It cannot be denied that English holds a hallowed place in Indian society. It is the primary means of communication in most educational institutions, it has been recognized as the language of Indian courts, and as the country’s lingua franca, it bridges different states, the centre with the states, the bureaucracy with the polity and the government to the people.
There is no logical reason to eradicate English from India. The arguments made by traditionalists, of it being a foreign language and one introduced by colonizers, are outdated and impractical. India’s English proficiency is enabling Indians to compete in the global market, even having an edge over traditional English-speaking countries in the West. India ranks 22 out of 72 countries in the 2016 EF English Proficiency Index – higher than Spain, France, Japan, and China. This, coupled with the predicted English boom in the country, where the percentage of English proficient populace is slated to exponentially increase, should incontrovertibly indicate that English is here to stay.
However, the significance and potential of English aside, we must never mistake English proficiency for intellectual capability. There is no correlation between knowing English and knowledge, much less between English and character.
We must keep in mind that knowing English in India is still a privilege. Only 4% of Indians are primarily comfortable in English. To most Indian English speakers, the language is a second language. Therefore, most Indians are either not proficient in English or not very comfortable in English. That by no means makes them less intellectual or less erudite than their English-fluent counterparts.
English can open many doors of opportunity; it does not, however, in any way guarantee you a better personality or character. An English-speaking Indian is not better than a non-English-speaking Indian. That is prejudice.
More often than not, we, who are proficient in English, tend to admonish or overlook those without knowledge of the language.
There is an assumption that English is readily available in India – this is untrue. Studies show that its usage is actually restricted to the elite because of inadequate education in large parts of the country. The use of outdated teaching methods and the poor grasp of English exhibited by the authors of many guidebooks has disadvantaged students who rely on these books. If there is an individual with a decent education who is mediocre in English, it reflects more on the failings of our education system rather than that individual.
Parents and the elderly are particular targets of this language bias. Because they grew up in a different time, before the Digital Revolution, before India’s economy was liberalised, they grew up during a time when not much importance was placed in English education. They are more comfortable in Indian languages – as most Indians remain. This should not be a handicap for them to live their lives smoothly.
Sadly, however, it is proving to be a handicap, especially for the urban populace. The mainstream media is predominantly English, social media is chiefly English, their children’s schools’ administrations are chiefly English – in the midst of this vortex of English, our parents and grandparents are suffering the brunt.
To highlight the problems faced by Indians not adept in English, Irrfan Khan is coming up with a movie called Hindi Medium. The trailer can be watched below.