UPSC in the dock
The move to make English compulsory has resulted in closing ranks by political parties especially in the Hindi heartland, forcing the Commission to withhold the circular
The all-out jehad against the new syllabus proposed to be adopted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for the elite Civil Services examinations, through which posts for Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service and Allied Services are filled, has raised hackles in political circles across the country. The UPSC is in the dock over its move to make English a compulsory subject.
The move has been opposed by the Socialist elements in the Parliament. The overwhelming members representing the rural area and Hindi-belt even sought punishment for officials responsible for issuing the ‘unconstitutional’ circular. The JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav went to the extent of demanding the sacking and impeachment of the chairman of UPSC. The RJD supremo, Lalu Prasad, dubbed the move as a ‘conspiracy’ against weaker sections to ensure that the children of SCs, STs and OBCs do not succeed in the Civil Services examinations despite having required merit. The system introduced in 1979 had made English and Hindi merely a qualifying subjects. The proposed controversial UPSC notification now put on hold makes the marks of English counted in merit list of the candidates.
The reactions of Hindi supporters and those coming from rural areas were but natural. The battle against English is not new in India. It has been fought on many occasions and on several issues. What is unfortunate is that the anti-English movement has been handicapped on account of half-hearted efforts of its supporters and their fears of reactions in Southern states over the dominance of Hindi.
Commenting on the issue of national language, Gandhiji had once said, “In my opinion, it is unmanly even to think that English can become our national language. The attempt to introduce Esperanto merely betrays ignorance.” Answering the question posed by himself as to which language would be the real national language in India, the Mahatma emphasised, “I call that language Hindi which Hindus and Mohammedans in the North speak and write, …” He further said, “There is not another language capable of competing with Hindi… It presents some difficulty in case of the learned classes in Madras. For men from the Deccan, Gujarat, Sind and Bengal it is easy enough. In a few months they can acquire sufficient command over Hindi to enable them to carry on national intercourse in that tongue.”
As far as English is concerned, Gandhiji had concluded, “There will be little necessity for English in national affairs. It will certainly be required for imperial affairs. That, therefore, it will be an imperial language, the language of diplomacy, is a different question. For that purpose, its knowledge is a necessity. We are not jealous of English. All that is contended for is, that it ought not to be allowed to go beyond its proper sphere.” This strategy is followed by the Chinese, the Japanese and even by the French, who communicate in their own languages in every sphere except when use of some alien language like English becomes unavoidable. It is said that if you ask a French in English, he may not like to respond. This is due to his love for his own language and also owing to the traditional rivalry between the French and the English.
However, later on in India,, the war against English was fought considerably by veteran socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, who argued that the British ruled over India for almost three-and-half-century “with bullet and language-bandhook ki goli aur angrezi ki boli.” Lohia was also emphatic about the fact that “high-caste, wealth, and knowledge of English are the three requisites, with anyone possessing two of these belonging to the ruling class.” That is precisely why he was in favour of abolishing the private schools and upgrading the municipal or government schools with the intention of providing equal academic opportunity to students of all castes and classes. This he argued would help eradicate the divisions created by the caste system in India. The committed socialists always approved this thesis of Lohia and acted accordingly. One recalls how in the late 1970s on an occasion, Madhu Limaye insisted on speaking only in Hindi and not in English at Delhi School of Economics, despite requests from the faculty of the elite institution. And George Fernandes preferred to introduce Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful in eloquent Hindi while addressing the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
It is also time to mention about a grass-roots socialist and a leading lawyer of a lower court at Deoghar in Jharkhand, CP Singh, who subsequently became an MLA, did not allow his two sons to study in English medium school. Lohia’s perception of well-off upper-castes led by Brahmins with privileged English education, calling the shots, can well be demonstrated with the official figures of the following chart. It may be seen that the educated upper castes are much ahead of others in almost all states.
It is, however, unfortunate that the protest of English has lost its momentum especially after the demise of Lohia. The fresh war against the colonial language is also a piecemeal efforts and likely to subside after the withdrawal or suspension of the notification.
Gandhi being a Gujarati was himself not very well versed in Hindi, but he tried and learned it as he wanted to make it a national language. Lohia, who was prolific in English, identified the solution in the removal of English medium public schools by the government-sponsored vernacular schools providing same education for all. His followers of different ilk condemn English within the Parliament and outside, but turn a blind eye when their own children prefer to join English-medium schools. Whether it is Sharad Yadav, Lalu Prasad or even Mulyam Singh Yadav, they have been part of the government at the Centre at some point of time or the other. Even otherwise, they are highly influential political entities. But, did they ever come out with any proposal at any forum or on the floor of Parliament to replace the colonial education system of teaching with common education system for all and sundry? As a consequence, what has happened is that ‘English-winglish’ has remained in our blood. The task is difficult and mere speeches and slogans will not help. Lord Macaulay had planned it meticulously, observing, “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever counquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
Moreover, any effort at replacing English by Hindi is also likely to be countered by the pull and pressures of several regional languages and especially from the Dravidian Language. In a country like ours, the traditional social and lingual cleavages are so distinct and sharp that any drastic attempt at widespread change in the system may invite trouble from within. Not many decades before Selig Harrison had come with the possibility of Balkanisation of India. Luckily, it has not happened so far. This is one reason why English might lose the battle at the UPSC, but it is likely to survive in our thought and thinking.
By PC Singh