(In the last days of October 2015, the India Ideas Conclave list saw a lively debate on the subject of India's link language. It started with an off-hand remark by an Angreziwallah (supporter of English as India's national language) that we need to propagate the knowledge of English among young Indians. This he saw as the gateway to success. I remarked that other tiger nations do without English. So:)
>Cultural pride and development are not mutually exclusive. But cultural pride by itself will not guarantee development either. In fact the countries you refer to but did not name, I am assuming that you are alluding to China, Japan and South Korea, have also been fairly open to Western influences. They are all ethnically and linguistically far more homogeneous than India. It may neither be possible, nor desirable, to attempt to emulate them.<
I never expected to encounter advocacy for the destruction of native culture on, of all places, the India ideas forum. Because that is what this plea for English amounts to. The choice before you is either to promote a native language and take your entire population with you, or be a peripheral part of the Anglospere. If you decide in favour of the Anglosphere option, you should realize that it is hugely antidemocratic, excluding the (immense) majority that is not fluent in (sophisticated) English, and only approaching democracy when the entire population has acquired a first-language proficiency in English.
Of course I know there exists an honourless type of Hindu clinging to the coat-tails of the erstwhile colonial masters and deriving therefrom a superiority vis-à-vis their non-anglicized country-men. If those inherently following types are the "leaders" you want to follow, you are of course free to do so. And stay in the undemocratic schizophrenic neo-colonial second-class condition for another century, until that bothersome native culture has finally been layed to rest for good.
(In reply, offering my observations was called "racism" and "white man's burden",-- i.e. my plea against the colonial language. Meanwhile I received an e-mail from Rajiv Malhotra's discussion list:)
First off, herewith a mail which has arrived today, on another list where the choice of language was being discussed. A thoroughbred Indian observes:
"When we analyze this problem, as some one said, it all boils down to the quality of education we have. In states like Andhra Pradesh, there are numerous engineering colleges and literally 2 Lakh engineers come out annually. But the quality of education is so poor that not even 15% are able to even write a leave letter properly. The problem is English being medium of instruction, which Rajivji mentioned several times, comparing with Chinese Education. The problem with the students is that they can't write in their mother tongue and can't speak in English and so are good in either. Without command in the language, acquiring knowledge in any subject is highly impossible. Because of this, the majority of the students are not in a position to even understand simple concepts. I experience these things first hand as I handle the Indian operations of my company. For us the problem is NOT unemployment, but rather production of UNEMPLOYABLE youth. Even to find some one who does very simple things, even after being instructed, is also a very difficult task. I guess things are better in metros. Unless the medium of instruction is mother tongue, things wont change. We will continue to remain a production house of cheap labor to US and Europe."
Not every Indian is so convinced of the benefits of English, it seems.
Next, (Mr. X) rhetorically asks the same question I've heard a hundred times from Angreziwallahs:
"Do also enlighten me about the period when Sanskrit was the language of the masses. It must be invoked when we sell it to be adopted as the 'native' language of all Indians."
Much of the answer has been given by Indians and relayed in this article of mine: http://koenraadelst.blogspot.be/2015/02/the-language-question.html
If you think another language is more suited, OK, though the experience with Hindi does not make this likely. As for English, it only flourishes in India at the expense of the vernaculars. India can become a full (rather than a clumsy and servile) member of the Anglosphere if the native languages are elbowed out of the way, maybe in two generations' time. For that long, I suppose democracy can wait. It was never the concern of the elitist Angreziwallahs anyway. And then, when India will have become English-speaking, it will simply be a piece of geography still called "India" but without privileged relation to Indian heritage, which will be no more than a museum piece. So why call this forum "India Ideas Conclave"? What about "Ideas for Destroying India Conclave"?
Meanwhile, describing a plea against English as "white man's burden" is a very rich case of having things backwards. It is another trick I've to to face so many times, viz. trying to save a losing cause by an appeal to nationalism or, as (Mr. X) prefers to call it, "racism". And he has actually used the word against me for daring to distinguish among Hindus those without honour from the honourable ones. In fact, that statement has nothing to do with racism (and his allegation is 100% slander), for it could fairly be said about most nations and communities in the world. Its counterpart, which you by implication advocate, viz. that all Hindus by definition are honourable, that would be seriously racist. No, we all know that many Hindus still suck up to their erstwhile colonial masters, still crawl to please Macaulay eventhough his colonial regime is long gone. So indeed, some Hindus have self-respect, others don't.
