Restoring the glory of India
An open letter to PM Modi to liberate India from the colonial bondage of English
Respected Prime Minister,
The bizarre irony is not lost on me when I write this open letter to you in English suggesting to replace English from governance and education in India. Even though I do not wish to communicate in English, 'independent' India has robbed me and many Indians of their linguistic wealth and options.
The trigger for my writing this open letter is the decision, on August 22, 2020, of the Indian subsidiary of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, a British publishing house, to withdraw publication of their book, 'Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story' authored by Monica Arora, Sonali Chitalkar and Prerna Malhotra.
This kind of cultural censorship and humiliation of Indians is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for long. It is just that the frequency and extent have been increasingly on the rise. Do citizens of independent India deserve to be treated so contemptuously within their own country? Though there is a lot of outrage and some authors even vowed not to publish their books through Bloomsbury, none has tried to analyse the problem. Without a proper root cause analysis, we will only be cursing the symptoms with no permanent cure.
A person who does not respect himself can never earn the respect of others. Likewise, a nation and people who do not respect themselves can never be respected by others. We are an ancient, knowledge-based civilisation, dating back to several thousand years, with a vast repository of knowledge and literature on a variety of subjects. The Rig Veda is the world's oldest known text, and the Mahabharata is the world's longest epic ever written. Any nation would be proud of the same. But as a nation, do we take pride in our illustrious, enviable heritage? Taking pride means learning and promoting that heritage and living by the same as a civilisational nation.
Instead, our public education perpetuates Macaulayism of 1835. It not only reinforces our mental and cultural colonisation but also teaches us to hate our civilisational knowledge, texts and heritage. How does this self-loathing get instilled and installed in our psyche? It happens, for, the medium is the message. Our use of English for education and governance is a major cause of our mental and cultural colonisation. It is a self-inflicted civilisational insult and national humiliation.
India is home to highly developed languages. Our Panini is the father of linguistics. The number of speakers of each of many Indian languages is a lot more than many international languages. Yet, vested interests have created a contrived controversy that an India sans English would be nothing but chaotic.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. English came to India some 200 years ago and gained prominence only after our political independence. Compare this with our ancient civilisation which is several thousand years old. We Indians have always found our own ways of connecting and communicating with others for millennia. Secondly, even if there will be linguistic chaos for a while it will be nothing, for, within the apparent randomness there are always underlying patterns and interconnectedness from which the order and solution emerge.
European Union has 24 official languages with no single link language. Anybody can use any of the 24 languages and get his work done with ease. Yet, their communication has not broken down. On the other hand, they are far more prosperous; their GDP is several times higher than ours; their human development indices are much better than ours, and their scientific and technological advancement is superior to ours. It may be argued that the EU is not one country like India, and hence the comparison may be inappropriate. Not really so. EU countries are far more socio-economically intertwined with a very high degree of social and economic intercourse among their people and businesses.
As per Articles 120, 210, 343, 344 and 345 of the Constitution, the use English for official communication should have ceased after 15 years from the date of coming into force of the Constitution, unless Parliament makes a law for continued use of English. Article 348 specifies that until Parliament provides an alternative, the language of the Supreme Court, the High Courts and the authoritative texts of all laws, shall continue to be English. Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, 1963 perpetuating the use of English from January 2, 1965.
It is a myth that English is an advantage. Notwithstanding the glib claims that India is the IT powerhouse because of English, we have not produced a single important software or even a single social media platform. We merely provide 'cyber coolies' for the world. 'Independent' India has not produced a single Nobel laureate in science, nor any path-breaking scientific discovery. English only keeps us backward by destroying our original thinking faculties. It is actually an albatross around our nation's neck. Therefore, unless we get rid of English, and liberate ourselves from cultural and mental colonisation, India can never truly develop to be a developed country let alone a superpower.
Just as the apocryphal story of the marginal increase of prices of spices by the monopolistic Dutch and Portugese companies triggered the founding of the British East India Company in 1600 which changed the course of the history of the world in general and of India in particular, let this underhand return of the British Raj through yet another UK based company act as a trigger to usher in the much needed Indian civilizational renaissance, ridding us of this colonial vestige called English.
Sir, you are a transformational leader who has always exhorted to change the status quo and 'chalta hai' attitude. One of your most successful methodologies is 'disruptive change'. It is that 'disruptive change' which is needed to liberate India from mental and cultural colonisation. Therefore, I venture to suggest enactment of the 'National Languages Act' to:
1. Discontinue use of English for any official, court or educational purposes by the Union of India, all states and UTs, Supreme Court and all high courts;
2. Make all 22 Indian languages in Schedule-8 of the Constitution as the official languages of the Union of India including that of the Supreme Court;
3. Make the language spoken in the respective state/UT as the official language of that state/UT, including that of all courts and the high court concerned;
4. Make the official language of a state/UT as the medium of instruction for all educational purposes and for all types of studies, courses etc at all levels in all Central and state educational Institutes situated in the territory of that state/UT, except for linguistic minorities up to school level;
5. All students who are currently pursuing studies in English medium should be encouraged to shift to the mother tongue or local language through suitable incentives, relocation etc;
6. Provide for immediate translation into all 22 languages of all laws, rules, instructions, judgements etc;
7. Make arrangements for instantaneous automatic translation from one language to any of the 22 languages for the proceedings of the Parliament and the Supreme Court;
8. Make investments of all sorts for the development of all 22 languages, and provide for translation of every important document and book published in any language in India and the world, into all the 22 languages which will create more than a crore jobs apart from giving impetus to a lot of economic and educational activity.
I understand that the task is gigantic and daunting. However, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. You alone are capable of accomplishing this civilisational task of restoring the glory of India by unshackling it from the colonial bondage of English.
The writer is the former In-Charge Director, CBI, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal