white black legal international law journal ISSN: 2581-8503

Peer-Reviewed Journal | Indexed at Manupatra, HeinOnline, Google Scholar & ROAD




Authored By - Tanisha Diwakar

& Anik Majumder


Imperialist perception of language and its remnants in Indian society

It was in the 1830s when English was first introduced into the Indian education system. Thomas Babington, more commonly known as Lord Macaulay, had a significant role in this. Macaulay’s Minute on Education was founded on the notion that higher morals and ethics are inculcated through education imparted in English, which hence, made the language superior to any other native tongue. Even though his Minute also credited the historic and literary importance of Sanskrit and Arabic, he mentions that they were limited. Considered to be racially motivated, there has been a lot of discourse about Macaulay’s depiction of Indian languages and practices. A substantial amount of truth confirms this notion. The colonial rulers bore an excellent amount of contempt for Indian languages, a trait that has been internalized by several of our countrymen. Disregarding the vernacular and over-glorifying the colonizer’s language is prevalent in educational institutions even today. 


The need for a common language, coupled with the world’s rapid globalization, called for a tongue that could be spoken by one and all. Surprisingly, the leftover imperialist notions led English to become the prima facie in India, irreversibly engulfing our life and senses. Indians have come to correlate English with prosperity and success. It is no surprise, therefore, that the language has established itself as a language of the elite and the regime. The destitute, eager to escape their destitution, look upon English as their saviour and the ever-exorbitant private education as their foe. Owing to such wealth discrepancies, the vast majority of the country needs to gain knowledge of a foreign language. A language barrier such as this has led to an impenetrable gap in the society, a class divide that and by cannot be ignored. 


As one delves further into society, the divide deepens and makes way for linguistic discrimination and subsequent loss of opportunities owing to what can only be constituted as a bias towards the colonizer’s tongue. A 2014 report[1] from the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy in India found that men in India who spoke fluent English earned 34 percent higher wages than those who only had a limited amount of fluency. The divide also finds its place in different social situations - from the friends we make to the media we consume, all of it is determined from the very moment you enroll in a primary school pertaining to your preference, or rather, your finance. 

Attempt at Preservation of Vernaculars with the help of New Education Policy,2020

Presently, circumstances have reached a critical juncture. As was mentioned above, India’s obsession with English is slowly but steadily leading towards a country with lesser cultural heritage and value, with our languages inching towards extinction. Regrettably, India has lost over 220 languages in the last 50 years due to a lack of proper attention, deliberation, and protection of the same. UNESCO has even declared[2]    a total of 197 Indian languages as ‘endangered’, making India top the list of countries with the highest figure of dialects impending extinction.  


Decolonization is still a very relevant topic of discussion because of the omnipresence of the English language, leading to the endangerment of our very own vernaculars, clearly showcasing our reliance on western templates and the perpetual imperialist conditions that we collectively refuse to grow out of.


 Our government realizes this reality and is working towards protecting our heritage as can be seen by our New Education Policy[3] (hereafter referred to as NEP), 2020. The NEP has evidently been brought into existence to protect Indian culture from the effects of colonization which has made vernacular languages hold a lower stature than deserved in India.


Section 22[4]  of the NEP deals with the Promotion of Indian Languages, Arts, and Culture which gives us an insight into the true purpose of this act. Section 22.1[5] of the act states, “India is a treasure trove of culture, developed over thousands of years and manifested in the form of arts, works of literature, customs, traditions, linguistic expressions, artefacts, heritage sites, and more. Crores of people from around the world partake in, enjoy, and benefit from this cultural wealth daily, in the form of visiting India for tourism, experiencing Indian hospitality, purchasing India’s handicrafts and handmade textiles, reading the classical literature of India, practicing yoga and meditation, being inspired by Indian philosophy, participating in India’s unique festivals, appreciating India’s diverse music and art, and watching Indian films, amongst many other aspects..” 