This language debate is all too familiar to me. In my own country, the Flemish have had to struggle long and hard against the imposition of French. Angreziwallahs use all their resoursefulness, worthy of a better cause, to think up original arguments in favour of English, but they are all old hat to me. They have all been used in favour of French and been found wanting. For one, Cardinal Mercier, head of the Belgian Catholic Church around WW1, used to say that Dutch is unfit for higher education. I've heard the same thing about Hindi any number of times. And of course, our nation too had its honourless people sucking up to the dominant power and language.
Some other strange arguments here. Economic gains are said, by an advocate of English, to cause a promotion of Sanskrit to national language in a generation or so. In fact, the knowledge of Sankrit (and other classical heritage: Apabhramsha etc.) is diminishing by the day. Upgrading it to national language was feasible in 1949, would be difficult now (with much more opposition by anti-Hindu forces whom too many Hindus are eager to please, and opposition by the selfishness of the now more numerous class of those who stand to gain from English and lose by its abolition), and will be extremely uphill at a time when, in accordance with your own wishes, all Indians will be used to English as link language. Where would this promotion of Sanskrit come from if even under the present government, no step in this direction is taken?
Another familiar but actually very strange argument is that Indians have succeeded in the US using English. Well, of course. What else should you be speaking in Silicon Valley: Tulu? Nahali? Abroad you use a foreign language, but it doesn't follow that you have to impose that language on your homeland. I know many European graduates who have gone to greener pastures in the US and earned success there, using English. But they all have had their education in their mother tongue. No self-respecting country uses a foreign language for its administration and education. In this regard, India is not in the same league as China, Germany, Russia etc., but as such success stories like Mozambique and Zimbabwe. As long as it is useful to learn English, it is possible (and young Swedes, Germans etc. prove it) to became proficient in the language during a second/third language course. For me personally, English was the fifth language I took up. That is why some Indian state governments have upgraded the teaching of English as second language within the vernacular-medium schools.
II am well aware that Indian schools do not yield the same results as those in Europe because education in India is quite poor, with paid teachers not showing up etc. Well, then that is something to seriously focus on. Some free advice in this regard: education will be much better, and young minds become much more self-confident and creative, if it happens through the mother tongue. English as medium of education is detrimental to the development of India and to the harnessing of India's potential. It should be abolished.
(After having been lambasted as "racist" and all that, I wrote:)
>When Koenraad uses phrases like thoroughbred Indian, and honourless Hindus, I bristle. It's almost as if we were animals in a zoo, waiting our turn to be evaluated by the expert and once he gives his seal of approval we can be sure of our worth and identity. Quite a few of us would like to categorize our fellow Hindus as honourable or dishonourable based on what they speak, or eat, or dress, or drink. (...) For a scholar of Hinduism, Koenraad appears too quick to judge and categorise us, dare I say in a most un-Hindu like manner. I am happy and honoured being an honourless Hindu Koenraad, if honour is defined in terms of your European sensibilities about culture and identity.<
So then, according to my written words against which you claim to react, my own Flemish people is like "animals in a zoo"? At any rate, if the Hindus are, then so are the Flemish, for they have or had similar language issues which serve as an acid test distinguishing dishonourable collaborators with the oppressor from self-respecting people My sensibilities in this regard are not "European", they are certifiedly universal. Look at if the other way: while some Rajputs were dishonourably collaborating with the Moghuls, others saved the nation's honour by opposing them. But it is one of the great Fehlleistungen (mis-achievements) of the current Hindu movement to conceive every problem in terms of nationalism. In terms of "foreign invader" Babar against "native hero" Rama -- as if Babar's iconoclasm had anything to do with his being foreign rather than his being Muslim. Moreover, I have found that in many debates, the appeal to nationalism is a good way out for the out-argued. As Samuel Johnson observed: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
Then again, I have sometimes argued that collaboration, though not very honourable, is sometimes the lesser evil. The Moghul army was such a power-house that sometimes collaboration was the best way to save as much of Hindu culture as possible. But does this apply here? There is absolutely nothing being saved by imposing English on the Indian people, it only hastens the demise of a distinct Hindu civilization. Ah, but the economy then? It is an easy and unverified assumption that India flourishes because of English. In terms of economic growth, China without English zoomed India by. Angreziwalahs prefer the example of Zimbabwe, a basket-case in spite of following essentially the same language policy as India.
