Economic Times | Indrajit Hazra | 19 April 2017 | Opinion |
The UGC list takes care not to discriminate against English. It `merely’ discriminates in favour of non-English Indian languages (read only if you want to: Hindi).
On the face of it, latest utterances by HRD minister Prakash Javadekar and by President Pranab Mukherjee sound good, in any language. Javade kar seems to have nudged the University Grants Commission (UGC) into making amends for the non-inclusion Â `exclusion’ being such an overbearingly nasty word Â of academic journals written in non-English Indian languages in the UGC ‘s approved list of publications. Mukherjee, on the same day , approved recommendations made by the Committee of Parliament on Official Language (CPOL), including that of asking dignitaries such as ministers and future presidents to make speeches in Hindi Â if they are familiar with the language. The jury is still out there as to whether Mukherjee himself makes a good advertisement for the Hindi language, but wo sab baat chhodo. Unlike Mukherjee’s approval, though, Javadekar’s nudge should not automatically be read as facilitating Hindi. After all, he has mentioned `vernacular’ languages that must surely include the president’s `first language’ Bengali and Tamil, the `mother tongue’ of the chairman of the ninth CPOL report, P Chidambaram. But adding Hindi magazines and newspapers as part of Air India’s in-flight reading Â or, making Hindi a compulsory subject from Class 8 to 10 in all CBSE and Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, subject to the state’s approval Â as the CPOL suggested, is one thing. UGC modifying its January 11 notice to expandreplace the list of approved journals in which academics can earn more Academic Performance Indicators (API) points for promotions and jobs by publishing in vernacular journals is quite another.
Teachers will also have to publish in the approved `vernacular’ journals to be able to supervise MPhil and PhD students.I am unsure what the words for `coercion’ and `discrimination’ are in Hindi, but i will duly look them up. The original purpose of a UGC list of journals was to clamp down on scholars publishing in fake or dodgy journals for jobs or promotions. But the latest attempt in `democratising’ knowledge (and, thereby, opportunity) turns the field into a dangerous, unnecessary zone for language politics. That Hindi and other non-English Indian languages have historically come with baggage that dragged them down is undeniable. As is the fact that English has not only been the proverbial `link language’ for a multilingual India, but also a power language, its use, especially with the confidence that comes from an English medium-education, equipping the speaker with a class-serrated Sudarshan chakra his `dehati’ counterpart is not armed with. But to artificially push the case of `vernacular languages’ at the cost of endangering higher education learning and teaching Â especially in, but hardly confined to, science and technical subjects where textbooks and research material in non-English Indian languages are overwhelmingly unavailable Â is a recipe for widening the very knowledge divide being sought to be bridged. Of course, the UGC list takes care not to discriminate against English. It `merely’ discriminates in favour of non-English Indian languages (read only if you want to: Hindi). Government of India appointed the Official Language Commission in 1955, which submitted its report the next year.Asoke Kumar Majumdar, after having impressed KM Munshi, founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, would go on to become head of its postgraduate and research department. In his 1965 book `Problem of Hindi: A Study’ Majumdar, not a Nehruvian leftie by a long shot, quotes the Commission report: We are informed by the Indian Science Congress … we are importing every month some 600 scientific and technical journals in English and some 12,000 to 13,000 books on the various sciences which are published in the English language in the UK, the USA as well as other countries.
It then goes on to suggest a translatory effort … principally directed to text-books and an appropriate volume of `supporting literature in which the translation to Indian languages would be done by a small number of people …with no fall in academic standards by a general change of the medium. All this seems welcome to Majumdar Â until he comes to this bit: There is no reason to suppose that the scientific and technical advances made in the West would not have come to bear on Indian life and conditions but for the instrumentality of the English language in their conveyance. Appalled, Majumdar replies: This astounding statement is absolutely inaccurate and I quote it here to show the anti-English bias of the commission …Technical education is entirely due to English [language] education. It is no use saying that ancient India was very advanced technically , for it will not alter the fact that today we are more backward than any Western country. This is one of the editors of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s `The History and Culture of the Indian People’ series speaking, not an editor of the Economic and Political Weekly . Instead of body-slamming our universities into petri dishes for conducting social engineering experiments in, the HRD ministry can, in its finite wisdom, pick up one thing that the 1956 Commission report had recommended: set up a nationwide mechanism where a “translatory effort” from English and other non-Indian language academic journals into Indian languages (including English) and vice versa can begin in earnest. Till then, in an India that doesn’t need any prodding any more to use Hindi, the `new’ aspirational language, let’s stick to English for our higher education. It’s just more fruitful Â and easier Â to not end up dumbing things down just to try and balance a lingering `cultural imbalance’. – Courtesy
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