2 Presidents, two views

AP.J. Abdul Kalam, as President of India, gave a new impetus to Indian education system by encouraging technocracy and modernity. He chose to focus on creative interaction with school and college students, to inspire young brains to dream big and think global. Indianness for him was modern, scientific and globally competitive. Even after six years of his retirement from that office he keeps his mission going, regularly visiting educational institutions throughout India. His tenure as President, from July 2002 to July 2007, was a period of “wings of fire” for the youth of India and many began to dream of a world class future for themselves. His modernist, technocratic vision has enthused many parents from rural areas to send their children to the best schools they can afford. And as we know, the best schools in this country invariably are English medium.
After President Kalam, India witnessed a visionless tenure of the first woman President — a very unfortunate phase indeed. Now again we have a pro-active President. If President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the World Telugu Conference at Tirupathi on December 27, 2012, is any indication, he seems to have chosen linguistic and cultural revivalism as his presidential agenda. He said that the Telugus had a glorious period between 11 to 17th century.
Bengali bhadralok leaders, whether of democratic or communist school, are dead against creative, egalitarian modernity. Their love for Bengali linguistic nationalism destroyed the rural school system of that state. Their government school education, though praised by some Bengali academics, has not produced a single dalit-Bahujan intellectual worth the name. They kept the English-medium educational institutions under the control of bhadralok and saw to it that no English-speaking middle class emerged from the Bengali lower castes. Mr Mukherjee seems to be exporting that model to other states.
In this respect Andhra Pradesh is different from West Bengal and even Gujarat. In Andhra, a hunger for English education sprang up among SC/ST/OBCs in the recent past and quite a lot of lower caste youth learnt the language and did manage to migrate to the Western world. And now a new, synthesised, progressive civil society is emerging, which, in fact, started producing original English writers from the OBC, dalit and tribal communities. Apart from the writings of this author, Y.B. Satyanarayana’s (a dalit) My Father Balaiah and Bhukya Bhangya’s (a tribal) Subjugated Nomads were written in English. Such talent is unthinkable in West Bengal from its OBC/SC/STs communities as of now.
There is a move to set the clock of educational development of Andhra Pradesh back. Mr Mukherjee’s speech talked about restoring the glorious past of the so-called Telugu people and region between 11 and 17th century. What was that glorious past? What was the literacy rate of Telugu people during that period? Except Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Komatis of the region, other castes and communities were forcefully kept away from learning to read and write Telugu.
The Reddys and Kammas, who are ruling the state now and have also migrated to various countries across the globe and are prospering in the Silicon Valley, too want the Telugu past of bygone centuries and the President sung their tune. What was the literacy rate of these two rich shudra castes between 11 and 17th century? Almost nil. Can they cite one great Telugu book written by any one of the writers coming from the shudra communities during that period? Only Molla, a woman coming from potter community, wrote Molla Ramayana in the 16th century, and that was not recognised by the Brahmin pandits of her time. The Brahmnic praise for Sri Krishnadevaraya’s period as the golden era for Telugu literature is a myth that should not be allowed to undermine the present democratic modernity and the incomparable change that’s taken place in recent years.
Caste was supreme and the practice of untouchability during that period was so rampant that not a single person from the so-called backward communities could enter the main village, leave alone schools and Hindu temples. During that period the entire Telangana region was under the Muslim Bahmani kings’ rule and Urdu language began to develop very fast in this region. The President praised the Telugu language and culture so much that other languages in the state, like Urdu and English, would take a beating. The whole conference appeared to have been set against the new desire of Andhra masses to send their children to English-medium schools.
The President, while flaunting the traditional Brahminic Telugu culture that has many things in common with Bengali bhadralok culture, forgot that the multi-cultural, modern social forces in this region are far more advanced than they are in West Bengal. Setting the civilisational clock back in the south is far more difficult than it is in north, because the south, while opposing Hindi, made English its second language.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy himself is trapped in this mindset — he has spent `40 crore on a language conference, which should have been spent on some other concrete projects of writing good Telugu dictionaries, translations of some classical Telugu books into English, instituting scholarships for serious scholars who are capable of writing world class books in Telugu language.
If the resolutions of this conference are implemented, Andhra Pradesh will go several steps backwards.
The chief minister has proposed a ministry for Telugu language. The government has decided to impose Telugu on English-medium schools. But there was no resolution to establish parity of school education in government and private schools. All these steps are an attack on the desire for English-medium education and modernisation of the poorer sections of the state. Such attempts must be checked.

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

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