India needs English education for all

July 1, 2009

Education is the way out of economic backwardness for India’s large number of poor. Needless to say access to capital at reasonable rates, subsidies, health and other services are as important.

In this post my focus is on education. A number of state governments are enforcing state vernacular languages as the medium of education with scant regard to the relevance of this education in the job market.

They forget that India would not have emerged as an outsourcing hub but for a quirk of history, the decision by the British to introduce English as the language of education in the country.

We should be equally concerned about protecting our local culture and language. The McHomogenization of Indian culture is not at all desirable. But the classroom may not be the place for the protection of culture at this stage of India’s economic development.

The Wall Street Journal in this article has argued that the denial of English education to the masses is in a sense a form of domination, to keep the people subjugated.

“In fact, much of the political class remains opposed to English medium education supposedly because they fear the loss of local culture and language,” WSJ writes. It’s more believable that it’s because an ill-equipped population of voters is a malleable population of voters,” it added.

In the state of Goa in western India, a majority of the people backed Konkani as the mother tongue of the state, because it was the language spoken by most people But when it came down to the implementation of the language as a medium of education, parents fought back in favor of English.

They had by then realized that the official language issue had helped Konkani protagonists to perpetutate their roles as culture czars and educationists.

These protagonists re-wrote the language in the name of standardization, and expected children to learn a language that was by now quite different from what they had been used to speak at home. The script was also different.

Clearly there is a need to separate the politics of language from the relevance of a particular language in the new economic scheme of things. The education system, whether we like it or not, is geared to producing people suitable for employment in our factories and offices.

A few of us may have some discomfort about this mechanistic and production oriented metaphor of education. But to India’s poor, this is right now probably the only education that is relevant.


The religious right should target the capitalist system rather than gays

November 1, 2007

America’s religious right is emotionally and culturally lost. As it sees its traditional mores and culture giving way to a new liberal culture that pays little attention to religious issues, it is trying to reverse the change, for example, by influencing the country’s choice for President.

It is also spawning a whole lot of groups on the lunatic fringe, people like the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas who picketed the funerals of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Church claims God is punishing the U.S. because of its tolerance for gays, according to this report in CNN.

America and a lot of other cultures and countries have promoted unbridled capitalism and consumerism, often at the expense of traditional value systems. The breakdown of traditional culture and value systems is in a sense part of the grand design of capitalism to stress on integrated and homogenous markets for which it is more efficient to produce and more efficient to distribute. McDonald’s and its attempts at global homogenization has been the symbol of this attempt to neutralize cultural and yes religious differences in the interests of the markets.

This neutralization of local culture is being resisted in many countries, and often takes the form of anti-American sentiment. In America too, the religious right is now reacting to attempts of capitalist society to homogenize and control tastes, values and lifestyles. You may ask what do lifestyles and culture have to do with religion ? In the past, they have all moved together with religion, culture, and lifestyles influencing one another. You can’t neutralize or modify one, without pulling down the entire superstructure.

The religious right have made homosexuality and abortion rights their key issues. But they have conveniently avoided taking on the real cause of their problems – the breakdown of culture, religion, and values by mass consumerism, and the consequent anomie.

The fringes of the religious right are the real problem, as they are lunatic attempts to cope with the social and cultural anomie beget by modern consumerist society.

The religious right, which has typically voted Republican and in favor of the glorification of the current capitalist value system, has in a sense contributed to the social and cultural anomie in American society. They cannot blame homosexuals and abortionists for America’s problems. The devil is in the system – the capitalist system, and the value system it promotes to perpetuate its existence.

The religious right will probably look at these issues through their traditional demonology. They will probably say, “Hey, here is another self-serving homosexual”. I am not a homosexual. I believe that the religious right should put aside its witch-hunting of homosexuals and go after the big Satan – the system itself of which they are both the supporters and the victims.

Related article:

God is dead, and I am not feeling too well myself

In India, lots of spending on poor quality

October 27, 2007

Over the weekend in Bangalore, I had promised my daughter I would take her to an up market store that sold a variety of breads with exotic names and ingredients ranging from olives to sunflower seeds.

On Saturday morning, we braved the maniacal traffic and went to this place, only to find that the breads were two or three days old. The cheese-and-garlic loaf, a favorite in our household, was three days old, according to the label. An employee graciously recommended the wheat bread that was only a day old.

Close by is a Chinese restaurant that serves Indo-Chinese food, a mix of Chinese flavors and a pungent Indian idiom. The “ drums of heaven” there are usually soggy, while their noodles can be very sticky.

But the bakery and the Chinese restaurant continue to attract customers by the droves. They stand in queues outside, something unthinkable say a decade ago when most of Bangalore eat home-cooked food. A number of restaurants, with claims to offer Thai, Spanish, Italian, Provencal, Egyptian and other varieties of cuisine have also sprouted across the city. The fare is in most cases indifferent, but that does not deter customers from queuing up and paying exorbitant prices.

That had me surprised until I recalled an old, but no less relevant it seems, concept in sociology. An eminent Indian sociologist, M.N. Srinivas, observed in his field studies among one some of the communities in India, that the castes positioned lower in the hierarchy tend to imitate and modify their culture to resemble that of the dominant caste in the locality. Srinivas called the phenomenon Sanskritization, as the values and culture that tend to get imitated by the new social upstarts were the Sanskrit, Brahmanical ones.

What does this have to do with the large number of crowded restaurants and malls in Bangalore ? A lot, I think. Unlike previous upstarts, who believed that assimilating Brahmin and Sanskrit culture, rituals, and customs was key to their social climbing, the new upstarts have in a strange twist decided on American culture as the dominant culture to be imitated and assimilated.

These days Indians have wine tasting parties, to refine their taste for something they never consumed earlier. You have chefs of five-start hotels and other, usually self styled gourmands, writing in the society pages of newspapers on the finer points of rare delicacies like caviar and truffles.

A lot of affluent Indians are turning their back to their own rich and ancient traditions in food, dressing, and other aspects of culture, to a new world of mainly American kitsch. They are getting there rudderless and without discernment, creating an opportunity for a new set of consultants and purveyors of culture, most of them parvenu. Add to them snooty restaurateurs and five-star chefs. If you find the pasta sticky, don’t complain to the chef. He is more likely to turn around and tell you, without batting an eyelid, that is how pasta is eaten by the Italians. Probably he is learning too.

Maybe this is a transitional phase, but these days in Bangalore, and most of urban India, good food is a rarity, particularly if the idiom is not Indian.