The Ministry of Education in November 2021 constituted a high-powered committee, the Bharatiya Bhasha Samiti, for the promotion of Indian languages, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Sanskrit proponent and Padma Shri awardee Chamu Krishna Shastry. The committee is tasked with preparing an action plan for the growth of Indian languages as prescribed under National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which requires mother tongue to be the medium of instruction in schools and higher education institutions. He spoke to The Hindu’s Jagriti Chandraon the roadmap being readied by the panel.
Q / The committee will soon complete one year. How much ground have you covered so far?
A / We are making a study of the current situation of languages in schools, higher education institutions and other domains of language use, such as jobs. We have found that there are 35 mother tongues as mediums of instruction, and as part of the three-language formula, 160 languages as well as mother tongues are taught (for example, Hindi is a mother tongue and a language, while Garhwali is a mother tongue but not a language). The first roadblock in implementing NEP is providing study material, and our focus for the first year is to prepare books in the languages of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution from Class 1 to the post-graduate level in all streams of education such as Science, Humanities and Commerce.
A / We are actively engaging with regulatory bodies, universities and professors and providing assistance in training, and conducting workshops and orientation programmes. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has readied 1st year engineering books in 12 languages and in all 270 books have been published. Work on 2nd year books is underway. Similarly, the Bar Council of India in association with Bharatiya Bhasha Samiti and UGC has constituted a committee under former CJI Sharad Bobde for preparing legal textbooks in Indian languages. The Madhya Pradesh government’s Health Ministry and the State’s Medical Council have also readied 1st year books [in Hindi]. Recently, Shastra University in Thanjavur announced that they will produce 75 books in 75 subjects in Tamil in higher education.
Q / What will be the key focus areas for promoting Indian languages?
A / Apart from textbooks, we also need to prepare teachers to be bilingual. There are nearly 1 crore teachers at school level, of whom approximately 30 lakh are language teachers. In higher educational institutions there will be around 2-3 lakh teachers. Then there is a need to ensure employment opportunities, and not just teaching jobs for language students. We have held discussions with the Chairman of the National Skill Development Corporation on incorporating languages as a qualification. There is also a need for ensuring greater visibility for Indian languages and so the Commerce Ministry can think of different languages on wrappers [for retail items] and not just English. The health sector can think similarly for medicines. Talks are underway on these issues.
A / There are seven needs for the development of a language and these are speakers; using it as a medium of instruction or communication or entertainment or science and technology; developing contemporary literature or content such as current developments, thoughts or daily creation of knowledge globally in Indian languages; there is also a need for a continuous process of generation of new words; fifth, we need languages to adapt to technology as we have seen that 2,000 to 3,000 languages that didn’t adapt to print technology disappeared; sixth, we need teaching and learning material; and finally we need patronage, which can be from corporates, society and governments. This is how we are visualising the future plan.
Q / What kind of job opportunities are being looked at?
A / Multinationals as well as corporates and governments need to communicate in local languages in order to increase their reach. Only 10.4% know English, rest do not. So, MNCs will need to give instructions and create publicity in local languages, which is a huge opportunity for translators. It will be a very big business. Secondly, we will need interpreters. Thirdly, in tourism there will be a need for translators where say someone is traveling from Ayodhya in UP to Hampi in Karnataka or vice versa. Fourthly, tech. tools such as apps are now being developed in local languages which will open more avenues.
Q / But there is resistance from certain non-Hindi States, who say that the NEP 2020 imposes Hindi.
A / Until now, none of the education policies had such a strong emphasis on ensuring education in Indian languages. It is the first time in NEP that we are seeing a strong push for Indian languages. The term Indian languages has been used 30 times. There is also flexibility given to States to choose the languages for the three language formula. No language has been prescribed. States will decide, they have the freedom to choose. It will be a democratic and decentralised process. There is no imposition of any language.
A / That is a great paradigm shift in language teaching. The other paradigm shift is mother tongue—primary and higher education should be through mother tongue, along with three options which are regional language or local language or home language. These choices are also given.
Q / Under the NEP, a mother tongue will be the medium of instruction till Class 5 or preferably till Class 8. How will it be implemented, say, in Delhi, where there is a plurality of languages?
A / I will answer this question in a different way. Before English, was there ever any conflict over languages? Borders of the States kept expanding or contracting, and there were new kings, but was there a dispute over language?
A / There were also no arrangements for translations before the arrival of Britishers. We know this because there are no translations for texts available [from that period]. There are many commonalities in Indian languages — their phonology is similar, 50%-60% of the vocabulary is common, sentence structure is common, subject-object-verb pattern is common, there is a common literary source, and similar aspiration, as a result of which people were able to understand different languages. There was no wall between languages. Indian society was a multi-lingual one. Only English elite class is monolingual, villages are still multi-lingual. There is a need to inculcate “bhasha prem” (love for languages) .
Q / Since the NEP says either mother tongue or regional language can be medium of instruction, does that mean Tamil will be the medium of instruction in Tamil Nadu as the dominant mother tongue?
A / This is the image created about Tamil. Weavers in Sivakasi speak Saurashtri, the Gounder community in Coimbatore speaks Telugu. There are also Malayalam and Kannada speaking populations in Tamil Nadu. The State's population is six crore and 30-35% of them speak other languages.
A / Even Tamil has 12-13 different dialects. But for some special reasons, Tamil Nadu has only promoted Tamil. Now they will face problems [in implementing NEP] for only learning Tamil. Tamil is also on the wane in the State. In 2010, there were 75% Tamil medium students in Class 12, and in 2020, this figure is down to 55%. Tamil is also [on the decline] because of their policy. They have to change their mindset.
Q / What plans do you have for promoting the Hindi and Sanskrit languages?
A / Hindi needs to be promoted just like all other Indian languages. Nearly 50% of citizens speak Hindi, so that is an advantage. Where there is English medium, it should be replaced with Hindi. There should be a desire or intent to learn Hindi, which will unify the country.
A / Sanskrit so far has been taught through either English or Hindi, and the big push in NEP is for teaching Sanskrit through Sanskrit. The Central Sanskrit University will be developing simple, standard Sanskrit which can be used for medium of instruction and communication. There is also Sanskrit Knowledge Systems, or reservoir of knowledge in Sanskrit texts, which will be researched and published and made accessible.
A / NEP says all language institutions should be multi-disciplinary. So, Sanskrit should be made available along with medical, STEM, management courses to ensure mainstreaming of Sanskrit.