This time I muse about how decolonisation would work in the Indian context. While the UK universities are actively using decolonial approaches, I wonder if that is the case with Indian universities. Of course, decolonial approaches in India would look very different. The context would differ in each country. The context thus becomes crucial. In the UK, a decolonial approach implies reckoning with its colonial past and how it shapes UK in the contemporary scenario. What would a decolonial approach in India look like? India has to a large extent shed some of its colonial baggage and with political scenario changing in India toward a more right-wing one, politicians are no longer only blaming British for India’s woes or changing British names of streets or cities (as was the trend in Mumbai for some time) in a bid to usher in development or more ‘Indian’ ways of existence. The ‘Other’ has now become anyone who does not side with the government in power: so it could be just about anyone in India.
Despite the sweeping political divides, colonial constructs, globalisation and now neo-colonial/neo capitalist impulses continue to shape who we are. A big part of this is of course the English language. English has and continues to rhold sway as one that will help in greater social and economic mobility and improve career prospects. English continues to be widely spoken in Indian urban areas and also becomes an important common language given the country’s linguistic diversity. Interestingly, recent attempts to impose a national language in India have also met with a lot of opposition, where people would prefer English over Hindi, given the politics of power behind the latter’s imposition. So English is not just seen as a colonial langauge anymore and debates about the validity of English have shifted from how it used to be in post-Independence India. English has further proliferated because of the growth of the internet and increasingly smart phones, that make the language even more accessible for large swathes of the population: urban or rural. English is definitely here to stay. And of course, we all know about how Indians have created a different kind of English: the Indian English and how it merges with other regional languages: Hinglish for instance. I as well speak more Hinglish and English in general than any form of pure Hindi which is my mother tongue. So to echo what Chimamanda Adichie says in her seminal interview, Indians do and have taken ownership of the English language. This is also seen in the ways in which English writing in India has gained immense popularity.
But then should a decolonial approach start with languages? Should we not speak in English? Should we discard that language? That is inevitably difficult to do, because of the global world we live and how English education in general is given greater privilege in India, and how English medium education does indeed open up more career opportunities given how privatisation and neo-capitalism has seeped into India, particularly urban India.
The National Education Policy’s thrust toward multilingual learning and teaching not just at the school level but at the university level was quite a unique approach. Study of different languages in English medium universities is generally not given that much support. Most universities that run regional languages departments have fallen into a state of systematic neglect. Schools in general across India do already have a policy of three language study, however the numbers of regional language medium schools has diminished and almost disappeared (at least in urban areas).
The importance of being multilingual or bilingual are many and the world is only just realising its benefits which again goes to show the entrenched beliefs about the primacy English holds globally. This does not mean that its primacy has reduced; in fact racial abuses toward those speak their mother tongues or speak English imperfectly still continues in countries where hyper nationalistic discourses are being associated with the English language.
So English reigns supreme in India in education, in career prospects, in offices (especially the private sector in urban India) while the NEP pushes for multilingual education in universities. So how do we then decolonise universities through language?