Further Debates on the Medium of Instruction and the Language Question

S S Rajagopalan responded to my reflections on Medium of Instruction in the following way through email on 7th November 2010:

“In a unilingual State, there is no problem. The language to be learnt and medium of instruction are one and the same. In a multi-lingual State,the Regional Language is the First Language and it is also the medium of instruction. The National Language, if there be one, is taught as Second Language.  There may be provision for learning more than one language, including any Foreign Language. But nowhere is a foreign language the medium of instruction, except in our country. Language learning has several objectives, primarily as a means of communication and understanding and appreciation of one’s cultural and literary heritage. It should not be looked at from a purely materialistic point of view. Only a small proportion of people move out of their State and they can learn the local language sooner as they are mature and know the art of learning. Our problem is: Mother-tongue vs English, Learning English is not objectionable but should it be the medium also?  Anybody who can identify studies undertaken in this regard may come forward to quote the same. For over sixty years, we have wasted our time and energy on the language issue. While the middle class is vociferous about EM, the silent mass remains unconcerned. The great divide in educational opportunities has been widened because of twin mediums.”

This was my response to Rajagopalan:
“Let me clarify – I am a materialist – and my reflections need to be seen in that framework.
I would like to thank SSR for his response. However, I have to offer following as response to him:

You failed to get the larger argument that I am making and believe me this line of argument has been marginal in what you term as ‘sixty years’ of debate. I do not see any flaw in demanding that a child should be taught in its mother-tongue but it is not as simple as saying it. Firstly, the moment we argue for the vernacular language to be the mother-tongue, be it because of a logic of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural etc., pretext, we establish that there is a singular language of an area. What appears as a singular language area has a history (meaning a trajectory) of development of that language – through struggles which are immanent in the systems characterised by unequal social relations. A particular language becoming hegemonic also represents the balance of class forces in that period. Hence, before having a singular agenda of castigating English as a foreign language you will have to not only look at the history of this language in the country, but at the same time also look at how the ‘Indian’ languages have evolved.

You missed the point that I was making and therefore, you also fail to comprehend that there is a different language of protest and movement and a different language spoken by the Dalits and the Brahmanical forces, in the same way as art forms in Indian history have revealed their strong linkages to the balance of class forces. Sanskrit was not English but it was the dominant language at one point of time, and it was the language of the hegemonic class forces and not of the working class. There were languages of the court and the language of the masses, and the texts that have come to us have primarily been in the language of the court. Today, the tribals in different parts of the country are being asked to learn through Hindi medium and not essentially English medium. When does Hindi become the language of the ruling class will have to be understood in such circumstances? Unless one understands the logic (and the class politics) behind the language issue it will be difficult to take the fight for mother-tongue instruction further because in the ultimate analysis it is about a systemic battle. Unless one recognises that the battle of equality, democracy and opportunity is about the battle against capital from the vantage point of labour, we will remain trapped in the same viciousness that we are in today. Extracting out these concepts and categories ( equality, democracy and opportunity) out of the ambit of labour-capital conflict is nothing more than the myopia looking for a reversal to a more humane rule of capital.”

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Preliminary Reflections on the Medium of Instruction and Language Question

Much often has been the debate on teaching via mother tongue linked to the issue of democracy, equality and better education. However, when we debate the issue of language through categories of democracy or equality we seldom elaborate on how would it be democratizing except that we see the whole exercise as opening up spaces for multiculturalism or different ideas to co-exist. Given that the relationship between different languages involve creation of hierarchies and, therefore, we tend to talk in terms of ‘hegemonic’ languages and ‘marginalized’ languages it also becomes important to unravel the connection between language and ideology or language-culture-power-hegemony. In other words, is prioritization of one language over the other also not about its political economy? Or, how would one understand the changing contours of language politics in the country over different points of time – from the days of enforcing Hindi to the intermediate assertion of regional languages and thereafter the overall predominance of English. Similarly, one would have to address issues such as the possibilities of survival of vernacular mediums because unless and until they become effective communication tools for neoliberal capitalism they may find it difficult to survive. Languages are altered, killed and modified radically by capital, and there are umpteen examples of that. In fact, we see that happening before us everyday. While there is this question of how language has to be seen as not outside the system, and as representing the social relations, the same framework also compels us to think about how within one ‘apparently’ singular system following a language there are multiple trends available. This is to indicate towards the presence of a ruling class language and a working class language, a so-called upper-caste language and a language of the dalits, a language of the patriarchs and a language spoken by women. Given this and many other different kinds of variations – based on the principle of dominance and resistance – the issue of what appears a ‘singular’ language also becomes complex. How are we going to address these complications unless we connect language to the question of production process and social relations emerging out of it. (Remember Gramsci talking of language as a metaphor for political relations among other things.)

**This is a partial comment on the first draft of A Charter on Right to Bodo Language as Medium of Education in Assam (dtd 18.10.2010) circulated for Discussion within  ALL INDIA FORUM FOR RIGHT TO EDUCATION (AIF-RTE)

Corruption, Democratisation and Control

The charges of corruption on the Congress government does not seem to be getting over. Even if one recalls the recent past, after the Commonwealth Games, which looked more of a military exercise than a sporting event, where THEY are suspected to have gobbled up thousands of crores the new one came to light – an estate scam, when THEY built houses over a land allotted to war widows. The CWG scam will be laid to rest by the short-lived public memory which gets replenished everyday by newer excavations into ‘hidden informations’ by the farcically conscientious media. Memory is not only short-lived it is highly selective as well. Everybody is being asked to remember how THEY made money from CWG and how our politicians have lost their sensitivity or how such an upright and honest organisation such as the Defence establishment has also gone corrupt.

But are these really the issues? Are their organisations which are alien to corruption? Is corruption not something un-pathological now? Isn’t it ‘normal’? Is it not part of our everyday life  – look at how formal as well as informal institutions are deep into it? Bureaucracy, corporations, everyday relationships – all of them have an element of corruption built into them today? This is not to argue of a nostalgia – a world from the past which was devoid of it, where it was ‘pathology’ and not something ‘normal’. It is rather about imagining a world which would interrogate certain issues and concepts, which pass over just like a gush of wind disturbing us momentarily, much more deeply. After all, nobody bothers to ponder that corruptions have happened only in places where there has been undemocratic distribution of resources. Democratise control over resources and decision-making, involve those workers who had build the stadiums and buildings into the processes of decision-making and distribution, the possibilities of some bureaucrat, army officer or politician manipulating his/her location in the system will be minimised. Even today the hungama happens largely because some did not get the share. Democratise, disperse, let the controls be redefined.