Language is a vehicle for learning as well as expression of ideas; and the link between development of ideas and language is dialectical. An advanced language helps in mentally equipping people — and “people” here includes everyone across the board. On the other hand, an underdeveloped language has its limitations. It keeps people underdeveloped, more so those in underprivileged segments.
The current controversy over using English and Telugu in schools and in public places, including in signboards, in the context of the forthcoming World Telugu Conference in Tirupati has serious implications for modern education and development of the state. The hunger for better English education in government schools even among the poorest of the poor was acknowledged by Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy when he established 6,400 English medium sections in government schools across the state during his chief ministership. He did so by ignoring pressures from the so-called Telugu lovers who insisted that starting English medium schools in rural areas would serve no purpose. But it served a purpose: A new breed of competitors to the urban, English-educated youths is emerging. Further, a new project of the ministry of human resource development introduced this year will see the setting up of 773 more English medium model schools in the backward Mandals.
In addition, the introduction of compulsory teaching of basic English from Class I in all government schools is changing the educational environment as a whole. These steps are bound to improve the level of English education in rural areas. Those who spoke up for Telugu — hypocrites included — who put their own children in the best English medium schools, are worried about the emerging competition from rural areas and the weaker sections of society. Craftily, they once again started a campaign to roll back the advancement of English in the government sector. As a matter of fact, this trend did not confine itself to just one state. Such forces are present in all states. The sub-national linguistic chauvinists are not only checkmating the educational development of the nation but also of historically disadvantaged social groups.
Learning a well-developed language with a global reach releases enormous energies from people who remained suppressed for long years. System-atic learning of any language makes its own demands of labour as well as the time on the learner. Learning a developed language gives more scope for personal advancement by way of acquiring innovative knowledge. Most Indian regional languages are not developed for various reasons. Who is responsible for this underdevelopment of Indi-an languages? Certainly not the SC/ST/OBC segments. His-torically, they were either denied the opportunity to learn those languages or they did not have the wherewithal to learn it, at least not beyond the basic communication level.
Capitalist and democratic development and innovations are based on individual success stories, and also on passing on that knowledge and skills to others. The individual is a laboratory in himself or herself. This laboratory provides the scope for a kind of repeatability as well. Babasaheb Ambedkar, for example, learnt globally communicable English in his very first-generation education and it helped him acquire enormous knowledge. When this writer, for another instance, was trying to evolve as a first-generation English writer from the heavily Telugu-centric state, Ambedkar’s life provided an inspiring example.
Such instances get repeated. Also, when a rural Telangana student of English medium from a lower middle-class family is offered a `80-lakh pay a month in a company, that example inspires many, and prompts them to make and attempt and follow his example. That prompting helps more people acquire innovative skills. But what is important is the medium of learning. A boy or girl educated in a Telugu medium school, college or university cannot aspires, leave alone achieve, great successes in life for the reason that it is the knowledge in English, a pre-requisite, that facilitates such achievements.
The richness of English, its global reach, the extent and variety of knowledge available in it, allow its learners to aim high, experiment and try out or embrace innovative ideas. German, Italian, French and Russian languages are different from our regional languages. These foreign languages have their strengths too. Without a developed Ita-lian language, it would not have been possible for Machia-velli to write his classic book, The Prince, in the 16th century. In the 20th century, political theorist Gramsci wrote his Prison Notebooks that influenced the thinking process across the world. If French was not a developed language, Rousseau would not have written his Social Contract in the 17th century. If German was not a developed language, Hegel and Marx would not have come up with their most transformative treatises. Why is it that such treatises haven’t been written in Telugu, Kan-nada or even in Hindi yet? It is simply that these languages are not developed enough to bring forth such ideas. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Lenin wrote in Russian, because they had an advanced language at their command.
Back home, Bengali and Tamil have shown some inner strengths and produced a Tagore and a Subramania Bharathi respectively. Yet, their global reach is marginal. Millions across the world read a thinker or a writer not because s/he is forced on people (through colonialism or globalisation) but because his ideas are empowering. Ever since English produced a thinker like John Locke, a litterateur like Shakespeare, an economist like Adam Smith, and a scientist like Newton, it went on influencing the world. Fortunately, we all, underlings included, have that language in our possession now.
By learning English, howsoever difficult it is, even the most backward in linguistic faculties can now hope to take a quantum leap and gain knowledge from a large variety of sources that are in no way available in Indian regional languages.
The Internet is bringing this world of knowledge right into our homes, with little of expense, but in English, and only in English.
Sentiment is a problem of underdeveloped minds. The historically oppressed masses here cannot afford to allow their children to be victims of such sentiments. For the large mass of dalit-bahujans, the advocacy of linguistic nationalism and sub-nationalism is, frankly, a modern trap. There is little doubt that the “mother tongue mantra” is a fad, not a scientifically acceptable educational formula. Those who have not gained anything from such mantras for centuries need not pay heed to them now, in this modern, democratic phase of our national life.