Why is it a crime to know our mother tongue?

SUMA RAMANNA writes from Madras: Can we not survive in modern India without being able to speak English fluently? This was the question that came to my mind when I was watching India 60 Minutes on NDTV 24×7 two nights ago. 

Barkha Dutt was discussing the issue of a girl who was denied admission to the prestigious Delhi Public School (DPS) in the capital in spite of scoring 97.6 per cent marks in her CBSE examinations.

The only crime—yes, the only crime—of the precocious girl in the eyes of DPS was that she was not fluent in speaking English. Although she had sailed through her entrance exam, she failed in the interview because she didn’t know how to speak in English.

Question No. 1: Why one should know how to speak English to get into a school to study 11th standard? 

Question No. 2: If the student doesn’t know how to speak English, what is the school for if can’t teach her the required skills?

If someone was hiring the student for a job and her English skills were found to be lacking, I could have understood. But for admission to a school at the 11th standard? This is discrimination, plain and simple. 

Idhu yava seeme nyaya, swami?  

Saviraru varushadinda naavu kalitha bashegintha ee bashe yaake ashtu pramukha annisutha-idhe eega?

Yes, it’s a globalised world, and our English-speaking skills are a major draw. But when Russians can speak only Russian and survive, when the French speak only French and survive, why cannot we?

When the Spanish mostly Hispanic even in the United States why cannot we speak Hindi or Kannada or Tamil or Telugu or Oriya or Assamese without being condemned, decried, despised, frowned upon and sniggered at? 

Why are we in such awe of English?

Why are we such slaves to it? 

Please don’t mistake me. I am not against learning English. I believe it has its uses. But I also believe we are doing ourselves—and our culture and our languages—a great disservice with this maddening vyamoha for it.

A language should be helping us, not the other way round. Here, on the other hand, we have made it our fulltime occupation to protect, preserve, promote and project English at the expense of every other language.

Whereever you go, to get a job, to be part of any elite group, etc, it has become de rigueur to know English. Or else, be ready to face the humiliation! 

What can be more humiliating than to be treated with disdain for loving and knowing and speaking your mother tongue?

What can be more humiliating than to be a slave of a language left behind by our colonial masters?

And a slave of our own people at that? 

This discrimination doesn’t stop between English speakers and non-English speakers. The divisions go deeper down, between convent English and normal English.

I have seen people whose written English is good but who cannot verbalise properly. The other category is of those who speak English fluently without any flaws but cannot write without spelling and grammatical mistakes.

So, I again ask: just because we do not know how to speak a foreign language should we be deprived of all the opportunities in life in democratic India?

Don’t we have any future without English?

Is an Indian without English just a big zero?

Is an Indian who cannot speak English automatically lacking in other skills? 

I strongly feel that we should give importance to the creativity or the intelligence of the person rather than just his English speaking ability or inability. English should be treated as one of the languages but not as the only language on earth.

Also see: Why are we so lacking in swabhimana?