>This link between national identity and language is itself a European invention. I don't see why we must swallow it hook line and sinker.<
On the contrary, the imposition of a foreign language is European, viz. an aspect of European colonialism. To be sure, in Asia there may be a distance between the official language and the popular dialects (as between Classical Chinese or now Mandarin and the spoken Chinese dialects), but the distance is much smaller and estranging, and the court language is as native as the popular vernaculars. But I agree with you that Indians must not swallow English hook, line and sinker.
>I don't see Koenraad making a distinction between Italians with honour and Italians without honour based on their adoption of Latin.<
Latin might have been a legitimate option, but I accept that the people concerned have agreed on a common modern dialect (different from other dialects) as official language, which everybody could easily adopt. If Indians chose Hindi, I could live with that. It's just that it hasn't worked, and Indians like Rajiv Malhotra or Sankrant Sanu have rethought the issue and concluded that Sanskrit is the only feasible alternative to English. Yes, it takes effort, but then propagating English has equally not been a success either. They have estimated what cost and effort it would take, and contrary to Angreziwallah propaganda, it is very feasible. All that it really takes is political will.
(Though the racism angle exists only in his imagination as well as in the pro-English position, Mr. X kept on hammering away at this nail:)
> Of course he wouldn't. They (i.e. the Italians) are white Europeans and these rules don't apply to them. They are free to choose and we Indians must submit to however Koenraad and his ilk of experts on India choose to classify us. This is simply a more sophisticated form of racism. Some of you might like to line up to receive your honourable Hindu certificate from Koenraad. Please count me out. I find his classification absurd and racist. Try making a similar classification of Europeans. The response you get will validate my point of view.<
Well, I have made this classification of Europeans too, in several different contexts. And I have not received any response validating your point of view. Many Hindus (indeed, many people) only talk with like-minded people and never get out of their comfort zone. I, by contrast, have exposed myself many times to real opposition, and I know by now what kind of reaction to expect.
So the same rules apply to "white" Italians and "white" Flemings as well (as per my proven record, starting decades before this debate), and to most human beings. In my last mail, I had already refuted the predictable "racism" charge, but here it is being repeated. So this is becoming a routine application of the pattern I have seen so often. First you make a point, someone argues against it, but then you trump this counterpoint with serious arguments. Then the Indian "nationalist" withdraws to the line of defence he deems safest: nationalist. So he denounces this "foreigner" and reduces his points to their "foreignness", regardless of their equal use on foreigners or their equal use by Indians. The Indian nationalist may then be able to polish his false native/foreign distinction a bit (as has happened here), but henceforth he is doomed to endlessly repeating his "racism" discourse. Angreziwallahs are nothing if not parrots.
> Given our linguistic diversity, I think that it is futile to make language the foundation of our national identity. It will lead to needless political friction and resentment. The present Government would be squandering its mandate on a very volatile and emotive issue. I respect the views of those of us who resent the domination of English in our public life, even though I don't quite share their sense of alarm and outrage. This domination did not come about overnight and therefore it can't be removed overnight either. By all means encourage the promotion of Sanskrit and other Indian languages. That can be done by more liberal funding of teaching and research positions in our schools and universities, especially for Sanskrit. But to rail against English per se and to demonise those who use English primarily as an instrument to bridge our linguistic diversity as honourless Hindus is not a very constructive approach.<
I was about to continue: "And the worst part of this misplaced and mendacious 'racism' discourse is that the real debating point is being sidelined." But to my pleasant surprise, it raises its head again. Good.
The Angreziwallahs themselves see language as the foundation of national unity over and above the local languages, see their own earlier posts. Only it is not Indian unity but unity of the Anglosphere, of which India should, at the expense of its native languages and civilization, become a member, unlike the other members who are simply being themselves. Now that is white racism for you.
