English in India Today: Re-situating the perspective from a Multilingual to a Bilingual context.
The role of English in India has been controversial right from the time of its introduction and several historical parameters testify to this fact. Controversies do exist even today at the socio-cultural level regarding the relative acceptability of English and its most formidable regional rival, now the national language of India --Hindi. Interestingly, language as a problem never emerged as a concern of the multitudes during a few thousand years old history of the country when by name, it stood for a combination of large princely states and small empires. But with the onset of British rule, specifically after Macaulay‘s Minute in 18351, English became the dominant language of communication among the educated classes in the Indian subcontinent. It is relevant to discuss here briefly the introduction of Western Education (i.e.; English language and literature) vis-à-vis the prevalent conventional modes of education in colonised India.
To be objective, the introduction of English Education had to steer ahead a quagmire of deep sociological repurcussions right from the beginning. First of all, to think of the multilingual character of our country and her indigenous models of education, it led to the fragmentation of the traditional modes of Education in Tols, Madrashas and Maqtabs which experienced an incompatibility with the emerging challenges posed by the Western models of education. The incompatibility between the two ideals of education led to a distinctive cultural amnesia in the colonised people. To be honest, traditional model of education in India is seen to be breaking up bit by bit, since the mid-eighteenth century owing to its failure to negotiate the new challenges. The direct patronage of the Britishers began to establish, slowly and steadily, a new form of cultural elitism in colonial India. In accordance with the 1833 Charter of the British Government, the East India Company was directed to work towards the dissemination of English education. Macaulay’s [in] famous Minute in 1835 served to give the imperial sanction for promoting the claims of English Education. It is also worth considering that following the Recommendations of Charles Wood, who was the Chairman of the Board of Control in England, the universities in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were established. Moreover the Government Circular in 1844 made the knowledge of English compulsory in government jobs. Gauri Viswanathan in The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India, has asserted that the spread of English education led to Britain’s ideological control over the people of India – ‘maintaining control of the natives under the guise of a liberal education’ (Viswanathan Literary review, 17). In her The Masks of Conquest (1989), Viswanathan further observes that Britain’s English Education Policy shrewdly furthered the colonial interests through the controlling tactics of imperial textuality: “A discipline that was originally intended in India primarily to convey the mechanics of language was thus transformed into an instrument for ensuring industriousness, efficiency, trustworthiness, and compliance in native subjects”(Viswanathan Masks 93). Taking cue from the historical perspective embryonic in the above quotation, one may take stock of the scenario of English Teaching in Free India that shows in course of several decades, a gradual paradigmatic shift from a multilingual to a bilingual encounter. It is significant that the attitude of the British to other Indian languages including Hindi was not biased as their colonialistic acumen made them realise that in a multilingual country like India, the knowledge and promotion of native, regional languages would help them to rule the land. However, Indians wanted English to continue even after the British have left the Indian shores and Hindi was declared as the national language. The...
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