When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Bad Language Politics In India: Why Modi Wants To Demote English

The BJP wants to turn back to clock by imposing Hindi on south and northeastern India and eliminating English.

Indian PM Modi in a classroom in Narur, India
Indian PM Modi in a classroom in Narur, India
*Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd


A few days ago, I was giving lectures around the Silicon Valley, in California. The IT hub of the world, the Silicon Valley is the site of several pioneering endeavors in the recent past — Apple, Google and so on — and various innovations in the field of electronics which spurred the internet revolution.

South Indians working in different fields ranging from IT to electronic engineering in the Silicon Valley outnumber north Indians. Representation of Indians from the Hindi-cow belt in any one of the major IT and electronic companies is meager. The top executives of two of the biggest IT companies in the United States — Satya Nadendla and Sundar Pichai — are from south India. Why? Not because of Hindi, but English.

South Indians, apart from learning their regional language — Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu or Kannada — learned English with more emphasis. The movement to learn only two languages at the level of school education by entirely avoiding Hindi was led by Tamil Nadu because of E.V. Ramaswamy Naickers' anti-Hindi Dravida Khazagam Movement.

Kerala developed its own model of advancing English medium education by negating Hindi because of the presence of a large number of Christian English medium schools. Telugu states and Karnataka were also influenced by the models of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The first Dalit president of India, K.R.Narayanan, and the first Dalit chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, came from Kerala. These men were not simply handpicked but had built a name for themselves before reaching high positions. Why? Not because of Hindi, but English.

They have plans to turn the clock back.

Now the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has taken a new step to introduce English medium teaching in all government schools with one compulsory Telugu subject, which no North Indian chief minister would dare to do. Gujarat has very poor levels of English education. The educational development patterns in South India are far higher than those of any state in north India and more so than in the Hindi-Cow belt.

Additionally, the youth from the northeastern states have secured entry into some of the best educational institutions due to their English medium education and, in the next few decades, are likely to lead in many fields if English continues to be their primary medium. The RSS and the BJP view this development unfavorably and any attempt to impose Hindi in the northeast will be unwelcome.

Amit Shah and the BJP, however, have plans to turn the clock back and impose Hindi on south India and the north-east and eliminate English, thereby bringing the whole country down to the educational level and standard of the Hindi-cow belt. Only then will the BJP have accomplished their goal of establishing a Hindu-Hindi Rashtra.

I am skeptical of their denial regarding the imposition of Hindi — which has been a long-standing agenda of the BJP and the RSS — despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a Sept. 22 visit to Houston, Texas, attempted to assuage fears about Amit Shah's recent remarks. For greater impact, the prime minister could have clarified this issue while he was in India instead of choosing to address it in a foreign country.

Classroom in Bengaluru, India — Photo: Nikhita S

The BJP's long-term goal of establishing Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan nationhood and slowly proposing a change in the name of the nation from India — the Bharat as it exists in the preamble of the constitution — to Hindustan is well known.

In this whole scheme, Pakistan is the model and competition with the theocratic and backward Muslim nations is the direction. The competition is not with China or South Africa, both of which have made significant headway with a spirit of global competition with Europe and America. Their focus on learning English is like ours in south India.

Language is a key link in modernization and also in the post-modernization phase. Former French colonies in Africa are not insisting on promoting education in their native languages and are slowly shifting from even French to English. Their economic growth is faster now because of their global integration with English language communication and techno-economy development.

The BJP and RSS leaders do not have any serious understanding of the global direction of linguistic and cultural spheres. Even in Israel, which the BJP and RSS venerate, pushing for English education, apart from Hebrew, is a common cultural shift.

In India, the entire industrial class that finances the BJP and the RSS hardly cares for Hindi. The linguistic and cultural class difference in north India is far greater than it is in south India. In the south, all sections have realized the need for learning English along with their regional languages. Hence the linguistic and cultural gap is narrowing while in north India it remains wide and the poverty of economic and cultural resources is stark.

Can Amit Shah or the RSS force all the top industries that are running global standard English medium schools for the children of the rich to shift to Hindi medium in north India? Can Amit Shah coerce his party leaders into sending their children in the north and south to Hindi medium schools? Whom exactly does Shah want to impose the learning of Hindi on in south India and the northeast? Clearly, this proposal is only applicable to poor children in villages who study at government schools.

The scientific world is treating all this as a joke.

Dalits, OBCs and even the upper Shudras must be very cautious regarding the sentimental language discourse being propounded by the Hindutva forces. Their children are only now catching up with modern civilizational and globalized cultures. If they allow themselves to get carried away with Hindutva fantasies of one nation, one language and one culture, they risk slipping back into medieval poverty, ignorance and inequality.

Comparing the scientific tempers of people in the Hindi-cow belt and south India, it is evident that the absence of superstition, ignorance and exploitation in south India have contributed to an atmosphere conducive for scientific thinking.

Knowledge levels and assertion for social, economic and political equality in south India is much higher. A child who learns a language of global communication, which is rich in its vocabulary, would have better confidence and knowledge than a child who is fluent in a language that is spoken by a small group of people or one small region.

The BJP and the RSS are already inflicting a lot of damage to universities by weakening the study of social and natural sciences. Their belief that puranic science and mythology books will engender knowledge of all the sciences is laughable. They deploy fake scientists as DNA and archeological science specialists and declare that all theories of human migration by global scientists are wrong. The scientific world is treating all this as a joke. Now their politicians are trying to tell we must learn Hindi by giving up all other languages only then the Akhand Bharat will become the land of gold and silver.

All south Indians, fortunately, rebelled against Amit Shah's absurd Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan theory. To keep our children's future safe, we must stick to a two-language formula like Tamil Nadu and strengthen our scientific temper so that India does not get colonized by fast-developing countries like China again.

*The author is a political theorist, social activist and writer.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

eyes on the U.S.

Eyes On U.S. — California, The World Is Worried About You

As an Italian bestseller explores why people are fleeing the Golden State, the international press also takes stock of unprecedented Silicon Valley layoffs. It may be a warning for the rest of the world.

Photo of a window pane with water droplets reflecting Facebook's thumb up logo, with one big thumb down in the background

Are you OK, Meta?

Ginevra Falciani and Bertrand Hauger


For as long as we can remember, the world has seen California as the embodiment of the American Dream.

Today, this dream may be fading — and the world is taking notice.

A peek at the Italian list of non-fiction best-sellers in 2022 includes California by Francesco Costa, a book that looks to explain why 340,000 people moved out of the state last year, causing a drop in its population for the first time ever.

To receive Eyes on U.S. each week in your inbox, sign up here.

Why are all these people leaving a state that on paper looks like the best place in the world to live? Why are stickers with the phrase “Don't California my Texas” attached to the back of so many pick-up trucks?

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest