muller). As aptly articulated by ex-president of India, Mr. Fakruddin Ali Ahmed,[30] let us remember that ‘Sanskrit is not the language of any particular sect or creed. It is the language of every Indian.’ And let us reiterate in our minds what Dr. Shaidullah expressed, ‘Sanskrit is the language of every man, to whatever race he may belong.’[30] After few years when most of our children have learned Sanskrit, it will regain its true and the most deserved position in our national character and raise our minds and hearts to the great heights of the past which still makes a profound impression in the world. Let it become once again the language of the masses, a spontaneous soul endorsed national language, ‘a  rejuvenated Sanskrit as the representative language of India, that is a spoken Sanskrit.’
    At national level, let us put our signboards in Sanskrit, regional language and English.
    The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram once said: “Sanskrit should be the real national language. It is only Sanskrit which will be ultimately acceptable to the people of India. Sanskrit is the only language which creates an equal handicap for all the parts of the country, so that nobody has a natural advantage over others in learning it. When I speak of Sanskrit, it should be simple, but not ‘simplified’. When India goes back to her soul, Sanskrit will naturally become India’s national language.”[31] This will be a bridge between the Northern Hindi speaking and Southern non-Hindi speaking states, and solve the language imbroglio.
  3. In all non-vernacular English medium schools – English should be restricted to teaching only two subjects like history, geography, civics apart from literature. This will give a child sufficient command over English. The other subjects must be taught in the mother tongue, for example literature, science, mathematics etc. Especially science and mathematics, which are put on a higher pedestal than other subjects, as they are concept based learning and easy to teach in one’s mother tongue. Let us remember that the Germans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Italians, the French and almost all the Non-English world teach their students in their own Mother tongue and have not turned out to be stupid or inferior in mathematics or science and are able to interact effectively in the international forums. The relevant books can be prepared or translated. This will allow the children to learn in their mother tongue, which is the easiest medium to learn in, reinstate our indigenous languages and the respect for them. It will encourage the children to use the language in reading, writing and communication. It will give them the rootedness and identity which is getting blurred, reconnect them to the power of the still living past and make them able vehicles carrying the torch of our culture and civilization to yet uncreated future. Let us not forget that Indians were great mathematicians before the British even learned their simple mathematics. Let us realize that both science and mathematics must be taught at least if not more up to high school or junior college level in local languages. If a child has achieved proficiency in English through learning other subjects, s/he could easily overcome the difficulties of using English as a base for science and mathematics. This is exactly what other countries do. And wouldn’t it be an irony that a country, which in ancient times was a pioneer and had a lion’s share in development of Mathematics and Science, should abandon her own languages to teach these subjects, and genuflect in front of English?
    It is important to keep in mind to give much significance and prominence to indigenous languages and therefore to avoid the disrespectful place it is now occupying as an ‘also taught’ isolated language. In recent past, I have seen in the very interior remote places of India, someone proudly showing me a ‘fully English medium school’! Arrey, where the very tips of the roots of our language and our culture are embedded there we have started wielding the axe of English medium schools and nobody is crying, feeling sad or is even conscious of this cultural and linguistic suicide !! The helplessness and hopelessness of Indian languages, the abject intellectual surrender to the English language is so complete that almost the smallest ray of light eludes us all. To question the wisdom of those who start, promote and support such schools gets you a dirty look or an expression that implies that you must be an imbecile if you are asking such a question.
    To grow a Bonsai tree one needs to regularly clip the roots and the branches. When we clip the very roots of our culture, the languages, we will have a bonsai culture, a miniature replica of the original to be kept in the corner of our room and not a dense luxuriant forest. We are rushing headlong into miniaturization of our language and culture, a museum piece for the interested art students of the future to look into. Only because of our intellectual impotency, which has made us so weak that we cannot hold the strong staff of our culture and languages, and pass it on to their lawful inheritors, our children?
  4. Teach languages and other subjects in an interesting manner rather than monotonous learning by rote. Encourage listening, speaking and interaction through audiovisual means. Some of the important teaching methods of the past still have lots of merits. For eg. make an advanced student teach the younger ones, which will benefit both. It would improve the advanced student’s skills, power of expression, organize his mind, challenge and activate their brains to imbibe, analyze and understand the subject with better life time retention than mere memorizing and vomiting out on a particular examination day to be forgotten then on. In addition the juniors probably will learn in a more simplified manner from a contemporary view point.
  5. Allow the language to be used to teach as per the mother tongue of the density of the student population and let us not make that a political platform. Local state language should then be an additional language, though not to be counted for the purpose of scoring marks but for the purpose of understanding the literature and make it possible for the person to interact freely in a local language.
    Before we shut our minds to above suggestions let us not forget the impact of our inferiority complex and the step motherly treatment to our mother tongue. Let us take few day to day examples. In the most spoken top 50 languages in the world 10 are Indian, as of now. Yet how many Window versions we have found in Indian languages? But you would find them on the very day of launching in Japanese, German, French, Korean, Norwegian, Chinese, and Arabic etc. How many Mobile companies sell mobiles with Indian language versions, but you will find in language options – Dutch, French, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Magyar, Slovenian, Turkish, Russian, and Korean. And most of these countries have population smaller than some of the Indian states or cities! No country speaks to India or Indians in Indian language but most communicate with us in English! The world does not respect our languages because we don’t have any self-respect for them ourselves. Those who don’t respect themselves are not respected ever by others. 

