The English language made its appearance in India through the Portuguese. When the Englishmen formed the East India Company in India, they followed the path of the Portuguese, and eventually the Portuguese language, which had been the lingua franca of the rulers and the educated class, gave way to English. While Portuguese language interacted well with the Indian languages, English remained isolated from the same. In the earlier stages, English was viewed as the language of the elite and has been kept so ever since. Indian contact varieties involving English did not go through the processes, which pidgins and creoles had to undergo. It is only in recent times that English has become an active component of the verbal repertoire of most educated Indians. Now we have a rich harvest of Indian writing in English that interacts in a variety of creative ways with other Indian languages. Though English language continues to be a dividing force in our society, it has even become an integral part of the Indian multilingual scenario.
The growth of English in India can be directly correlated with the growth of imperial rule in India. With the establishment and growth of trading contacts in India, preachers of the Protestant faith started coming to South Asia, essentially for the purpose of proselytizing. Hence the people were exposed to a new religion and a new language. After 1765, the East India Company became a political power in India and its attention was diverted towards wider problems. However, the missionaries continued to focus on conversion and education with an added objective of improving the “manners” and “customs” of the natives. Universal dissemination of Christianity in India later became one of the primary motives for introducing English in the education system of India. The missionary preachers were the first to develop scripts for many unwritten Indian languages as they translated the Bible into the tribal minor Indian languages. This language, which was heard and transcribed by the British in the Roman script, is considered the standard form of their respective languages.
Kachru (1983) states, that the efforts of Charles Grant, William Wilberforce and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlreagah, was responsible for the 13th Resolution, in which the House of Commons resolved that, “it is the duty of this country to promote the interests and happiness of the native inhabitants of the British dominions in India, and that all such measures ought to be introduced as may tend to the introduction of useful knowledge and religious and moral improvements among them.”. Hence the educational activities of the missionaries – which were restricted and unplanned from 1600 to 1765 – were stabilized.
It was clear to the missionaries that all the knowledge that Indians could or should aspire for was contained in the Bible. The impact of missionary activity was spreading fast and a substantial part of the elite started feeling that the access to education and knowledge was laid through English. Wadia (1954) points out, the Rajas of Tanjore and Marwar had agreed to open English Medium schools as early as in 1795. The culmination of the missionary activities can be seen in Macaulay’s minute of 1835. Macaulay was convinced that there was no merit in Indian history, Literature or Science and that the Indian people could be educated only through the medium of English. His objective was different from the Serampore Troi of William Cary, Joshua Marshman and William Ward (whose primary objective was ‘saving the soul of the natives’) as he wanted to create a class of persons who are, “Indian in blood and colour, but English in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” and this group was not only to act as an interpreter between the rulers and the ruled but also to be responsible for rejuvenating and modernizing Indian languages and dialects. Wood’s dispatch (1854) clearly outlined the British government’s agenda for a comprehensive educational policy in India. He believed that ‘Indian vernaculars’ are only important to the extent that they could be used for the dissemination of western knowledge (see Agnihotri and Khanna 1997).
In their debate with the Orientalists, the missionaries and the Anglicists have perceived Indian languages and people as degenerate (Agnihotri and Khanna 1997: 23). Orientalists supported the use of Indian vernaculars, while the Anglicists favored English. However, favoritism towards English language was shown by Lord Bentick. He directed that “all the funds………be henceforth employed in imparting to the native population a knowledge of English literature and science, through the medium of the English language.” Hardinge later threw bait by giving employment to those who were trained in English. Krishnamurty and Sriraman (1994) pointed out that the withdrawal of financial support from Indian educational institutions and printing of books in Indian languages inevitably destroyed the Indian educational enterprise. As a result English became the sine quo non for the scholars, the job-seekers and the affluent in the society. Sinha (1978) argues that from1833 to 1853 overwhelming efforts were made by the rulers to popularize English. By the middle of the 19th century, English had replaced Persian as the court language and there was a vertical split in society, which is visible till date. While the upper class elite were associated with the English language, the lower class were associated with Indian languages and in spite of all the efforts put forth by the government, this wide gulf persists in society and in fact has been deepened.
Though the partition of Bengal in 1905 initiated a reaction against English education, its supremacy continued unchecked. A variety of changes were initiated by Morley-Minto Reforms (1909), Montague-Chelmsford Report (1917) and the Calcutta University Commission recommendations (1919). But neither the English language nor the English model of education could reach the Indian masses. The fundamental conflict between English and Indian languages continued for several years and was characterized by many debates and committee reports. However most of the late 19th and early 20th century efforts took the supremacy of English language, literature and culture for granted and English continued to gain importance in Pre-independence India. English medium schools multiplied rapidly, as English became an important tool for acquiring new information and knowledge. It also became strongly entrenched in the domains of journalism, administration and the judiciary and added another voice to the Indian multilingual repertoire.
By the time India became independent, English had already consolidated its position in the school and university education. The debates of Constituent Assembly held in 1949 clearly indicated the significance of English in India. While Hindi was seen as a threat (a symbol of north Indian supremacy) by south Indians, English was seen as the continuation of colonial rule. A compromise needed to be evolved. Though there were pressures in favour of English from the most vocal and elite sections of the society, it was not listed in the VIIIth schedule of the constitution. Hindi was declared to be the official language of the union and English was given the status of an Associate Official Language for a period of fifteen years. Krishnaswamy and Sriraman (1994) argue that post independence India witnessed a continuation of colonial policies with regard to English and as a result it has become even more deeply entrenched in Indian Society.
The language policy followed in the post–independence era was pro-English. Though the association of English with the colonial rule was de-emphasized, its importance as a language of wider opportunities and international contact was increasingly recognized. Be it in higher education, administration, the judiciary, or journalism, a high level of proficiency in English was considered to be a significant tool for easy and quick professional growth. One can see a reflection of this in the constitution of India. According to Article 343 of the Indian Constitution:
(1)The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.
(2) Notwithstanding anything in clause (1), for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement: Provided that the President may, during the said period, by order 306 authorize the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union.
(3) Notwithstanding anything in this article, Parliament may by law provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years, of
(a) The English language, or
(b) The Devanagari form of numerals, for such purposes as may be specified in the law. As opposed to the pre-colonial India, the emphasis shifted to mother tongue as a medium of education in post-colonial period. One is therefore not surprised that in 1961, government of India proposed a three-language formula, which was subsequently modified by the Kothari commission (1964-66) seeking to accommodate the interests of group identity (regional languages), national pride and unity (Hindi), and administrative efficiency and technological progress (English).
At present, English has got the status of an Associate Official Language and educationally it is recognized as an essential component of formal education, and as the preferred medium of learning. Socially it is recognized and upheld as a mark of education, culture and prestige. The polity and society confer greatvalue on the learning of English, and the demand for proficient English speakers in India has indeed multiplied over the years. In this era of globalization, the importance of English is growing rapidly. We may also note here that over a period of time English has remained associated with the elite of the country and has helped them in a variety of ways to consolidate their power. A fundamental division starts right from primary school education, between the so-called public (private and expensive English medium schools) and government schools (generally ill-managed and ill-equipped Hindi/regional language medium schools); the elite goes to the former and then prepares to manpositions of power in academics, bureaucracy, industry, judiciary, medicine, engineering etc. while those who go to the latter eventually constitute themass of the lower middle and poor class. What has been said above is indeed an oversimplification of an extremely complex sociolinguistic situation obtaining in India.<
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