“Indian in blood and colour but English in taste”

Spandana Datta

How the British Empire spread English language in India and its consequences today in relation to the New Education Policy 2020

India’s linguistic diversity is unmatched globally. According to a census in 1961, India has more than 1652 mother tongues belonging to five different language families. The Constitution of India recognizes twenty-two languages in the Eighth Schedule. Hindi and English are the two official languages of the Union (not to be confused with “national” language). English is one of the most noteworthy remnants of the colonial era. 

Also known as the “colonizer’s tongue”, the spread of English began with the fascination of  Europeans for India. In 1600, the East India Company was formed when a document establishing a link between India and Britain, was granted by Queen Elizabeth I. This grant permitted merchants in Britain to trade with the East, chiefly India. Subsequently, the region was dominated by the British Empire and in 1858, it became the British Empire of India. This rule lasted until 1947.

“Initially, the aim of the British was not to replace local languages and impose their tongue on Indians. They were economically ambitious. They sought control on trade routes and dismissal of other European nations”

With the development of the British supremacy, English gradually started to seep in, across the land. English was spoken mainly by East India Company’s officers, merchants, members of the administration and the military. Initially, the aim of the British was not to replace local languages and impose their tongue on Indians. They were economically ambitious. They sought control on trade routes and dismissal of other European nations who were, if not more, equally economically driven. As time went by, India became Britain’s most important colony. Ensuing this, the English language began to gain importance in the Indian subcontinent. The language mushroomed when colonial servants demanded citizens to learn the language to ease communication between Indians and the elite, ruling class. The British made an effort to grasp classical languages to consolidate power in the country. Preceding English, Persian was the language of the ruling elite in India. 

“Before the spread of English education in India, students would gain knowledge from ancient texts, scripted in regional languages. Unlike today’s system of schools, there were pathshalas, takhshalas, madrassas and tolas.”

While initially uninterested, the East India Company derived a policy imposing English as the official language for all administrative purposes. The language policies derived and imposed by the English left a notable mark on the education system. Before the spread of English education in India, students would gain knowledge from ancient texts, scripted in regional languages. Unlike today’s system of schools, there were pathshalas, takhshalas, madrassas and tolas. The gurukuls catered only to the children of upper-caste Hindus and denied education at a provincial level. In the nineteenth century, scientific advancements were taking place rapidly around the world but a lack of awareness led Indian students to rely on ancient texts for literature, art, legal and scientific knowledge. Thus far, English education had been imparted solely to upper-class European children or children of traders.

Famously known as the “Father of Modern Education in India”, Charles Grant suggested English be declared as the official language of the education system. This proposal was rejected by the governor-general of Bengal, Warren Hastings, who believed in “Oriental” learning. English education took flight in India after Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay was appointed as a law member in the council of Lord William Bentick.

“Macaulay’s idea was to create an educated elite in India. He wanted to create a class that was ‘Indian in blood and colour but English in taste’.”

Lord Macaulay considered traditional Indian education or Oriental learning inferior to the Western education system. Macaulay’s “Minute Upon Indian Education” was circulated among the masses, expressing his ideas about the education system. In Minute, he argued that support for traditional education should be withdrawn. Macaulay’s idea was to create an educated elite in India. He wanted to create a class that was “Indian in blood and colour but English in taste”.  In 1835, he introduced the English Education Act. This Act aimed to reallocate funds towards English education in the country. The British did not support education in native languages and believed that it was best to focus on the creation of an educational system governed by Western principles with English as the means of communication.

Before the implementation of the English Education Act, three colleges were set up in India on the lines of ancient Indian history. The first college set up by the East India Company, with legitimate monetary support, was Fort William College in Calcutta, modern-day Kolkata. One lakh rupees were sanctioned under the Charter Act of 1813 for the establishment of Fort William College. Macaulay was supported by Raja Ram Mohan Roy who propagated the importance of Western education, not to impose a colonial language on Indians, but to modernize Indian society. What is noteworthy is that Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s ideas of Western education were misinterpreted as “English education” by Macaulay. Thus, English was declared as the official language of the government and medium of instruction in schools and colleges. Though the Act was implemented with great hopes, the British barely put in a genuine effort to spread education.

“In 1947, post-independence, the literacy rate in India was 16% which indicates that the efforts of the British government were ultimately futile. Economic expansion was the British’s sole purpose and their education policy helped them produce cheap administrators, who would act as catalysts in the process of subjugation.” 