Let us not squander our beautiful multilingual heritage and its inherent advantages. Let us commit ourselves to retain and regain our National Treasure. Let us hold our heads high.

This is our responsibility and its execution is our expression of gratitude to the Mother India.

Let me quote Will Durant, “India was the motherland of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages. India was the mother of our philosophy, of much of our mathematics, of the ideals embodied in Christianity… of self-government and democracy. In many ways, Mother India is the mother of us all.” [32]

An awakened India is better and greater than a weakened and paralyzed India.

To the Awakened India,

- Jai Hind.

Dr. Kalpesh Jayantkumar Gajiwala

“Take Bidayuh. Spoken by 200,000 people in East Malaysia, where 140 primary schools have Bidayuh-speaking teachers, the language should not be in danger. But it is. It is neither a medium of instruction nor a school subject – partly because there are hardly any books in Bidayuh and there is no standard form that all its speakers understand. Children grow up studying in Malay and English. They may use Bidayuh in their village but have little need for it after moving to towns for work. When their grandparents die they often stop using it altogether.

English may not be a cold-blooded killer, but it is not completely innocent. The main reason for the disappearance of so many languages nowadays is economic globalisation, and the main language of globalisation is English. Many English speakers themselves are monolingual and fail to understand the problems of people who speak small languages. Sri Lankans call English kadda (sword) because it is a useful and powerful weapon. But like many swords, it is double-edged.”

(http://english-in-asia.blogspot.in/2009/06/killer-language.html confirmed – 4.09.2013)

Acknowledgement: I thank all those people who participated in an impromptu discussions over many years, opined and put forward their opinions, even if they felt that case for English needs no further discussion. In this article most of the sources are quoted, and yet I apologize if inadvertently any source is left out.

AbstractReferencesAbout the Author

This article is written for those who love, admire, are proud of or grateful to Mother India; for those who are open, determined, committed to stand up in front of a fierce hurricane of despondency which is sweeping our country flattening our culture and indigenous languages.

The article highlights the need of preserving our indigenous languages and thereby our culture. It confronts the myths prevailing in our society regarding English vs. indigenous languages, gives logical counters to dispel them and a solution to preserve our multi-linguistic heritage and culture and a road map to passing them on to future generations. The article reiterates the importance of promotion of a non-regional language like Sanskrit as a national language. It is an answer to a sad but a very urgent wakeup call of the two of the greatest stalwarts of Mother India, Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo. It is absolutely the responsibility of every generation to see that the bright well lit torch of our languages is passed from generation to generation.

References:

