Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
By October 5, 2021 English language life in India is 204 years. For the last few years the celebration of Indian English Day on that day is catching up. Ever since the first English medium school started in the then Calcutta in 1817 on October 5, India never allowed that language to die. It has been growing and growing not only in India but the world over. China, which is challenging all English speaking nations, owns English as Chinese language along with Mandarin. If both India and China teach all their child population English along with their native languages as, for example, Andhra Pradesh, a Telugu state, it will change the globe’s connectivity and scientificity in a manner that no human being could imagine.
Long ago an Israeli prophet predicted that one day the whole world will speak one language. But he did not tell what that language would be. Now one can say, with confidence, that it will be English.
As of now, it is the only language that is spoken, written and understood by the largest number of humans on this planet. In the history of human languages, there is no other language that matches its reach, scope and human developmental agency, in the world.
The history of languages–speaking and writing- of about four thousand years in the world, no language benefited the human race as a whole as much as English did. Because of English, the humans of all corners of the globe are more connected and knowledgeable about each other than ever before in human history.
For a long time in their living history many tribes were living in small intra-group communicating language networks, without being in a position to communicate with other groups, within nations. But by and large English penetrated into many such groups in a small or big way in every country. English is just one language that reached several such groups with words and sentences that enable them to communicate in larger markets and in hitherto unknown places.
India is a classic example of thousands of small language speaking groups without communication with one another. It has tribal and hill living small groups of people without much exposure to other groups and urban markets. So far language remained the main barrier of all the productive masses of India, living in remote corners to expose themselves to new cultures. But English has removed that language barrier in a short period of 200 years, more so within the last 30 years, with globalization linking the global markets. It was not Governments that taught English to people in structured schools, but it was the market that taught English even to illiterate individuals and groups across the world.
Take for example, very significant life saving things when needed in a society or a market though one cannot speak or write English as a language that we understand in normal sense know words like water, food, bus, train, salt, rice, ticket, milk, tea, bed, phone, tea, liquor, train, plate and so on. This is not only in India’s nook and corner, but it is so in every nook and corner of the world.
In any Telugu speaking village or hamlet even in most backward locations every average illiterate labourer knows about 250 to 300 English words. All over India rickshaw pullers, auto-drivers, taxi drivers, grain and vegetable vendors, and workers know more English words than any other non-native language words. In India Hindi is the largest Indians’ speaking and writing language. But many English market words are more known than Hindi words in every nook and corner of the country.
Knowing 250 to 300 words in a normal conversation mode in varied accents is enough to communicate with others in a strangers market. Thus, if we deport a labourer from an Indian village to an African or a Latin American country she/he can survive for a long time without learning the native language with the help of those English life saving market words. If one learns that native language and also improves his/her English one can survive much better. No other language in the world provides such a survival scope in the world just by knowing a few words.
How and why do the English words and language spread across the world even to remote places? It spread through a globalized market. The Brahmins and other Dwija castes, who historically controlled the spread of Sanskrit are now trying to control English with a design, in whichever party or organization, they are . The high end English has already become their preserve like Sanskrit in ancient times. The Rastriya Swyam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 74th Independence Day speech told the nation that all Government schools, colleges and universities where Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi and poor people’s children study ‘mother tongue’ (non-English) will be the medium of education. The RSS/BJP central Government is trying to make Hindi as a medium of teaching writing even Ph.D dissertations in Hindi in central universities and institutions. At the same time the central and state Governments are allowing private universities and institutes, schools and colleges to crop up to teach and do research only in English.
All the monopoly industrial companies owned by the Dwijas (Brahmins, Banias, Kayasthas, Khatris, Ksatriyas) have established high end private universities like Ashoka, Amity, O.P Jindal and so on. They are adopting only Euro-American syllabus to teach in English medium. The RSS/BJP are planning to make all Government educational institutions regional language, mainly Hindi medium, institutions. This will make the Dalit/OBC/Shudra/Adivasi youth completely immobile. They do not want English reading and writing intellectuals among the productive castes and communities to emerge.
The youth studying in central universities and institutions must celebrate the Indian English Day in a big way and defeat the the forces that are against the Dalit/Adivasi/Shudras learning the global language on par with the rich Dwija youth. Let rural India Read, Write and Fight.
(Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist. His well known books are From a Shepherd Boy to An Intellectual–My Memoirs and Untouchable God)