It is true that the domination of English will take a long time to undo, and that precisely is why it is time to make a start now. But "encouraging the promotion of Sanskrit and other Indian languages" is not going to do it. Esperanto has been promoted by a number of governments (Brazil, Iran, Japan...) yet come to nothing. As Rajiv Malhotra observes, not the push factor of "promoting" a language will succeed, but the "pull factor": make it lucrative to be a Sanskrit graduate by reserving a growing number of posts and functions to knowers of Sanskrit. This swich-over can then be made gradually, as you people desire, but it should be a visible change, and then people themselves will learn Sanskrit by their own initiative, as they now do with English.
(Then we got the libertarian-sounding argument: the state should not interfere:)
>Let us leave such matters to the individual wisdom of citizens rather than constrict their choices as though we were colonial masters. That is all that is being asked. Indians are adults and each can make up his or her own mind. There is nothing Anglo about wanting the freedoms of a genuine democracy.<
According to Abbé Lacordaire, "between the strong one and the feeble one, it is freedom that oppresses and the law that liberates." The "free" choice of parents to send their children to English-medium schools is a consequence of their weak position, necessitating accomodation, vis-à-vis the accomplished fact of the imposition of English. There has never been anything "free" about this imposition: first it was initiated by the colonial ruling class, then expanded by the Nehruvian elite. It chose to ride roughshod over the people's will and over the Constitution, which enthroned Hindi as national link language as of 1965, and which was overruled by a mere presidential decree.
The option for English was the result of state policy, and the choice for Sanskrit will also be a matter of state policy. But that doesn't impinge on your "freedom". Everybody remains free to go for English education; only there won't be a premium on it. A pro-Hindu government can install "pull factors" that make it lucrative to be a Sanskrit-knower rather than an Angreziwallah. Unfortunately, we now have a government of time-servers (though elected on the strength of the Hindu vote and Hindu party workers), and by the time we have a committed and powerful Hindu movement, it may be too late.
To be sure, I realize that the Angreziwallahs have inertia on their side, including the inertia of the pro-Hindu camp. Indeed, the Hindus' lukewarm efforts show when you compare the number of Wikipedia pages in each language (though this is partly caused by their uphill struggle against the accomplished fact of English dominance). The Angreziwallahs have personal gain as their pull factor, while votaries of Sanskrit only have the collective good as their main appeal. Though the gain of abolishing English is enormous, the road to that goal is a difficult one, and seems at first sight prohibitive if not quixotic. But as William of Orange said: "It is not necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere."
(More pro-English mails repeated the already-refuted points, and one mail lambasted them as typically left-liberal:)
Since the Angreziwallahs are now going around in circles and repeating points that have already been refuted once or twice, this should be my last post on this topic.
> It is strange when Koenraad talks of honourable Hindus and honourless Hindus we must accept it as a valid academic distinction. However when I try to point out that his approach is part of a European tradition of looking down at India, it is characterized as left liberal talk or hate mail.<
No idea whether my distinction is "academic", but it is one that all people regardless of race can relate to. Some people have self-respect or "honour", others don't. E.g., they prefer to suck up to their former colonial masters by perpetuating their medium of administration.
> Neither Koenraad, nor any well meaning scholar, has the right to make such insulting, sweeping generalisations about any religion.<
It is the very opposite of a "generalization", viz. it is a distinction. The "dishonourable" category does not include everyone, it includes specifically those who prefer crawling to walking upright. Moreover, it is not deterministic at all: you can leave one category any time and join the other. You can see the error of your position, change it, and no one will blame you for your former wrong position. And no honest reader can construe it as an attack on your "religion".