The act aimed to spread English among everyone but scanty sum allocation resulted in an inability to set up new educational institutes and appointing teachers, ultimately leading to a downward infiltration theory. This theory would mean that only a few members of the population would be educated and would be assigned, thus, to further educate the masses. Unfortunately, the British failed to take fruitful steps to successfully impart English education. The aim of English education was not just to ease communication, but to “modernize” and “civilize” “the savages of the Orient“. In 1947, post-independence, the literacy rate in India was 16% which indicates that the efforts of the British government were ultimately futile. Economic expansion was the British’s sole purpose and their education policy helped them produce cheap administrators, who would act as catalysts in the process of subjugation. 

Years after the culmination of the British era, Indians fell for the colonizer’s tongue. After the British rule came to an end, many native languages were withdrawn and English was taught in schools. Consequently, over the years, many Indian tribes and languages are now endangered or extinct. Children were taught an adventitious language and were expected to fit into the Euro-Indian culture. This has led to a negligence of individuality among students and has fuelled “herd mentality” across the nation. Though English was taught as an attempt to civilise the “Orient” by the “Occent”, it led to a huge gap between those who are English speakers and those who aren’t.

“An English speaking individual in India is ‘educated’ and ‘sophisticated’, which highlights the inequality linked to colonialism and now, globalization. English has detached us from our unique cultural identity which  links innumerable cultures with each other.”

English has given birth to a different kind of social inequality across the globe. The number of English speaking people is greater in India, as compared to Great Britain. An English speaking individual in India is “educated” and “sophisticated”, which highlights the inequality linked to colonialism and now, globalization. English has detached us from our unique cultural identity which links innumerable cultures with each other. 

With the National Education Policy (NEP) coming into play, we might see a focus on education being imparted in one’s native language. The NEP will offer an Indian student to learn languages of their choice till secondary school. Realistic and applied education is the need of the hour which, according to research, is best learned in one’s own mother tongue. Research backs one’s mother tongue as a medium of instruction in schools being more effective than a foreign language like English. Experts like Meeta Sengupta, though slightly apprehensive, consider the implementation of the three-language policy under the NEP 2020, “as a step in the right direction”. In a recent interview with The Hindustan Times, India’s Human Resource and Development Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank spoke at length about the New Education Policy. He clarified that education in English will not be completely shunned and no particular language will be imposed on any state. A three-language choice will be offered, out of which two shall be native languages. 

“the language of the world (and the internet) is still English and proficiency in it is highly essential for those who aim to work in BPOs, multinational companies or even in our country’s government sector.”

That said, although NEP appears to be inclusive, there are structural barriers that would only contribute to widening the gap between English and non-English speakers. The policy does not define what is meant by “mother tongue/local language”. In a linguistically diverse country like India, this could mean different things and especially to migrants who might have moved to another state or region. Moreover, the language of the world (and the internet) is still English and proficiency in it is highly essential for those who aim to work in BPOs, multinational companies or even in our country’s government sector.

125 million people i.e. 10% of the Indian population are English speakers and mainly control the portion of wealth and cash flow in the country. A lack of good English education, which incidentally is accessible only to this upper and upper-middle class, creates a huge gap between the rich and poor. In offices, whether private or public, spoken English is a necessity, leaving non-English speakers at a disadvantage. Prestigious schools in India, especially those established during the colonial era provide for children of the rich, english-speaking privileged sections of our society. Linguistic experts consider the spread of English universally, a unique kind of imperialism. Opportunities globally are linked to English. 

Unequivocally, English has facilitated and resulted in oppression and inequality, worldwide. One’s mother tongue and English should be placed on the same pedestal. Not only will this help preserve India’s cultural diversity, but it will also present a plethora of opportunities for skilled individuals on a global platform. English must be treated as a skill and not a measure of one’s potential or worth.

Spandana is an English literature graduate who loves writing and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

The Revelation of the Unspoken

Siddhi Shah

An insight into the UN Women Ad Campaign “the Autocomplete Truth” which exposed the stark gender inequality and discrimination that exists today.

Over the past decade, the way in which women are presented in the media has come a long way. With women-centric films and increased focus on gender equality by the government and corporates alike we have seen greater acceptance of feminism. However, there exists a deeply entrenched assumption and stereotype of a “woman”, as a mother, daughter, homemaker, or caregiver, who is responsible for the household.  

