The draft national education policy 2019 released on Friday appears more a “daft” policy. The suggestion in the proposed three-language formula that studying Hindi will be compulsory nationwide isn’t so much a trial balloon as the HRD ministry claim, but symbolic of the thought process of those in the Hindi heartland who aim to homogenise India at the cost of alienating people who bristle at the very thought of a language or culture being thrust on them. An optional third language of choice, besides English and the state’s regional language, would have been a far better idea than expecting every child in an Indian school to learn Hindi, seen as a North Indian language derived from Sanskrit. Young students may wish to learn a language besides their own, but not when they have no choice except to mandatorily pick Hindi.
Pushed on the defensive after social media outrage in Tamil Nadu, a state with an ancient language and the epicentre of anti-Hindi fervour in more recent times, the Centre’s representatives have been defensive, saying this is only a draft and all views will be taken before the policy is ready for implementation. The very proposition betrays an idea of India that is not in consonance with reality, which is that India is more like a federation of multiple nations with different cultural and social mores. A majority of people may be of the same major faiths and pray to the same gods, yet they are of different historical backgrounds. In Tamil Nadu, the draft policy has met with trenchant criticism for what is seen as a clear political push for Hindi domination, which has been resisted in the state from the early days, and led to the fierce anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s. As a result, the Congress was virtually “eliminated” from the political spectrum but for piggybacking on Dravidian parties.
The policy’s pro-Hindi and anti-English thrust is once again sowing the seeds of discord. As a free nation, we are 72 years old. Before Independence, English was the democratising link language that also united Indians against the British Raj. The usefulness of English as a universal language in the modern world that is changing fast thanks to Artificial Intelligence, the Internet Of Things and robots easing production cannot be overstressed. While the Centre is free to use Hindi as an official language for ease of its working, any relegation of English on the premise that there is ancient wisdom to be gleaned in Sanskrit-Urdu-Hindi is an invitation to regressive thinking. We have built an education system around English as the language of easy knowledge dissemination. The education delivery system isn’t perfect, which means policy-makers must suggest changes to modernise it. By getting entangled afresh in the language issue, India will only be going backwards.