>My point is very simple, an idea of India that does not recognise the linguistic diversity of India, and aims to impose any language, Sanskrit, Hindi or even English through state policy is going to create needless friction. It is an emotive issue with tremendous destructive potential.<
That, then, is a formidable indictment of English, which was exclusively and undemocratically imposed by the state: first by the British, then by the Nehruvians. The will of the people was democratically expressed once, and then very authoritatively, viz. in the Constituent Assembly. There, the vote was between Hindi and Sanskrit, English was not in the picture at all. Indeed, to the generation that had achieved decolonization, it was totally obvious that decolonization implied abandoning the colonial language and asserting linguistic self-sufficiency. This democratic expression of the people's will was overruled by a presidential decree, blocking the constitutional abolition of English in 1965. The smokescreen motive was the agitation by Tamil chauvinists, the real reason the self-interest of the Nehruvian elite against the Indian masses. To complete the tactic, we then get a hit-and-run position: "Now that we can enjoy the effects of the imposition of English by the state, no more state intervention!, From now on, 'freedom'!"
>If you use harsh words be prepared to take them too.<
That's right. I have spoken harsh truths, so I should be prepared for harsh slander.
>I see Koenraad as the modern day inheritor of the great European mission to civilize the world and refashion it according to their fixed notions of race, religion, ethnicity and national identity. In this narrative, Indians (you can replace it with any another national group), don't know what's best for them. They need to be made to realize who they truly are and be guided in their choices.<
And that is why this Koenraad is following numerous Indians in pleading against the abject choice for a European language and supporting the self-respecting choice for a native language.
> The earlier generations of invaders promised us a better future, the new wave of Koenraads offer us a better past.<
A really fine phrase, though its meaning is not so clear.
>Make no mistake, this promise is as much a lie as past promises.<
Like Lord Macaulay's promise that the imposition of English would liberate the Indians from their backwardness?
>It does nothing to address the real challenges of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, malnourishment and gender/caste based iniquities that are the real challenges that all patriotic Indians (and well meaning outsiders who wish to help) must address collectively. I believe that addressing these real failings of present day India directly, must be the main focus of the India Ideas Conclave.<
Ha, the "real" issues! That has always been the secularist buzzword to neutralize all cultural concerns. Nowadays it is much used by the dominant "BJP secularists" (better get used to this expression if you want to understand today's political dynamics) and by all the opportunists now joining the Modi set-up to make hay while the sun shines. Since that outlook is already dominant, I think the India Ideas Conclave has more future-oriented concerns to focus on.
To shield the 1965 decree overruling the Constitution and perpetuating English against criticism, the Times of India's cartoonist Laxman drew men fighting over Hindi and English aboard a sinking ship surrounded by the sharks of poverty, unemployment and similar "real" problems. (according to what I read in MJ Akbar long ago)
This is the typical tactic of people defending a status-quo. Before they will even confront the contentious issue, they first forestall that confrontation as long as possible by sabotaging the opposition's attempt to raise the issue at all. They blur the terms of the debate, they pretend that there is not even an issue, or that it only hampers the solution of other, more urgent, "real" issues.
>The richness of our past must be celebrated and propagated but we must address our present challenges with a greater focus and sense of purpose. Does the abolition of English, and the imposition of Sanskrit or Hindi help us achieve any of the goals listed above? I think not and therefore..."<
As the Orientalizers observed already 200 years ago, and as has been amply proven by now, education through English breeds mediocrity among "educated" Indians. So yes, a different language policy amounts to an enormous tangible gain, not just culturally but also economically.
>...it must be treated as the quaint academic parlour game that it probably is.<
Here you may be right. The writers of Bhasha-Niti and other pleas against English may argue all they want, but if the government doesn't take up their project, nothing will come of it. In modern society, the state is an important actor, with more powers than what an ancient tyrant could dream of. Today on the cultural front, the BJP is very inert (an impression I gather through the media, confirmed by some privileged actors with whom I am in contact), unfaithful to its original party manifesto. Already in the 1990s, LK Adani said: "English should continue." So for linguistic patriots this is an uphill battle, whereas Angreziwallas can remain smug and safe in the knowledge that no reform is on the horizon yet.
>Oh if only we were as homogeneous as one of the European nations. We could have been like Europeans too.<
Well, my own country is not homogenous, it has three official languages (or Switzerland, four) yet does not use a foreign language.
We are neither China nor Zimbabwe. We are India, a country of such richness and bewildering complexity that the poor binary European mind will always struggle to comprehend.
