Evil wrought by the Foreign Medium
To give millions knowledge of English is to enslave them. The foundation that Macaulay laid of education has enslaved us. I do not suggest that he had any such intention, but that has been the result…. Is it not a painful thing that, if I want to go to a court of justice, I must employ the English language as a medium; that, when I became a Barrister, I may not speak my mother tongue, and that someone else should have to translate to me from my own language? Is not this absolutely absurd? Is it not a sign of slavery? Am I to blame the English for it or myself? It is we, the English knowing men that have enslaved India. The curse of the nation will rest not upon the English but upon us.
Hind Swaraj, 1908
The strain of receiving instruction through a foreign medium is intolerable. Our children alone can bear it, but they have to pay for it. They become unfit to bear any other strain. For this reason our graduates are mostly without stamina, weak, devoid of energy, diseased and mere imitators. Originally, research, adventure, ceaseless effort, courage, dauntlessness and such other qualities have become atrophied. We are thus incapacitated for undertaking new enterprises, and we are unable to carry them through if we undertaken any. Some who can give proof of such qualities die an untimely death…. We the English-educated classes are unfit to ascertain the true measure of the harm done by the unnatural system. We should get some idea of it if we realized how little we have reacted upon the masses.
The correspondence that should exist between the school training and the character imbibed with the mother’s milk and the training received through her sweet speech is absent when the school training is given through a foreign tongue. However pure may be his motives, he who thus snaps the cord that should bind the school-life and the home-life is an enemy of the nation. We are traitors to our mothers by remaining under such a system. The harm done goes much further. A gulf has been created between the educated classes and the uneducated masses. The latter do not know us. We do not know the former. They consider us to be ‘Saheblog’. They are afraid of us. They do not trust us…. Fortunately the educated class seems to be walking up from its trance. They experience the difficulty of contact with the masses. How can they infect the masses with their own enthusiasm for the national cause? They cannot do so through English… Owing to the barrier thus created the flow of national life suffers impediment.
The fact is that when English Occupies its proper place and the vernaculars receive their due, our minds which are today imprisoned will be set free and our brains though cultivated and trained, and yet being fresh, will not feel the weight of having to learn English as a language. And is my belief that English thus learnt will be better than our English of today.
When we receive our education through the mother tongue, we should observe a different atmosphere in our homes. At present we are unable to make our wives co-partners with us. They know little of our activity. Our parents do not know what we learn. If we receive instruction through the mother tongue we should easily make our washermen, our barbers, and our family circle, not because the members of the family or the barbers are ignorant people. Their intellect is as well trained as that of the English barber. We are able to discuss intelligently with them the events of Mahabharat, Ramayana and of our holy places. For the national training flows in that direction. But we are unable to take home what we receive in our schools. We cannot reproduce before the family circle what we have learnt through the English language.
At the present moment the proceedings of our Legislative Councils are conducted in English. In many other institutions the same state of things prevails. We are, therefore, in the position of the miser who buries underground all his riches… It is bought up as a charge against us that flows from the mountains-tops during the rainy season to go to waste, and similarly treat valuable manure worth lakhs of rupees and get disease bargain. In the same manner, being crushed under the weight of having to learn English and though want of far-sightedness, we are unable to give the nation what it should receive at our hands. There is no exaggeration in this statement. It is an expression of the feelings that are raging within me. We shall have to pay dearly for our continuous disregard of the mother tongue. The nation has suffered much by reason of it. It is the first duty of the learned class now to deliver the nation from the agony – From the presidential address to the Second Gujarat Educational Conference held at Broach on October 20, 1917.
The greatest service we can render society is to free ourselves and it from the superstitious regard we have learnt to pay to the learning of the English language. It is the medium of instruction in our schools and colleges. It is becoming the lingua franca of the country. Our best thought are expressed in it…This belief in the necessity of English training has enslaved us. It has unfitted us for true national service. Were it not for force of habit, we could not fail to see that by reason of English being the medium of instruction, our intellect has been segregated; we have been engaged these past sixty years in memorizing strange words and their pronunciation instead of assimilating facts. In the place of building upon the foundation, training received from our parents, we have almost unlearnt it. There is no parallel to this in history. It is a national tragedy. The first and greatest Social Service we can render is to revert our vernaculars, to restore Hindi to its natural place as the National Language and begin carrying on all our provincial proceedings in our respective vernaculars and national proceedings in Hindi. We ought not to rest till our schools and colleges give us instruction when our legislature will debate national affairs in the vernaculars or Hindi as the case may be. Hitherto the masses have been strangers to their proceedings. The vernacular papers have tried to undo the mischief a little. But the task was beyond them. The Patrika reserves its being sarcasm, the Bengalee its learning, for ears thinkers the presence in our midst of a Tagore or a Bose or a Ray ought not to excite wonder. Yet the painful fact is that there are so few of them. – From the presidential address to the First All India Social Service Conference held at Calcutta on 27th December, 1917.