“The assumption of women as the one responsible for the household is further emphasised when advertisements related to cooking, cleaning, washing products predominantly feature women.”

This is because we live in a world that is surrounded by prejudiced visuals, imagery, and other representations that help us perceive our surroundings. A factor that contributes to the human lens and the representation of the worldly domain is advertising. It forms a vast superstructure within our human existence and has a major influence on our day to day lives.  The assumption of women as the one responsible for the household is further emphasised when advertisements related to cooking, cleaning, washing products predominantly feature women. In today’s time, it is important to curate advertisements that bring a positive change in society by addressing the issue of gender inequality. 

The United Nations organisation for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women or UN Women works for women empowerment by raising awareness of biases that exist against women and highlighting the long term imbalance of inequality. To address the issue with advertising,  it created a campaign called “The Autocomplete Truth” in 2013. 

“Google searches starting with “women should” depicted in the advertisement showed regressive attitudes about women and how they should be in order to be accepted in society.”

The Autocomplete truth was an exemplary campaign that provided insight into the discrimination that women face across the world. What made it unique was the fact that the campaign collated stereotypes that exist against women and responded to them. Google searches starting with “women should” depicted in the advertisement showed regressive attitudes about women and how they should be in order to be accepted in society. The search gave autocomplete results like “women should be in the kitchen”, “women should be slaves”, and “women should not have rights”. 

With the campaign, UN Women tried to highlight the sexism that exists even today. It challenged the higher social, political, and legal rights that men have enjoyed over women. Gender equality in terms of all peripheries is the major message that was emanated to the audience. 

“What stood out for me was the curation of the google search bar showing auto-completed results on the mouths of the four women, depicting how women have been silenced over the years”

I believe the UN campaign gave a voice and strength to women. What stood out for me was the curation of the google search bar showing auto-completed results on the mouths of the four women, depicting how women have been silenced over the years. It evoked the viewers to look at the grim reality of the prejudice and discrimination against women that continues even after decades of global progress on gender equality. It also showed how women are perceived on a global platform. Are women only supposed to be in the kitchen? Are they only supposed to serve men? Don’t they deserve the same rights economically and socially as men? 

“The Autocomplete truth had visibility of 755 million people globally and was tweeted by accounts of official authorities of more than 50 countries”

The campaign in the digital age created its trend with hashtags and left impressions online. It emerged victorious with 1 billion and 224 million impressions on Twitter. It also created #womenshould hashtag empowering women and acknowledging their achievements. The Autocomplete truth had visibility of 755 million people globally and was tweeted by accounts of official authorities of more than 50 countries. It became the most shared promotion of 2013 on Adweek.

The campaign got a lot of positive feedback. It had a profound impact that was reflected in headlines across the globe in leading news and media companies like CNBC, The Guardian, Times of India, Buzzfeed, and Cosmopolitan. The campaign also served as a helpful educational campaign for women empowerment. Companies such as Bajaj Allianz made a campaign after the hashtag to support UN women and it’s global equality purpose. This campaign served as an important medium to make consumers of internet media see that women are more than just being responsible for the household.

“The campaign made viewers question the culture of oppression that has persisted through generations”

The Autocomplete Truth campaign made viewers question the culture of oppression that has persisted through generations. It was positioned to provoke a widespread reaction from the new-age audience, to personify the positives of globalisation in society. It asked the audience what they were doing to make a change to the sexist perceptions of women that have been prevailing for years. In 2020, this campaign is still relevant as we see women across the globe bearing the burden of housework, along with working from home and being the primary caregivers. With Covid lockdowns, there is evidence of drastic increases in reports of domestic violence against women. It is important, now more than ever to look back at the Autocomplete Truth campaign from 2013 and challenge and question the inequality that persists today.   

“It’s time for each one of us to call out sexism at our workplace, educational institutions, and our homes”

I believe that the Autocomplete Truth Campaign revealed the patriarchal bigotry that has been encrypted in our society for generations. It has been a powerful attempt to challenge the power dynamics that exist even today. We need to build a  society in which women are equal to men in all situations and at all times. It’s time for each one of us to call out sexism at our workplace, educational institutions, and our homes. That is when the Autocomplete Campaign campaign will succeed.

Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.

Images from Ad series for UN Women by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai