English and dignity

An extract from Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President’s autobiography (written between 1942 and 45):

It was not that I was blind to the drawbacks of education as imparted in government institutions It was apparent to me that it was rotten. Because of the medium of instruction being a foreign language, it involved colossal waste of energy and time. It could not lead to that natural development of personality which can be so easily attained through proper education given in one’s own language. Obviously our students cannot have much time for thinking and meditating when all the while they are busy memorising the meaning of foreign words. For this reason alone the system is wasteful. It is not wrong to learn a foreign language. It is good to learn one, particularly today when knowledge of at least one European language has become almost obligatory. But to study a language in order to acquire a working knowledge of it is one thing and to learn every subject through its medium is another. So I have always expressed my opposition to making a foreign tongue the medium of instruction but not to learning it for its own sake. The British had their reasons for making Indians learn their language. They wanted a class of people who could work for and co-operate with them; they wanted to create a privileged class of Indians who would be like Englishmen in their thinking and outlook. They wanted another cheaper class which could do all the work in the offices in English. They thought that if they could get English-knowing men to assist them they would be saved the bother of learning the Indian languages themselves. It was this policy that formed the foundation of our system of education. Of course, the system did produce men of independent thought and action. But they formed an exception and the rule was clerks and office-workers who thought they had got the reward for their education.

More from same autobiography:

At one of the meetings in Orissa, Gandhiji was asked why he was so much against English education when men like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Lokamanya Tilak and he himself, who were the products of that very education, had risen to great heights. Gandhiji, in his characteristic manner, replied: “I am a mere nonentity. But as for Lokamanya, he would have been a much greater man had he not been forced to study through the medium of English, a foreign tongue. Where do Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Lokamanya stand in comparison with Shankaracharya, Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and Kabir ? They had in their days none of the communication facilities that we enjoy today. Even then they were able to revolutionize the world of thought.”

Now to current generation: (From Deccan Herald of 11 Dec 2011)

“I decided to learn English at India International Centre in New Delhi, where a function was organized on November 14 to felicitate me. It was a happy occasion where Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh honoured me. But at the same time, I felt lonely and isolated at the function because, barring me, everyone else was conversing in English. I felt small,” rued Sushil. “It was then and there that I decided that if one has to earn dignity, one should have a good knowledge of English,” added Sushil, who has recently appointed the brand ambassador of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

If you remember Sushil Kumar rose into fame recently after he won 1 crore rupees in a TV show.

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