It is my considered opinion that English education in the manner it has been given has emasculated the English-educated Indian, it has put a sever strain upon imitators. The process of displacing the vernacular has been one of the saddest chapters in the British connection. Rammohan Rai would have been a great reformer, and Lokmanya Tilak would have been a greater scholar, if they had not to start with the handicap of having to think in English and transmit their thoughts chiefly in English. Their effect on their own people, marvelous as it was, would have been greater if they had been brought up under a less unnatural system. No doubt they both gained from their knowledge of the rich treasures of English literature. But these should have been accessible to them through their own vernaculars. No country can become a nation by producing a race of imitators. Think of what would have happened to the English if they had not an authorized version of the Bible. I do believe that Chaitanya, Kabir, Nanak, Guru Govindsing, Shivaji, Tilak. I know that comparisons are odious. All are equally great in their own way. But judged by the results, the effect of Rammohan and Tilak. I know that comparisons are odious. All are equally great in their own way. But judged by the results, the effect of Rammohan and Tilak on the masses is not so permanent or far-reaching as that of the others more fortunately born. Judged by the obstacles they had to surmount, they were giants, and both would have been greater by achieving results, if they had not been handicapped by the system under which they received their training. I refuse to believe that the Raja and the Lokmanya could not have thought the thoughts they did without a knowledge of the English language is necessary for imbibing ideas of liberty, and developing accuracy of thought. It should be remembered that there has been only one system of education before the country for the past fifty years, and only one medium of expression forced on the country. We have, therefore, no data before us as to what we would have been but for the education in the existing schools and colleges. This, however, we do know that India today is poorer than fifty years ago, less able to defend herself, and her children have less stamina. I need to be told that this is due to the defect in the system of Government. The system of education is its most defective part.
It was conceived and born in error, for the English rulers honestly believed the indigenous system to be worse then useless. It has been nurtured in sin, for the tendency has been to dwarf the Indian body, mind and soul.
Young India, 27-4-‘21
Reply to Tagore
...English is today studied because of its commercial and so-called political value. Our boys think, and rightly in the present circumstances that without English they cannot get Government service. Girls are taught English as a passport to marriage. I know several instances of women wanting to learn English so that they may be able to talk to Englishmen in English. I know husbands who are sorry that their wives cannot talk to them and their friends in English. I know families in which English is being made the mother tongue. Hundreds of youth believe that without a knowledge of English, freedom for India is practically impossible. The canker has so eaten into the society that in many cases, the only meaning of Education is a knowledge of English. All these are for me signs of our slavery and degradation. It is unbearable to me that the vernaculars should be crushed and starved as they have been. I cannot tolerate the idea of parents writing to their children, or husbands writhing to their wives, not in their vernacular but in great Poet. I do not want my house to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave. I refuse to put the necessary strain of learning English upon my sisters for the sake of false pride or questionable social advantage. I would have our young men and young women world languages as thy like, and the expect them to give the benefits of their learning to India and to the world, like a Bose, a Roy or the Poet himself. But I would not have a single Indian to forget, neglect or be ashamed of his mother tongue, or to feel that he or she cannot think or express the best thoughts in his or her own vernacular. Mine is not a religion of the prison-house. It has room for the least among God’s creation. But it is against insolence, pride of race, religion or colour.
Young India, 1-6-‘21
The foreign medium has cause brain fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family o the masses. The Foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own land. It is the greatest tragedy of the existing system. The foreign medium has prevented the growth of our vernaculars. If I had the powers of a depot, I would today stop the tuition of our boys and girls through a foreign medium, and require all the teachers and professors on pain dismissal to introduce the change forthwith. I would not wait for the preparation of textbooks. They will follow the change. It is an evil that needs a summary remedy.
Young India, 1-9-‘21
But for the fact that the only higher education, the only education worth the name has been received by us through the English medium, there would be no need to prove such a self-evident preposition that the youth of a nation t remain a nation must receive instruction including the highest in its own vernacular or vernaculars. Surely, it is a self-demonstrated proposition that the youth of a nation cannot keep or establish a living contact with the masses unless their knowledge is received and assimilated through a medium understood by the people. Who can calculate the immeasurable loss sustained by the nation owing to thousands of its young men having been obliged to waste years in mastering a foreign language and its idiom of which in their daily life they have the least use and in learning which they had to neglect their own mother tongue and their won literature? There never was a greater superstition than that a particular language can be incapable of expansion of expressing abstruse or scientific ideas. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.
Among the many evils of foreign rule, this blighting imposition of a foreign medium upon the youth of the country will be counted by history as one of the greatest, It has sapped the energy of the nation, it has shortened the lives of the pupils it .It ahs estranged them form the masses, it has made education unnecessarily expensive, If this process is still persisted in, it bids fair to rob the nation of its soul. The sooner, therefore, educated India shakes itself free from the hypnotic spell of the foreign medium, the better it would be for them and the people.
Young India, 5-7-‘28