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.


Catholic Church says conversions can never be forcible

November 6, 2007

India’s Hindus have for a long time objected to the conversion of some of their community to Christianity. In recent years Hindu extremists have objected more forcefully by attacking churches and clerics.

Religious belief can never be the result of forceful conversion, but must come through education, dialogue and mutual respect, the Vatican said Monday in a message for the Hindu Diwali holiday, according to this report by the Associated Press (AP).

The message attributed to the head of the Vatican’s office for inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, evidently tries to be reconciliatory to the Hindus who are the majority in India.

But it fails to address the concern of many Hindus, including moderates. The moderates are concerned that the Church uses charity funds to gently persuade Hindus and other communities to convert to Christianity. A number of Christian, including Catholic charities, are known to openly proselytize among the poor, using food and clothing as an incentive. Converts by this method are known as “rice Christians”.

There are also a number of people who convert to Christianity to take advantage of the abundant funds from foreign donors available to Christian charities. Often these charities pay for the education abroad of children, which would be generally out of the pale of most Hindus in India.

A commitment by the Vatican and other churches not to link charity with conversions would go a long way towards building amity with the Hindus in India, and in fact non-Christian communities in all countries.

In the past a lot of the conversions to Christianity in Asia piggybacked on Christian colonial powers. Take for example the forced conversions in Goa under Portuguese colonial rule. The Catholic Church and other churches have to now convince other religions that conversions are not piggybacking on first-world wealth and charity.