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For the self-serving elite, mother tongue poses hindrance

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

I studied in an English-medium school in Kolkata where thankfully, I was taught and rebuked mostly in my mother tongue Bangla. English was the answer-script writing language. On May 6, a five-judge constitutional bench struck down the Karnataka government's 1994 language policy that mandated that either Kannada or mother tongue be the medium of instruction for Classes I to IV. Judges cited freedom of expression and speech. It's widely documented that mother-tongue instruction is far superior when it comes to grasping ideas and fostering creative thinking and the 2005 National Curriculum Framework recognises this. The people who felt most 'persecuted' by the 1994 language policy is the same rootless class that increasingly converses in English with people from the same mother tongue, even dismissing the concept of mother tongue in this 'globalized world' of 'cosmopolitan ethos'. The judgement signals the rising clout and confidence of the miniscule and powerful Anglicised elite in using the language of rights to marginalise the masses.

This class, by their inordinate grip over certain urban centres (Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai), has been exerting an influence over policy that they cannot gain by democratic means. Karnataka's Chief Minister Siddaramaiah knows that his people have no great resentment against mother-tongue instruction. Karnataka is among those few states that have tried to restore dignity of their languages. The deliberate marginalisation that comes with terms 'regional'/ 'vernacular' has now become normal. If the judiciary is so concerned about freedom of speech and expression and rights of linguistic minorities, it might want to look at the primacy accorded to English and Hindi. A staggering majority of the subcontinent's population does not know English. The same goes for Hindi outside the Hindi belt.

The elite and decision-makers come from a class that would start perspiring if they were asked to speak their mother's tongue only, even for a week. The classes of people who actually perspire due to hard labour that puts food on the tables of the urbane and the entrenched elite can accomplish this easily. The subcontinent is almost unique to have a class that looks to non-mother tongues with so much pride. No wonder, when it comes to scientific creativity, China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, etc surpass this nation. In these nations, their mother tongue is their language of instruction, often all through the university level. So-called incompatibility between 'higher education' and mother tongue is a creation of the self-serving Anglicised classes whose privileges, entitlements and 'authentic spokesperson to goras' status are threatened if mother-language education in the subcontinent goes the Japanese way. But privilege doesn't self-destruct. Hence we remain a self-hating land of forgotten mothers and persecuted tongues, good for creating cyber-coolies and enthusiastic third-rate documentalists of Euro-American mood-swings. From building high-rises to making highways, the real heavy lifting in the cosmopolitan cyber-coolie haven of Bangalore is done by Kannada mother-tongue folks. Next time, look at the counter-girl in a chain-coffee store, uncomfortable in her dress. You walked up to her and placed an order in English. She breaks into Kannada when you are not looking. We are all complicit in the annihilation of her cultural self and its potentialities. Perverse is the word play that paints the calls for the rights of the marginalised majority as chauvinism.

The author is a Bengal-based commentator on politics and culture @gargac

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