One of India’s greatest assets is its unity in the midst of a complex diversity of cultures and languages. Yet today, India is beset by deep divisions between its Muslim population and the cultural and religious groups known as Hindutva.
If this were not enough, India is now facing the specter of even greater division as the president considers a recommendation to make Hindi the official language of instruction in institutions of higher education across the entire nation. This kind of revisionism would be no help to a growing and developing India.
What is at stake is India’s exquisite uniqueness, with its unrivaled span of languages and cultures and its economic engine in world markets. In a nation populated by people from all the major religions, we must remember that language is about culture. It is not about religion.
India is a land of great local language cultures that span thousands of years. Tamil is older even than Sanskrit. The Oriya, Malayali, Telugu, Bengali, Konkani, and Marathi languages are likely all older than Hindi.
To impose one North Indian language, Hindi, as the lingua franca of the entire nation will create violence and hatred between states, threaten the integrity of India, and reduce opportunity by reducing English education, which has catapulted India to economic superpower status.
The Indian constitution already accepts Hindi as a national language, but only about 300 million Indians in a nation of 1.3 billion speak Hindi as their mother tongue. Groups in non-Hindi states are already pushing for their state languages to be declared national languages. Accepting the mother tongue of all Indian states as national languages would do justice to India’s diverse cultures.
If Hindi were adopted as the official language of higher education, world-renowned institutes of technology, management, and medicine, as well as their students, would suffer. Higher education only in Hindi, in some North Indian states, is already a major issue for students from non-Hindi states who have no prior education in Hindi medium schools. And what job opportunities would be available to graduates of a Hindi-only university among India’s private companies?
The political class of the minority Hindi-speaking people seems to be pushing this agenda. This is the same upper elite caste from North India that sends its children to English medium schools and colleges who then pursue international education.
One agenda appears to keep the majority of lower castes and Dalits out of the power equation and backward in education by keeping their children out of English-language medium schools. This could cause fissures even in the northern regions because those castes want their children to have an English education for the sake of opportunity and equality. The more prosperous South India is fiercely contesting this new education policy direction.
For nearly 200 years, the elite ruling class in India has followed a dual language policy. The mother tongue is still taught and honored, even as the elite children are sent to English schools and colleges. Even poor parents do everything in their power to get their children into English schools, which have mushroomed across India. It is easy even for the uneducated lower caste to see the chauvinistic and hypocritical anti-English, local language propaganda of the elite.
In Southern India, after severe unrest over the imposition of Hindi as a national language, states found a happy combination of emphasizing their own mother tongues in schools while bringing English education side by side with it. The empowerment and liberation of India’s students lie in English instruction combined with compulsory education in the local language.
Access to English has given our Indian offspring an edge in global markets. This success has led China to invest billions of dollars to educate Chinese students in English. And yet even China can’t get it right, with its wild plan to homogenize a single Chinese language for an entire nation of vast variations of their native tongue.
India’s version of “woke” culture is a group of politicians who are rewriting history to demonize and label religious and language groups as “foreign,” even if it means ripping the nation to shreds. Muslims are not “foreign” — they have been in India for 500 years. Christians have been in India for nearly 2,000 years. And the English language has been in India for more than 200 years. Why does India have the second-most English speakers in the world after the United States? This has not come about because of political patronage but through the choice of the people.
For good or bad, English is the lingua franca of the globalized world. This will not change in the near future. Indian children need to learn English in order to have a future and to continue bringing India to the forefront for major economic opportunities around the world.
Consider what would happen educationally if a prestigious Indian institute of technology in North India provided education only in Hindi. Consider what such a move would mean culturally to Southern Indian states that have resisted the imposition of Hindi over their native Tamil. How does the Tamilian student compete for admission to a Hindi higher learning institute?
In short, the language imposition agenda will result in more divisiveness, possible violence, and less opportunity for Indians in the world market.
Consider the historic massive protests in Tamil Nadu that caused the government to back down in years past and accept state languages in India because of the millions of Indians who speak local state languages that are taught in government schools. This language issue, the attack on English education and the imposition of Hindi, could lead India into a kind of division and disintegration that politicians would find almost impossible to control.
Indian leaders need to see with fresh eyes their nation’s beautiful diversity and its many major languages and cultures. They ought to strengthen the global progress India has achieved and leave the choice of the language of education to the people.
Archbishop Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that advocates and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcastes of South Asia. He is the archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as the president of the All India Christian Council.
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