This passage displays immense patriotic sentiments and deserving respect for our country’s diverse culture, something we must take pride in. It indicates that our government recognizes and admits to the effects of colonisation which still pose a serious threat to our legacy. The administration has aimed to convert this issue into a top priority for the nation to work towards. 22.4[6], 22.5[7] and 22.6[8] of the NEP go on to relate our language to our culture and explains how there is an immediate need to protect the same by taking measures to preserve and promote our culture’s languages. Our prime minister has reportedly always promoted the use of vernacular languages, even in science-based communications as it is his pertinent belief that it would develop a deep love for the subject in the youth of our country. He has also never failed to mention how language should not act as a barrier but instead be a facilitator. He emphasized the significance of using ‘mother tongue’ while educating underprivileged children while giving a speech about the NEP on August 15, 2020 at the Red Fort.


Criticisms for New Education Policy,2020

While the thought process behind NEP is quite essential and flawless, it still needs to consider several other variable factors that will be mentioned further, making it impractical in the real world as its implementation will be unsuccessful and antithetical to its initial aim.

The rights of the minorities and the oppressed in our nation have, since the beginning of our constitution, been the trigger point for wanting to recognize various mother tongues as a channel of instruction and teaching. While this is the case, the NEP sees the use of mother tongue for instructions as a resource to improve the outcome of learning, as many studies have proved. The main issue with this perception is the failure to acknowledge the linguistic diversity which exists in India. The appropriate authorities need to establish which languages will be further used as a medium of instruction. This is a challenging task as there are 19500 languages and dialects spoken in our nation. To believe this can be determined with little pushback is wishful thinking. The ‘mother tongue’ and ‘home language’ as used in Section 22.10[9]  of the NEP are not correctly defined as well but it is established that for something to qualify as a mother tongue, it requires over 10,000 speakers for the same[10], and if the requirement is not fulfilled the language is then labelled as one of minority, as mentioned in our census. So, the NEP policy by using ‘mother tongue’ creates a very certain disadvantage for minority language speakers as they will be left out of this new policy, the very same one that was made to uplift them. This can be tackled if the definition of ‘mother tongue’ is made wider but the same will also cause several other issues to come into light. In major cities like Mumbai and Delhi which have been seen to have a constant population inflow from various states, many students will consider their mother tongue to be unlike the other majority of the condition causing heightened confusion and highlighting the subjective nature of a ‘home language’. Such a vague policy will actually lead to imposing specific majority languages on children unwilling to receive the same.


We must remember that for marginalised groups, English acts as a means of equality to opportunities they would otherwise be denied and turned away from. This is because, for reasons that have always been known but rarely recognised, these classes have been discriminated against on the basis of dialects and languages in the past. English acts as a means to give these people a chance to be seen beyond their socio-economic status and allows them to have the much-required accessibility they have always been deprived of. The primary language for higher studies is also widely English, be it in our own country or on international platforms. These courses require a basic level of fluency in and understanding of the English language. Imposing learning in vernacular in such a widespread manner will prevent the marginalised sections of our society from being uplifted as they are less likely to have the financial backing to invest in private tuition (which can offer aid to them for better fluency in English), ultimately resulting in them being unable to understand and decipher materials in higher educational platforms. 


Thus, the NEP will be quite harmful for economically weaker sections if changes in the policy are not made. This discrimination cannot continue as the result will be the elite class continuing to hold all influential positions in society while the suppressed keep on suffering, as has been the case for years.

The Ongoing Battle Against Glorification of English

Why is it that we take so much pride in speaking our colonizer’s language? Our country is home to a whooping 121 languages[11], yet the foreigner’s tongue is recognized and respected, appreciated and applauded. Decades after our independence, we still try to appease and follow the very people who annexed our country. India’s obsession with English reeks of internalised racism, an extremely deep-rooted one. In what can only be described with disappointment, the majority of our nation believes that their native languages are far inferior to English. 


English medium schools take up the subject of vernacular languages with a grain of salt. Barring its usage during the vernacular classes, most schools prohibit the use of the native languages, going as far as to punish its students for conversing in it. A negative environment like this often creates a feeling of disregard for the ‘second language’ among its students. It is upsetting to witness judgements on intelligence based on someone’s fluency in English and even more so, when esteemed educational institutes do it. The NEP was created to tackle such scenarios. 


