The age-old language battle in India is never at rest. Article 343 of the Indian Constitution declared that “Hindi in the Devanagari script” will be the official language of India in 1949. But, English too was considered an official language during the British Raj and has remained co-official with Hindi.
English language in India has now become synonymous with the socio-economic status, a language of the elite. So, what happens to the majority of Indians, who choose to speak in their mother tongue and has not adopted English as their second language? They are almost voiceless today just because of their language preference!
To understand the existing mindset, LifeBeyondNumbers got in touch with people belonging from different communities to understand what it means to be connected to our native languages.
On asking why is it important to stay connected to your roots, an NRI and a software professional from Singapore, Sonal Jha (29) says, “I belong from Maithili Community and this is something I will always be proud of. While growing up, the people around me made me feel that the English language is synonymous with sophistication and is particularly meant to be spoken by people who are rich and successful. And therefore if you want to be a part of this crowd, you have to learn English. Due to this, the sense of belonging gets lost in a way, when you are not able to identify yourself as a part of the society you live in. I feel even if you are living far away from your country, it is your native language that keeps you connected to your roots and shape my personality.”
Even though most children in India are trained to be trilingual, but the native language should occupy the first place in order to develop a sense of belonging and empathy towards other while communicating, studies have found.
Due to shift in a belief system, most parents nowadays want to send their children to a school where English is the first language. This is so because the language has become synonymous with status. This is a huge reason why many in India take pride in saying they are not well versed in Hindi or Bengali or any other local languages for that matter. Why? Because it creates a sense of inferiority in them!
A teacher from Lakshmipat Singhania Academy (a Kolkata-based school) Ishita Gomes (28) feels, “Language acquisition is a major part of learning and the second language learning is always aided by our knowledge of the mother tongue. As a teacher, I feel children should be aware of their mother tongue and regional language while they’re learning national and international languages. Competency aside children can learn more languages when they are young. We should not think of it as a burden, rather a privilege, that our children have access to such rich cultural heritage and encourage the learning and growth of indigenous languages.”
In India, students studying in informal schools always have to make private arrangements in order to learn their native language because, in most of the schools, the medium of teaching is English. Schools need to push native languages as communication priority.
“History stands as a witness that languages were developed for communication and that all languages are interconnected. So a particular language becoming a barrier to the other is completely invalid in my opinion. As I have been connected to many aspects of communication like advertising to cinema and theatre, I feel that there is no harm in knowing many languages but one should know their mother language. It is the wrong belief system that contributes to the fact that language and status of an individual are connected. Even I have come across certain challenges, but I feel my home language is my strength,” says Priyanka Saha (27), a theatre artist by profession who belongs to Bengali community.
In the times of globalization, focus on native language is diminishing slowly and this is likely because of clerical temperament. People want to focus on the foreign languages more as they benefit them in some way or other.
A senior faculty member in the University of Calcutta, Aishwarya Biswas teaches Pali language and Buddhist Narrative literature. She says, “Pali is well preserved in Sri Lanka but it has Vedic roots. In 2006, when I started teaching Pali at the Calcutta University, there were about 10 students, then slowly many students started to take interest in these subjects, but after 2011, the number started to decline again. Most of the students were from Bangladesh and few were from Sri Lanka. There is a need to revive these languages because that contributes to the culture of our nation.”
Many people in India believe that learning a language is important because it may cater to commercial needs of an individual.
“While pursuing my masters in Sanskrit, people always discouraged me saying that this language is of no use and I was asked to learn English instead so that I can get a good job. What they don’t understand is that I wanted to learn Sanskrit and it was out of love for the language. I wanted to understand the culture of my nation and not how it will benefit me professionally,” says a B.Ed student Debdutta Mondal (26), who hails from Balurghat.
Parents want their children to learn foreign languages efficiently since childhood because they have a preconceived notion that doing this sets their children class apart and secure their future with a good job prospect. Due to this, the true meaning of learning a language is lost somewhere.
A non-profit organization Wikitongues is fighting the threat of global language loss. It says, there is a possibility that more than half of the 7,000 languages spoken and signed today are expected to vanish in less than a century.
A native language forms the base of communication for development for any human, yet it seems we all are trying hard to lose a language and it is no less than a disaster.
When you lose your native language, you lose your stories with it as well!