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To study or not to study English: India debates

To study or not to study English: India debates

New Delhi: Nearly two centuries after Lord Macaulay championed the introduction of English as a medium of education in India in 1835, a debate is still raging on the suitability of what many describe as a "foreign language" in a polyglot nation that has 22 official languages and over 350 dialects.

The debate was rekindled in the last few days as civil services aspirants thronged the streets here in large numbers demanding that the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), which they said was a glaring disadvantage to students from non-English backgrounds, be scrapped.

Though the government announced on Aug 4 that the marks in the English language comprehension skills of the UPSC aptitude test will not be included in the merit list, the protestors remained far from satisfied impelling many to ponder that
resentment against the English language is probably more intense than we imagined.

Pavan Verma, former diplomat and author, said English is not a language of social inclusion. "English is a foreign language and I believe it can never be a language for social inclusion. It has created a literary upper tier where people with a certain fluency and accent are more privileged," Verma told IANS. "Nobody is denying the importance of the English language, but we cannot allow it to become a barrier to those whose knowledge of English is limited or who have not studied in English medium schools," Varma added.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a political commentator who supports the students' agitation, described English as a "colonial hangover".

Macaulay had, in justifying the introduction of English education, said its purpose was to create a "generation of Indians" who were "Indians in blood and colour but English in tastes, mannerisms, opinions and intellect”.

Aam Aadmi Party's chief spokesperson Yogendra Yadav too believes English is over-emphasised. He said the protests were in fact against the "entire system that is rigged against Indian languages."

"The entire system of higher education that controls white collar jobs is loaded against bhasa (regional languages) medium students. More often than not they need to switch overnight to the English medium to enter the best institutions in the country. Even if the institution formally permits one or more Indian language as a medium of examination, there are multiple informal barriers at each step: syllabi, prescribed books, classroom teaching, question papers, and examiners are all biased in favour of English," Yadav wrote in a column published in The Indian Express on August 4.
Meanwhile Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu Thursday asked agitators to wait till the UPSC exam was over on August 24, and then he would address the issue taking every party into consultation. Experts from the south, on the other hand, have a very different perspective on the debate over the supposed domination of English.

Thakurta summed up: "We need English as it can continue to be the linking factor in a country with many languages, but using proficiency in this language as a measure to ascertain a person's capability to be a good administrator is not reasonable."

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