The importance accorded to English is causing us to lose sight of several different aspects that have defined us for centuries. The English language has overshadowed most, if not all our tongues and has left numerous mangled identities in its wake. Parents prefer to send their children to ‘English-medium’ schools regardless of the quality of education they offer because of the perception that mastering the English language ensures immeasurable success. For example, in 2017-18[12], about 14% of those who were enrolled in private schools in India’s rural areas and 19.3% in urban areas chose English medium schools (private ones, of course.) It is interesting to note that other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and China, speak and teach their own languages first and English later.


The rampant obsession that has formed around the English language in our country has ruined all opportunities for vernacular medium schools to make a difference. The language that we speak in and the one that we think in are inherently connected.





A Stride Towards Preserving Our Communal Heritage

The 2011 census in India identified around 270 mother tongues. While India is diverse in its languages, individuals prefer to speak in their native tongues, leading to a general lack of unity and cordiality. It is only humanly possible for some of these languages to simultaneously become a medium of instruction. The execution of such a feat is unimaginable for any country, let alone ours, but that does not mean that such tongues should be completely side-lined and in the long run, wiped out. The usage of vernacular languages, along with English should be encouraged in institutions, paired with a choice to take examinations in one’s preferred tongue; for at the end, it is the mother tongue that we first think, speak and write in.


India is a vast nation in which only 125 million people speak English. This figure is roughly around 10%[13] of its actual population of 1.3 billion individuals, yet, it is the vernaculars that we choose to sideline. Both personal and governmental efforts have barely been able to create a difference in the societal temperament and bias that has evolved against native tongues, but maybe, just maybe, a sliver of hope can be seen in the newer and upcoming policies that grace our country. An increasing number of media in the journalistic spheres are being publicly expressed in native languages. Newer printed written material, along with various translated media, is growing daily, helping create a sense of community and oneness amongst its readers. Owing to the accessibility of mass media, the use of vernacular languages is being popularised all over India. A survey notes[14] that between 2014 and 2017, Hindi dailies saw an increase of 45% in total readership while English dailies were up by 10%. Oriya dailies recorded the highest total readership, with a jump of 83%, followed by Telugu newspapers, which recorded 63% growth. It is often said that hope is the last thing ever lost. Our mother tongue is what we, as individuals, as a community and as a nation, relate to. It forms our unique identity, which needs to be preserved. There is a growing requirement to improve the quality of English-language education while giving our vernaculars due respect and emphasis - to meet the desires of our population while maintaining our heritage and protecting our ‘treasure trove’, our’ mother tongues’ need to be conserved. 


It is indeed a dire situation for which action is required. It is, alas, now or never. 



[1] Rema Nagarajan, English edge: Those who speak the language fluently 'earn 34% more than others': India News - Times of India, / TNN / Updated: Jan 5


[2] Moseley, Christopher, Nicolas, Alexandre, UNESCO, Atlas of the world's languages in danger, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000187026

[3] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, National Education

Policy 2020.

[4] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, (§) 22, National Education

Policy 2020.

[5] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, (§) 22.1, National Education

Policy 2020.

[6] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, (§) 22.4, National Education

Policy 2020.

[7] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, (§) 22.5, National Education

Policy 2020.

[8] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, (§) 22.6, National Education

Policy 2020.


[9] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, (§) 22.10, National Education

Policy 2020.

[10] Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, National Education

Policy 2020, https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf

[11] MuRIL: Multilingual Representations for Indian Languages, Khanuja et al. https://arxiv.org/abs/2103.10730

[12] Central Square Foundation, The ‘State of the Sector Report on Private Schools in India’, Amitabh Kant, the CEO of NITI Aayog, July 22, 2020. https://www.centralsquarefoundation.org/State-of-the-Sector-Report-on-Private-Schools-in-India.pdf

[13] Zareer Masani, English or Hinglish - which will India choose? 27 November 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20500312

[14] KPMG in India’s Media and Entertainment report, Media ecosystems: The walls fall down, 2018, https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/in/pdf/2018/09/Media-ecosystems-The-walls-fall-down.pdf


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