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The love affair of the Indian masses with the English language might level them up with the rest of the world in the job market. But the class divide created and amplified by the same is neglected. Obsession with our colonizer’s language has created a loss of the rich cultural heritage. “You need to learn to speak English”, says everybody. “You don’t need to panic when you can’t”, says – no one.

 “Is desh mein angrezi zabaan nahi hai…class hai.”

This line from Hindi Medium throws light upon an unsaid rule which has had our acquiescence ever since we were freed from British imperialism. English, once a foreign language for us, is now the second-most widely spoken language after Hindi, acting as a corrective tool against the vices of traditional and passive Indian learning, unifying varied cultures and ethnicity while proving advantageous for our economic progression, better job opportunities and high success rates. But our misplaced attention turns into obsession when the English language becomes a “status symbol” or the “proof of our intelligence”.

A recent survey proposes an exponential growth in the number of students being enrolled in schools, primarily English-medium for instilling in them a quality education laced with English-speaking skills. Despite the fascination for a better medium of instruction which has led to several compromises from the socio-economic perspective of students and their families, most of the English-meduim schools in India fail to fulfill the required criteria with deficit speaking skills of teachers followed by a read-aloud system directly from the textbooks. This renders students with the option of rot-learning, thereby forming a shallow foundation in the very early years of studenthood. 

The growth of this obsession to the grassroots is evident as India now claims to be the world’s second largest English-speaking country, with around 10 percent of its population, after the US. But can the aspirational, disadvantaged proportions of India match the standards of opulent, elite English speakers belonging to a cosmopolitan or a highly urban lifestyle? A language, meant to connect people, created a narrow rift which not only demarcates the living standard and class difference but also the unequal opportunities at learning, making the demand of producing English-speaking warriors more vocal by the unsatisfied sections of India so that they don’t fall behind in the race. Thus, the push for a globalised language increases and regional or other vernaculars suffer a setback.

We need to understand that the mass education of India cannot be solely based on one language. As soon as an Indian child makes a transition from an informal to formal education, his training begins in a foreign language. He’s expected to change his course of learning, suiting the modern needs of India’s future. Therefore, in his most crucial times, he starts lagging behind. Research from UNESCO shows that “children who begin their education in their mother tongue make a better start and continue to perform better, than those for whom school starts with a new language.” Further, a child’s adaptability  to other languages increases if he’s already skilled in his first language. This debunks the common myth of general Indian masses undermining the potential of multilingualism which is actually a social reality of a country like India. 

Just as education can never be the policy of powerful and affluent, so does a language. The major proportion of Indians should check the influence of a foreign language and culture so that it doesn’t turn into a toxic obsession, weaning off their own cultural and linguistic pride as well as dignity. While the elite section must prevent practising prejudice against people and be the flag-bearer of cultural supremacy by putting English on a pedestal of languages or showcasing it as a victory trophy. Striking a correct balance between languages is the ultimate goal because in order to provide the worldwide usefulness of one language, Hindi or other languages do not necessarily need to be looked down upon. The common Indian mindset to feel humiliated or insecure for English-speaking inabilities further promotes this obsession. Though English serves as a lingua franca, it should be considered just as an addition to our language and knowledge, not the definition of our existence, lifestyle and intellect.

Samra Ejaz is a student pursuing English Hons. from Jamia Millia Islamia.

edited by: Rutba Iqbal.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Samra Ejaz

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