Wednesday, December 17, 2008

RK Laxman's 50 year old cartoon - relevant even today

Cartoon published in Times Of India on 14th December 1958 - Fifty years earlier

Fifty years earlier, RK Laxman’s cartoon made us smile. Today, the status remains as bad as 50 years ago. Today, it is no longer a smiling matter - it is tragic.

80% of India’s population

The Indian education excludes a vast majority of Indian from higher education as Indian higher system is predominantly in English. This puts a premium on English - and discounts Indian languages in the educational sweepstakes. The disadvantaged students who have studied in Indian languages ensure that their children get the 'advantage' of English education.

The negative effect this on Indian self esteem is not even a point of discussion here.

The principle of exclusion (a colonial idea), is a dominant marker of the entire Indian education system - rather than inclusion. British (and before that, Islamic rulers’) colonial-imperial practices supported foreign languages on the backs of the Indian taxpayers’ contribution - and actively worked on destruction of local cultures.

For instance, in the erstwhile State Of Hyderabad (equal to about 10%-12% of modern India), ruled by the Nizam, a large non-British kingdom, 2000 year old local languages like Telugu and Marathi were considered uncouth and barbaric languages - compared to a 700 year old language like Urdu, which was supported by the State. Paeans in praise Urdu can be heard even today - much like the 'emergence of Hinglish' is being celebrated in contemporary India.

Thus anyone without the knowledge of Urdu was excluded from the system of governance, administration and interaction with public services and utilities. So it is now in India, with English.

Colonial India’s English push was understandable. But, after 60 years of Independence, state patronage by the Indian Republic of English language is unwarranted - and illegitimate.

Access Control and opportunity loss

This restricts 80% of India's population from contribution and access to opportunity. Without looking at it from ethical or social equity viewpoints, but purely as an economic question means, we should look at the cost of this policy.

How does this hinder India. India loses every year about 200,000 highly educated people to the West. These 200,000 people have been educated at subsidized Indian Universities at a considerable cost to the poor Indian taxpayer. What return does the tax payer get from this? Negative returns.

The make up of these 200,000 people that India loses. 100,000 are students who leave India, mostly never to return. Another 100,00o are 'captured' by the Western organizations and systems. The other aspect of this loss is that this loss of people, directly and disproportionately, supports Western dominance of economic and academic systems - by India.

Something's gotta give

What happens when English stops being an important language in the global sphere? What use will India’s investment in English be at that time? And this will happen sooner than we imagine - at a greater cost than we believe.

The combined GDP of the English speaking world is 14.1 trillion (2003 figures) - of which the US contributions is more than 71%. By a similar comparison, the next largest bloc of multi-nation, same-language speakers is the Spanish whose combined GDP is US$ 3.20 trillion. The French speaking bloc comes a poor third at US$2.20 trillion. The English speaking bloc, in spite of their temporary dominance, is still worried about the French attempts to keep its Francophone flock safe. It is but a matter of time that the US contribution will decrease - and hence, trade denominated importance of English will decrease.

Will we become a nation that loses control over its future? The danger of becoming a South American clone is all too real. After, Spanish decolonization, the South American countries persisted with Spanish practices - and Spanish language. We all know how South American countries tracked the descent of Spain into dictatorships and instability.

The decline of the (Greco-Roman) Byzantine Empire, was similar. After the split of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Western, over the next 200-400 years, Greek language became the official language of the Byzantine Empire. Eastern Europe followed the lead of the Byzantine Empire and used Greek extensively - at a cost to their own language. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Eastern Europe lagged Western Europe.

The cost of switching from English

Assuming that a 100,000 essential books need to translated into local languages, at a cost of say Rs.100,000 per book, it still amounts to Rs.1000 crores. Is that a large sum of money for modern India. Hardly.

What is the loss to India? How much does this reduce India’s growth rate by? Hard numbers to quantify - but definitely big numbers.

Why persist?

So, why does contemporary India persist with this policy.

Because all the high and mighty, finally want their children to ‘escape to the West’, with a good education from India - at the cost of India’s poor. This vested interest makes this policy go around.

And a lot of propaganda.

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