[Inserted update] Harini Calamur points out in her edit in DNA: The Eligibility of Language: The 2013 survey of Ethnologue, a website that catalogues the languages of the world, declared that there were 7,016 languages and dialects. In the case of India, Ethnologue has this entry “The number of individual languages listed for India is 461. Of these, 447 are living and 14 are extinct. Of the living languages, 63 are institutional, 130 are developing, 187 are vigorous, 54 are in trouble, and 13 are dying.”India seems to have got into a rut of seeing its citizens as a liability. Yet, the density of the population itself proclaims that India is a place where life can and does thrive. How is it possible that centuries of practices that allowed life to thrive are seen as so unimportant as to not merit efforts to keep alive and evolve further? How is it that our focus of language and learning is so externalized, that we are desperately applying solutions that evolved in another place to use us to build the empires of others and ignoring that which made India fertile and prosperous enough to be an attraction through the centuries? If we look at developed countries today, they all operate in languages citizens know. Be it English speaking countries or France, Germany, China, Japan… They have their traditions, they have their unique practices and indigenous knowledge. They have entire sections of the internet buzzing with active users, advanced knowledge translated effortlessly because their languages were considered important enough to make knowledge available in. Citizens do not need interpreters to seek knowledge for themselves. Compare the French or Spanish versions of Wikipedia with Hindi or Marathi. Compare the quantity and quality of education in each language. See regional WordPress users timidly using minimal installs, while Indian software coders write fancy themes and plugins in English alone. But open content volunteers are still making an effort to extend the knowledge to more and more people, while governments remain content to operate in English. It is intellectual inequality that appears to train some people for jobs, and others for joblessness. Where are the excellent educators in regional languages? Where are the efforts to raise the intellectual potential in regional languages? What would happen if there were ministries for languages at the state and center tasked with ensuring flow of information to all citizens in languages they understand? And not just regional languages, but languages of different abilities as well! Where has Doordarshan’s news for the deaf gone? Why are there no braille newspaper versions sponsored by government funds if necessary? Why can’t newspapers be forced to supply braille editions – subscription only, if necessary – and news channels forced to broadcast at least news highlights, if not more in sign language? Access to knowledge grows people. Access to knowledge in languages people understand grows more people. Imagine a country with the size of India and the size of its population able to seek and grow knowledge in the language they are at ease with. Wouldn’t our intellectual capital grow? Wouldn’t more people engage with development more effortlessly? What would happen if agricultural colleges provided translations of important knowledge in the mother tongue of farmers? If economic theories were available in every citizen’s mother tongue? Forget all that, we don’t even have laws accessible in regional languages easily. Laws citizens are expected to obey – without having access to read them to know what they say. How would lawlessness decrease, if the word of the law never reached the ears of the common man in a language he understands? In my view, more important than nitpicking about what language the government uses, it is important that excellent and advanced education be made available in regional languages. It is important that the government takes an interest in world knowledge being made available to Indians in regional languages by forming various task forces that translate it. Teams contributing translations to public sites like Wikipedia, special knowledge banks of important works in other languages and more. Language isn’t merely a symbol of unity or supremacy, it is the breathing thread that weaves citizens together. Important weaves must be woven with threads that connect people. So, the real question isn’t whether the government should tweet and update Facebook in English, Hindi or both, the real question is why official government documents are not available in ALL the regional languages of India.
Founder at Aam Janata
Vidyut has a keen interest in mass psychology and using it as a lens to understand contemporary politics, social inequality and other dynamics of power within the country. She is also into Linux and internet applications and servers and has sees technology as an important area India lacks security in.
Latest posts by Vidyut (see all)
- Open letter to the Chief Justice of India - April 13, 2019
- Nationwide Protest by NREGA workers #NREGASangharshMorcha - March 2, 2019
- Repression of Activists cannot stop the second Kisan Long March - February 16, 2019