Ah, "complexity"! That is another secularist buzzword used to keep serious questioning at bay. Romila Thapar uses it all the time. In fact, India's linguistic situation is not complex at all. It can be summed up in one sentence: "With so many languges, India needs a link language." That is equally simple whether you choose a foreign or a native language as link language.
>I wonder if Koenraad would react in the same way if by some accident of history the Belgians had conquered India and Flemish was our official language. Perhaps then a Koenraad would emerge from the British Isles and rail against the destruction caused by the Flemish language on the poor Indian mind.<
The Flemish movement aimed at linguistic justice for the underdog, including ourselves, and never ever considered conquest.
>By the way the Belgians did colonise a country in Africa called Congo. I really envy them.<
In French. And the first thing Belgians (not Belgium, the Congo was then private property of the Belgian king Léopold II) did there was to abolish slavery through a war with the Arab slavers -- the only war Belgium won on its own. Belgium never practised slavery, and when it finally came in a position to do so, it abolished slavery.
All this talk about colonialism (and that by a defender of the continued imposition of the colonial language!) is a manoeuvre to obscure the fact that the adversary of your language policy is not the British (on the contrary) or any other Western power (they couldn't care less), but your own countrymen. For me it is only advantageous that we are having this debate in English; it is the Indian masses who are put at a disadvantage.
>Our use of English does nothing to add or subtract from our civilizational self esteem.<
So the Indian Republic's Founding Fathers were wrong? You know it all better than them?
>Just curious,but do you also campaigning in Belgium and more broadly in continental Europe for the suppression of English? After all, native culture in those parts needs to be saved from the toxic effects of this apparently hugely destructive language. Please let me have details of your efforts at blocking English in Belgium and in the rest of Europe,or is your activity in this regard confined to India?<
This unfunny attempt at humour (cfr. Laxman, above) is typical for the Angreziwallah position: smug, conceited, very sure in their superior position which they trust is not going to be assailed anytime soon. But still mendacious.
These rhetorical questions falsely presuppose that Europe has the same language policy as India. But to the contrary, like Russia, China, Japan and every other self-respecting nation, the European countries use their own native languages for governance and education.
>As for China,the Chinese Communist Party has since the past twelve years embarked on a program to spread English widely within the population,and as a consequence,the number of those speaking the language is rising to levels that will soon challenge India's. It is important that you visit China and warn people there of the danger to their culture and traditions posed by the rapid spread of English. Dont confine the good work only to India.<
It would be funny if it were true, but Angreziwallahs are nothing if not "economical" -- with the truth. China maintains Chinese as medium of governance and education and in all walks of life. At official press conferences, it has decreed it will take no questions in English. The promotion of English that you pretend to be in line with your own English-medium policy, is in fact only the promotion of a foreign-language course. That is exactly what "nativists" advocate for India: learn English as a foreign language, within the safe setting of a native medium, like the self-respecting Chinese do, and unlike what the dishonourable Angreziwallahs advocate.
>Once we rise,so will our languages,in a natural process.<
Once people rise, they will promote whatever language they consider their own. If all their serious business is conducted in English, it will not be the kitchen language they vaguely know from their grandparents. Hindu preachers tell me that when addressing young audiences, they have to switch to English, for any message given through the cleaning-lady's vernacular is not taken serious. During the Constituent Assembly, India was not "shining" yet, it was much poorer than under Modi, yet those leaders didn't say: "Wait, first we have to deal with the 'real' issues, and then one day, in a century or so, our great-great-grandchildren may consider abolishing English." They had a sense of honour.
>To attempt such a growth through fiat on the Bandaranaike model would end in disaster.<
No one here was proposing to emulate Bandaranaike's imposition of Sinhala on the Tamils. That is a red herring and again typical of an establishment's ("bourgeois") propaganda against alternatives. But his mistake, and the disastrous imposition of Urdu on East Pakistan, may serve as a useful lesson to India. In charting a policy, the mistakes made by others should be learned from. When mentioning problems facing a project, lazy people take these as prohibitive objections, whereas energetic people take them constructively as obstacles either to be avoided or to be learned from. But thanks for your helpful warning that any reform will provoke violence from the Angrezi Tigers.
>Allow me to make this my last post in this particular exchange.<