It is true that even 67 years after the Indian Independence, those with fluent English enjoy higher status. Till some time back, most IAS and IFS officers belonged to affluent families. Not only in academics but also in cultural, social and sports fields, English-speaking people excelled. Many who had the abilities were looked down upon simply because their expression in English was poor. Only the urban rich and affluent had access to good English-medium schools. Others who studied in regional languages, especially in rural areas, could hardly make it to the top. In progressive states such as Maharashtra, West Bengal and Punjab, bright vernacular students could achieve heights after struggling hard, but not in the rural Hindi states. UPSC was never in the reach of such students. Even after central governments decision to hold UPSC exams in regional languages, the dominance of English-medium students continued.
However, with the spread of internet, awareness about civil services grew. More and more youngsters even from rural areas started preparing, taking advantage of the available option of medium. As a result, at least at the state level, we find youngsters from backward regions occupying posts in administration. Yet lack of proficiency over the English language continues to deny them better opportunities in their career. Probably that was the reason CSAT was introduced in preliminary tests in 2011. Naturally, students uncomfortable with English see it as an obstacle right at the entry level. Support by opposition parties for scrapping CSAT was more for cornering the government than long-term interest of students. One must understand the issue in totality. English remains the medium for higher studies in our country. It continues to dominate administration as laws, procedures and records are maintained in English. In the last 30 years, Hindi has emerged as an equally important medium of communication, but just that! In non-Hindi states, it is either the regional language or English that is used for all government functioning. It is worth noting that the anti-CSAT agitation was dominated by Hindi students. In reaction, many southern state leaders alleged it to be an attempt by BJP-led government to impose Hindi on them. This could lead to a situation of Hindi or English, which is dangerous to the homogeneity of the country.
Growing literacy and awareness in rural areas are a welcome development. Those who have the talent and aspiration to occupy high administrative posts must be encouraged. Lack of proficiency in English should not deter their progress. After a long time we find boys and girls from the remotest areas of the country shining in all fieldseducational, cultural, social and sports. Higher education and bigger opportunities no more remain restricted to the urban rich. But can those who excel make further progress without English The answer comes from a great sportsman our country has producedKapil Dev.
Before Kapil Dev appeared on the horizon of Indian cricket, the game at the highest level was dominated by educated metro-based players. Fluency in English was considered while selecting the captain of Indian team. With many records on the field, Kapil Dev, coming from a village in Haryana, broke all those legacies. His consistently great performance left the authorities with no choice but choose him for captain. When he took over the reign, Kapil Dev could hardly speak English but that didnt matter in his performance. It is to the credit of Kapil Dev that he worked hard to learn English thereafter, not out of compulsion but by choice. Today he gets invited to prestigious functions of cricketing world not only for his achievements but also for his communication skills.
If that is not enough, lets consider PM Narendra Modi. Despite big trumpeting of his partymen about his decision to talk with other country heads in Hindi, he chose to speak in English at Sriharikota during the launch of an SLV. Admittedly, it lacked the mesmerising effect that we experienced during his Lok Sabha election campaign. Critics may call it a political decision. But the fact remains that he preferred English over Hindi for a function that was centred around technologya subject of English domain. A leader who prefers to answer English questions in Hindi on TV channels was making an extempore speech in English. It clearly underlined the importance of English in sectors of high national interest. Knowing well that his speech would be keenly watched globally, especially by SAARC nations, he wanted to establish his identity as an emerging leader in South Asia. It was a clear message that if you want to attain higher levels in administration, you cannot run away from English.
So, the candidates who aspire to occupy the high posts in administration should learn that, for them, the choice cannot be Hindi or English, it must be Hindi and English.
The author is a senior journalist, ex-member of the Press Council of India, and visiting faculty at FLAME, and Dept of Journalism, Pune University