  1. http://www.gandhimanibhavan.org/gandhiphilosophy/philosophy_education_aspergandhi.htm
  2. Works of Sri Aurobindo. Social and Political thought. Vol.15. 1972. Chapter XXVIII. Diversity in oneness.
  3. ibid
  4. Judit Gervain & Janet F. Werker. Prosody cues word order in 7-month-old bilingual infants. NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, published 14 February 2013
  5. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2078rank.html (03.06.2014)
  6. (http://www.gandhimanibhavan.org/gandhiphilosophy/philosophy_education_aspergandhi.htm, (reconfirmed 29.11.2011)
  7. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Economy/Trade/Exports-per-capita (03.06.2014)
  8. Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower. Copyright © 2013 by McKinsey & Company. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  9. http://iref.homestead.com/Plunder.html (03.06.2014).
  10. http://voi.org/books/ohrr/ch07.htm, Chapter 7 Educational System During Pre-British Days (Reconfirmed on 29.11.2011)
  11. http://voiceofdharma.org/books/ohrr/ch07.htm
  12. One Teacher, One School: The Adam Reports on Indigenous Education in 19th Century India, by Joseph DiBona, Biblia Impex Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.
  13. http://voiceofdharma.org/books/ohrr/ch07.htm
  14. History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab since Annexation and in 1882, by G.W. Leitner, 1883, Reprinted by Languages Department, Punjab, Patiala, 1971.
  15. The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century, by Dharampal. Biblia Impex Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. Also https://archive.org/details/DharampalCollectedWritingsIn5Volumes also  http://voiceofdharma.org/books/ohrr/ch07.htm (Reconfirmed : 02.06.2014)
  16. ibid
  17. The Selected works of Gandhi Vol.6 the Voice of Truth (Mahatma Gandhi at the Royal  Institute of International Affairs , London, Oct 1931)
  18. Mahatma Gandhi at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Oct 1931
  19. The Selected works of Gandhi, The Voice of Truth, and Vol.6
  20. http://voi.org/books/ohrr/ch07.htm [Reconfirmed 29. 11.2011]
  21. The Hour of God. By Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication department.
  22. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit to be verified from another source.
  23. Sri Aurobindo. (1914-1918). The Origins of Aryan Speech. In : Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. Vol 10. Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Pondicherry, India; 1972. p. 570-2. (Originally published in Arya between 1914-1918).
  24. Arthur A. MacDonnel. A History of Sanskrit Literature.
  25. Briggs R. Knowledge representation in Sanskrit and artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence Magazine 1985;6:32-9.
  26. Bloomfield L. Language. Henry Holt and Co: New York; 1933.
  27. Gajiwala K. The use of Sanskrit, an ancient language, as a tool to evaluate cleft palate speech problems. Indian J Plast. Surg. 2007; 40:112-20
  28. Sri Aurobindo. Hymns to the Mystic Fire.
  29. Rachel Nez. Navajo Speaker. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7964016.stm (29.11.2011)
  30. http://www.shrutifoundation.org/spoken-sanskrit
  31. Mother’s Message dated 4-10-1971. The Mother Centenary Vol. 12. P. 224
  32. Will Durant – American Historian 1885-1981 (Durant, Will (1930) The Case for India. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Dr. Kalpesh J. Gajiwala is a senior consultant plastic surgeon from Mumbai. He is a visiting consultant to many premier hospitals and collaborates on research in cleft palate speech at Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for Hearing Handicapped. Apart from Plastic, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, he is involved in research in various fields. He has presented and published many original papers and innovative works. He is the recipient of the best original paper award by the Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery for his research on the use of Sanskrit language in cleft palate speech. Here he has shown how to use the scientific and methodical arrangement of Sanskrit varnamala as a readymade platform for the analysis of cleft palate speech. He has also received a Award for his invention of needle stick injury prevention device from CIIE – IIM Ahmedabad. He has been keenly interested in preserving indigenous languages and has interacted with cross section of society for past 10 years to know their views. The myths for English and against indigenous languages that are quoted in this article are the compilation of all the myths he has come across in such discussions.

Dr. Kalpesh Gajiwala M.S. (General Surg.), M.Ch.( Plastic Surg.)
801, Aqua, Planet Godrej,
Keshavrao Khadye Road,
Mahalaxmi,
Mumbai 400011
Ph: +91 22 23010993
Mobile: +91 9820016319
Email: gajiwalakalpesh@gmail.com

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6 Comments

    • Sampadananda Mishra on

      Excellent Kalpesh ji…i felt happy going through the write up…
      we need to work at multiple levels to save our languages and I strongly believe that Sanskrit is the surest way to achieve this (if taught properly)…I am copying herewith a link for you see how Sanskrit education can be made a part of the mainstream education…we whole heartedly invite people to collaborate with us to take it forward…

      would love to get your feedback…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzy5YWT7sQ0

      also listen to the Sanskrit radio that I am operating from Pondicherry…the aim is to bring Sanskrit to people as a living language…here is the link to the radio:

      http://tunein.com/radio/Divyavani-s205826/

      regards

      • Kalpesh Gajiwala on

        Dear Sampadanandji,
        Thank you. I saw the weblink that you suggested. It is a great beginning. As stated in this article may I just reiterate that instead of wholly English medium schools, let us have a duel medium schools. Science and Maths in local languages along with literature. And History, geography, civics be taught in English along with English literature to sharpen the expressive faculty of students in English. Science and Maths are concept based, once grasped they can easily be expressed in English or other languages, as the non-English speaking world routinely do. And as they are put on a higher pedestal of subjects, it will give respectability to indigenous languages.
        Spoken Sanskrit should be taught from preschool to all children all across India. And if there is a dearth of teachers, internet interactive learning bridges that vast distances. Simple teaching modules can be prepared. Interactive forums can be created and used.
        And rather than blindly reciting mantras, the meaning of each word, line and stanza should be explained to the child so that the child can relate, imbibe the truth and enlarge the being.
        Well known Anand Mahadevan wrote that though he was born a Hindu and learnt lot of Sanskrut Shlokas from his beloved grand father, he could not understand a word. Later at friend’s place he heard a simple prayer of well being for all by friend’s sister, which touched his heart and he became a Christian, which may be his soul’s need.
        But the lesson is that a rote learning without understanding is no learning at all. Learning by understanding is the only true way of learning.
        once as I entered the Churchgate centre, an idea came to me ( sure from the Mother ) to have 22000 such schools all over India with 1000 students each, under a project called ‘The Mother’s lap’. Who knows the divine will will create that with Her grace.
        Kalpesh Gajiwala

      • Kalpesh Gajiwala on

        Dear Gaurav Bhatia, Belloo Mehra and Anjana, Thank you,
        Would it be possible for you to pass this link to as many like minded people as possible? May be together we can create an awakening and reverse the tide.

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