Every October 5 is being celebrated as Indian English day by several equal medium education lovers in India. This is 203rd year of the birth of English medium school education in India. The first English medium school in Calcutta was started by William Carey a British missionary, who came from a cobbler family background. He came to India in 1793 and settled down in famous Serampore and began his educational agenda. In 1817 in association with Raja Rammohan Roy he started the first English medium school on October 5th. That is also International teachers Day.
During these 203 years English medium school education in India who learnt English? Who lost out by being out of it? This history of school education needs to be examined. This is very important now because the New Education Policy of the Narendra Modi’s central Government talks about teaching in regional language in the disguise of mother tongue from class one to eighth only in state Government schools but not in all schools.
All the central Government run schools remain only in English medium. All the private schools run by small, medium and big educational entrepreneurs continue to run their schools in English medium. Some schools run by the monopoly industrial houses are modelled on British and American school education model. They do not have even one regional language subject in their entire teaching and learning process till 12th grade.
In historical terms the largest number of people in India are Shudras, who roughly constitute about 56 per cent of Indian population. This includes Jats, Gujjars, Patels, Yadavs, Reddys, Kammas, Kapus, Velamas, Naikers, Nairs, Marathas, Lingayats, Vakkalingas and so on who are competing in the general pool. Apart from these castes all OBCs who come under the reservation category are part of the Shudras. Followed by these communities there are 18 per cent Dalits and 7.5 per cent Adivasis.
From all these communities if you see the writers in English in any field of life the Shudras are absent. Those who write theory( political, social and spiritual), fiction, poetry, journalistic, art critique and so on in English are from Dwija communities. At all India level the castes that constitute Dwijas are Brahmins, Banias, Kshatriyas, Kayasthas and Khatris.
How did they acquire command over English but not the Shudras who constitute such a massive population? All of them are also not very poor. The reason lies in the history of language and education in India. Before Sanskrit landed in India in 1500 BCE people who spoke Pali and other regional tribal languages that built the Harappan civilization including cities like Harappa Mohenjo Daro and Dholavira had their own languages. Without advanced language among people building urban civilization is impossible.
Rigveda was the first Sanskrit text written India. In the Vedic period the Shudras were declared the fourth varna- that was equivalent to slaves. Sanskrit was a banned language for them. Huge punishments were imposed if they learnt reading and writing in that language.
From the 13th century, the Turkic and Afghan rulers came in and Persian was slowly made the ruling and textual language in India. Instead of opposing Persian the Dwija castes learnt Persian and became adiminitrators and interpreters to the Muslim rulers. In the whole of Mughal rule, the Persian language spread all over India. Mostly Brahmins and Kayasthas, apart from Muslims, learnt that language and migrated to all parts of India to get Government jobs. The migration of Brahmins and Kayasthas to Hyderabad state and Mumbai province (Bal Thakere family for example, who are Kayasthas) is a standing example. The Muslim rulers also did not think of educating tillers, artisans and improve the skills of agrarian masses in Persian language. Their illiteracy also caused low production in the agrarian sector.
Gradually Hindi and Urdu emerged from Persian. These were also called Hindustani languages. Hindi adopted Sanskrit letters whereas Urdu adopted Arabic and Persian letters. But communicability between these two languages even now is structural. All those North Indian languages that use Sanskrit script like Bengali, Marathi, Gujrathi have mutual understanding and exchanges between Hindi and those languages. That is the reason why people from those states understand and speak Hindi very easily.
The Shudras who were spread in the rural areas as cultivators and artisnal instrument producers were never taught Persian because the same culture that they are meant to do manual labour but not meant for intellectual work was continued by the Muslim administrations. In 1839 Persian was abolished by the East India company and English was made the administrative language. The Dwijas, mainly Brahmin and other Dwija youth who started learning English from 1817 entered the English administration. No Shudra could get into a Government job even in the British period after English was adopted as teaching and administrative language.
The first known person who learnt English in personal friendship with British officials was Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a Brahmin jagirdar. Mahatma Phule was the first Shudra to join an English medium school in 1841. Dadabai Nauroji, a Parsee studied in English and went to England for business and became a politician. Mahatma Gandhi seems to be the first Bania to study in English both at home and in England. Later the only Shudra, having come from a landed family, to study in England was Sardar Vallabai Patel. But he did not write much in English.
However, quite surprisingly hardly Shudra landlords sent their children to study in English to England. In Telugu states for example Kattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy seems to have been a well English educated Shudra, within India. But the Shudra landlords also did not continue his heritage. They were happy with their landed power in the villages. They did not aspire for national status by learning a common national language. Now they are realising the importance of English medium education.
What caused the underdevelopment of whole Shudras, apart from Dalit and Adivasis, was that they have not learnt a national language that could connect people living in different parts of India. They did not learn Sanskrit, Persian, and later English which were national and international languages.
Now the only way out is that the Shudras/Dalits and Adivasis have to learn English along with a regional language in which they do their production-related tasks. English will become their national and international language and the regional language will be their day to day production and functional language. Once those who know English do involve in agrarian production the quality of Indian agriculture will radically change.
It is important that India as a nation recognises that English is a national language and celebrates October 5th as Indian English day. Any language that survived for more than two hundred years is a national language. Every language in India has a language day. English was born as school education language in 1817 and lived as only Dwija language. This situation should change. English is also our language now so that every food producer can learn that language without thinking that it is not our language. In a globalised world, every farmer should have command over a global language, which is only English. Let there be no global conspiracy to stop English medium education to the poor and food producers of Indian villages.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is well known writer in English and Telugu and a social activist