Destroying Minds and Skills
The Dominance of Angreziyat in Our Education
Societies which have put vast amounts of energy and thinking into providing good quality education and opportunities for acquiring diverse skills for their people are today not only prosperous but also well ordered. We seem to have done the very opposite. On the one hand our policy makers have helped destroy through willful neglect and contempt the vast reservoir of indigenous skills and knowledge systems acquired and nurtured over centuries by our own people. On the other hand they have failed to create a viable system for the acquisition of modern skills and education for all those who are abandoning their traditional occupations. Consequently, it is not just corruption but also sheer incompetence which is leading to a breakdown in our society.
The New Colonisers
So far the world knows India primarily as a country which has earned the dubious distinction of producing the largest number of illiterate people in the world. In the next 50 years we will also be able to claim that we are among the distinguished few nations of the world which has the largest number of people illiterate in their own mother tongue! By retaining English as the medium of elite education, professions and government functioning, even after being formally freed from colonial rule, we have ensured that the schism that was deliberately created by our colonial rulers between the English-educated elite and the rest of society has grown even further and acquired deadly dimensions. A hundred years ago our intelligentsia, even when it learnt English, still remained rooted in its respective regional languages and mother tongues. Tagore knew English but chose to write in Bengali, thereby nurturing his language as well as the overall intellectual climate of Bengal. Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi could express complex ideas in English more simply, elegantly and effectively than most British. Yet he wrote with even better grace in Gujarati and even Hindustani. However, the great-grandchildren of our Tagores, Ranades, Premchands and Gandhis are today all writing mostly in English. Worse still, even our scriptures and ancient literary texts are read by our educated elite mainly in English.
Consequently, the mental, emotional and intellectual colonisation has proceeded with greater rigour and pace in post-Independence India than during colonial rule. The brown sahibs of the British era spoke English only in office. The brown sahibs of today have let English become their language for love making, talking to their infant children and even scolding their pet dogs!
However, this does not mean that they have acquired enough proficiency in the language for it to act as an effective instrument of knowledge acquisition and communication. Far from it. Teaching quality is so poor even in our English-medium schools that, barring a few exceptional institutions, too many of our students are ill-equipped to make sense of even newspaper reports; leave alone read serious books in English. The few who have a good command over the English language consequently behave and get treated like an imperial race, and the others who cannot are viewed as a sub-human species. The former are largely cut off from the lives, feelings, problems and aspirations of the non-English knowing population. Their aspirations are directed either towards migrating abroad or attempting to create small pockets of affluence for themselves so that while being situated, for example, in New Delhi, they can pretend they are living in New York.
In well-functioning societies, the educated elite tend to provide intellectual leadership to the rest of the society. In our case, our colonised intelligentsia is so alienated from its own people that it has made our society resemble a body whose head has been severed from its torso. However, the head is arrogant enough to pretend it can manage on its own. In reality, both are rotting, the headless body and the bodiless head.
This communication gap exists not just between the different strata of society but also within families. The elderly, especially grandparents, have traditionally played an important role in the socialization of children, giving them sanskars and an initiation into their community's culture, values and knowledge systems. Today's English-educated children tend to treat their non-English speaking relatives as ignorant and illiterate. Tarzan comics and cartoon films are taken more seriously than grandmother's stories. Thus the future generations of the educated minority may be more information-rich about computers and business opportunities, but will grow up lacking wisdom which can best be imbibed from a close intergenerational interaction.
This dual system of education has taken away so many opportunities from the vast mass of our people that the new generation which is being denied good quality English education is going to grow up feeling even more demoralised, incompetent and inferior than the present cohort. In the next few decades, as India integrates more with the global economy, the lifestyles of the Indian elite will become even more alienated from the rest of the people. Since the moneyed elite of today flaunt their opulence more and more before the deprived through television, cinema and even the print media, the anger and rage of those excluded are going to get far more explosive than at present. They will avenge themselves in the Laloo Yadav way through politics. A person who knows no English at all is virtually unemployable except as a peon or labourer. However, he/she can, like Phoolan Devi, become an M.P., or like Yadav, hope to become a Chief Minister and get power and money through politics because he/she cannot hope to get it through education and talent.
Deskilling of India
The tragedy we have created for our society through this educational policy is of epic proportions. India was not too long ago known the world over for its industrial skills and crafts. Indian steel was world famous and so much in demand that ancient Roman historians are known to have expressed concern that their coffers were getting emptied buying steel swords (and silks) from India. Our architectural tradition created many more wonders than the famous Taj Mahal, the temples of Khajuraho and Konarak, perhaps more than the rest of the world put together. Our weavers produced fabrics which have been the envy of the world for centuries. Our craftsmen produced jewellery, icons and art objects which are unparalleled in beauty of design and exquisite workmanship. Yet none of our engineering colleges would condescend to admit sons of lohars even as students, leave alone teachers, in their metallurgy departments. This, when their practical knowledge, honed through centuries of practising that craft would be far superior to that of our formal degree holders. Why? Because they do not have the English education necessary for “studying” today's science and technology books.
Likewise, our traditional sthapathis who inherited the skills required to design and make architectural wonders like the Jantar Mantar, the beautiful ancient temples, havelis and palaces found in every corner of India -- that too made with environment-friendly materials -- have no place in modern colleges of architecture. They have been degraded to the level of masons, mistris and labourers at the lowest rung of our building industry only because they do not have access to English-medium public schools. Similarly, our traditional weavers capable of designing and making fabrics of a spectacular variety, do not find jobs as textile designers and engineers in the modern factories because they could never hope to get the degrees required for those jobs. Our agricultural universities can be blissfully ignorant about the vast knowledge reservoir of our farmers whose produce -- long staple cotton, varieties of spices and fruits, wheat and rice -- have eager buyers in the world market. Their knowledge of food storage, soil conservation, use of safe pesticides, biodiversity and medicinal values of plants has hardly any takers in the scientific establishment because they cannot write research papers in English. We learn to value neem and turmeric only when the international scientific community endorses their many wondrous qualities.
Thus, by making English education the hallmark of qualification for careers, we have marginalised and impoverished all those who carried the rich legacies of our traditional skills and technologies. We have destroyed the self-respect of the majority of our people, making them feel worthless and despised. All we are giving by way of “social justice” to a few among these deprived millions is reserving a few thousand government jobs of peons and clerks.
The children of these skilled technologists are deserting their inherited occupation at a rapid speed because they earn pitiful wages in them. The makers of Kanjeevaram sarees would rather have their children get a peon's job in a government office. Children of our traditional metallurgists have taken to menial unskilled jobs like rickshaw-pulling and street vending. Those who merely buy and sell gold, make crores of rupees, but a skilled goldsmith, after 20 years of being on the job, even in a city like Delhi, would not be earning more than Rs. 3,500 a month. A bank clerk earns at least four times as much. His only advantage: he has acquired a smattering of the English language.
When sons of skilled weavers turn rickshaw-pullers, children of sthapthis become bus drivers, and skilled shipbuilders take to vegetable vending, it amounts to genocide of skills. Stalin destroyed the economic base of his country by physically exterminating the peasantry in the name of collectivization. We may not have physically killed our farmers and other skilled groups, but we have, by undermining their skills and knowledge, destroyed their self-respect, marginalised them economically and destroyed their capacity to compete by making English the magic key which opens the doors to opportunity. If we take away the disadvantages that ignorance of English brings with it, our traditional technologists -- ironsmiths, weavers, carpenters, sthapathis and other metallurgists -- would fare much better in gaining entrance to scientific and engineering institutions as well as in the world of manufacturing.