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Linguistic Right And Language of Politics

By Samir Karmakar

19 September, 2012

Each time on 21 st February with lots of hullaballoo mother tongue day is celebrated. With the passing of each year we become more aware about our linguistic right. With each document on linguistic empowerment, we realize linguistic liberation is still awaited. – Why?

Talking about linguistic right is not something trendy. People are talking about it for decades across the globe, and India becomes the breeding ground for language activists. In spite of all these, graphical representation of the census data on decadal growth of the scheduled languages of India (2011) is still showing the negative trend:

Between the translation of digits into graphs and the celebrations of language day prevails a form of contradiction: in one hand we are celebrating the language days and on the other hand we are witnessing increasing number of languages in the death row. Failure in maintaining the multilingual norm will definitely hold back majority's access to the resources and the prosperities in India . Since situation is worsening every day, one needs to rethink if the human right perspective to the linguistic empowerment is defunct.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – This is the way Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) born in the last century anticipating a massive economical set back ahead. An embryonic form of Universal Declaration can be traced back in US president Franklin D. Roosevelt's address delivered on 6 th January 1941 enunciating four freedoms for the human beings: Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear. These four freedoms are proposed to ensure integrity, safety, and stability of American world against the perceived threats lying beyond its border. But what constitutes these threats? – The fear about the fall of democratic States beyond the American continent.

To prevent the fall of democracy beyond the boundary of American continent, a system of all-inclusive national defence was proposed. This defensive mechanism, as Roosevelt argues in the same lecture, would require “a swift and driving increase in ... armament production” by achieving “full support of all those resolute peoples, everywhere, who are resisting aggression”. Roosevelt has further set the tone for freedom as “supremacy of rights everywhere”. The aspiration of four freedoms, finally, is materialized in the proposal on human right in the beginning of the second half of last century. What remains imperative in this entire discourse is to push the border beyond their continental boundaries to attenuate the beyond-the-boundary contenders. Restoration of linguistic right in India needs to be evaluated through the lens of this history. But even before that the makeup of the lens has to be revealed.

Right based articulation of linguistic empowerment is one among many measures to expand the boundary of nation and state – a benevolent version of including the others. Right to education in mother tongue in multilingual societies is an effort to hide the extremely hegemonic form of monopoly capital. Recent policy documents on Education in general and Language in particular are the strategic implementations to establish the hegemony.

Introduction of mother tongue in the elementary education is not enough to empower the people linguistically, until and unless it's presence in the entry point to the market is assured. What is required to assure the latter one is the political and economical empowerment of All. Interestingly, not much hullaballoo on this issue!

The introduction of mother tongue in the elementary education, as is proposed by different agencies, is mainly from the angle of cognitive development. In order to facilitate the young learners' cognitive development, their mother tongues are proposed to include in the language curriculum in elementary level under the assumption that, as has been pointed out by World Bank in Priorities and Strategies for Education (1995), this approach will “promote the cognitive development needed for learning a second language”. As the learner moves to the higher education, mother tongue will be gradually replaced by English only. (How innocent could be the ambush to clear the blockage in the name of “God”, “an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship”!)

Eminent linguist Krishnamurthi (1990) once shows most of the prominent universities and institutes in India use English as their medium of instruction. Situation deteriorates much with the rise of global economy. If things keep on going in this direction, we will end up with a monolingual world order with its handful of local associates across the globe. The most obvious consequence of this is a nasty conspiracy to keep the non-English mother tongues subservient to the English. In fact, it makes me to remember Thomas Babington Macaulay's notorious educational agenda of creating “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” ( 2 nd February, 1835 ). It is not simply an issue of keeping subservient to English; it is a way to produce armaments beyond the boundary to ensure greater stability and peace in global centres. Only those will be allowed to be part of the global fraternity who speak, think and act alike. It is in this sense language becomes a mean to practice discrimination.

The position paper by the National Focus Group on Teaching of Indian Languages (2006) puts emphasis on mother tongue education at the elementary level with the provision of introducing English “woven into the texture of developing strategies of teaching in a multilingual classroom”. (Just like the way monopoly economy has its flow hidden in the texture of national economy!) Position paper by National Focus Group on Teaching of English (2006) also argues in favour of introducing “English at the initial level”. Later on, National Knowledge Commission (2007) has recommended the same. While doing so all these reports do not forget to show their concern for the multilingual – echoing the concern of the benevolent compassionate saviour. All of them have prescribed the model of transitional bilingualism aiming at language shift.

World Bank, as one another avatar of benevolent Saviour along with others, shed crocodile tears for multilingual education to hide the face of the monopoly capital with a subaltern version of national capital. In the name of strengthening the local linguistic capital, which is a form of national capital, monopoly will eliminate beyond-the-boundary threats by indentifying and including the local allies.

In such a situation, the slogan of Mother tongue and Multilingual Education is as absurd as the myth of unicorn. Advocating multilingualism and mother tongue education within the frameworks of Nation-State and Human Right will only strengthen Roosevelt's effort to imbue humanity with the most deceptive concepts of freedom ever been introduced in the history of civilization “under guidance of God” as rights. Further Roosevelt warns “ it is immature — and incidentally, untrue — for anybody to brag that an unprepared America , single-handed, and with one hand tied behind its back, can hold off the whole world ” . In fact linguistic capital is that hand which has been untied to ensure “the star-spangled banner shall wave” forever.

A true multilingual approach should unleash the scope to all at every level of the tertiary educational system in India ; and this can be achieved only through the political and economical empowerment of all. If this demand sounds too much to achieve the stated goal of multilingualism we need to recognize linguistic liberty is still a distant dream even after the half decades of political independence.

Samir Karmakar is a linguist. He worked at National Institute of Advanced Studies and Azim Premji University . At present, he is in Jadavpur University , Kolkata. Samir can be reached at samirkrmkr@yahoo.co.in.




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