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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A language that divides

Prof Rajita Chaudhuri follow some off-beat trends like organizing make up sessions

A university is a cultural hub. But divisions run deep beneath the apparent bonhomie. Anil Pandey tries to bring out the English versus vernacular division in our high temples of education, and examines its effects on Indian society

Scene 1: The canteen of Delhi School of Economics (also known as D School) in Delhi University's north campus. Equipped with expensive mobile phones and gadgets, the boys and girls are chatting and having fun. A glass of a cold drink in one hand and a cigarette in another, a guy is discussing the latest music album of an American band. The whole canteen is buzzing with activity.

Scene 2: A tea shop adjoining the old office of the Delhi University Students Union gate. Contrary to D School's guys with expensive gadgets, here students are sitting on sidewalks and walls sipping tea. Most of them are not wearing branded clothes. The D School students call them desi.

Scene 3: Canteen of PG men's hostel, Delhi University. Judging by their language, most of the students sitting in this canteen are from South India. The South Indian food served here is delicious.

Scene 4: Momos Point near Batra Cinema at Kamla Nagar, near Delhi University. Here lies a different world. Boys and girls with small brown eyes, and not very tall, mostly wearing low-waist jeans and loose T-shirts crowd this joint. They are the students from the Northeast.

These are scenes from one of the country's most prestigious universities where studies, fashion and glamour go hand in hand. It's a cultural melting pot in the sense that students from across the country come here to study. They bring with them the whiff of their respective cultures and enrich the university scene. Students from different regions and from diverse academic backgrounds mingle with each other, yet keep a distance. The divide ' linguistic and cultural ' is too conspicuous to miss.

Student leader Basant Jha says, 'Delhi University has many student associations based on languages. For instance, the students from UP and Bihar have formed Purvanchal Students Association, those form Northeast have Northeast Students Union and so on. In addition to these, there are Kerala, Gujarati, Manipuri and Naga student unions.'

Such linguistic divisions are found in almost all the big universities in the country. In some states, the division is based on differences between English and the vernacular language. But this division is not merely about the language ' the medium of studies also reflects the economic and social status of a student. English medium students are treated as the privileged ones, and if you believe some of the vernacular students, they get more attention from teachers as well as from the university administration.

A general perception is that those who go to English medium schools are likely to be more sophisticated, urbane and well-mannered than their counterparts who go to the state-run vernacular schools. This perception, obviously, does not go down well with the vernacular students, who feel marginalised and deprived. The secretary-general of the Gorakhpur University Teachers Association, Dr Chandrabhushan Ankur, says, 'There is a class divide in our education system. English in India has been more than just a language. It has been a culture and a class. Although in our university Hindi and Bhojpuri mediums are prominent, but English-medium students get special attention. The underlying assumption is that English-medium students are far more sincere.'

Generally English medium students get more pocket money because they usually come from well-off families. An English medium student does not mind blowing up Rs 500 to Rs 1000 in a day ' the kind of amount that can sustain a student from a weaker financial background for a week. Chennai-based student Virag feels, 'English medium students' lifestyle is very different from that of other students.' After the rise of the service sector in India, it became evident that the mastery of English is necessary to get a high paying job. No wonder then that even in rural areas more and more students are opting for English medium education. 'English is the global language. Not only do students get more books in English, but also greater employment opportunities. That's why many students here regard Telugu as a second class language and prefer English medium,' says T. Mohan Chari, a B.Tech student at Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University, Hyderabad. He is quite right. The biggest challenge for vernacular students is to find text books and study material in their language. 'Hindi and other regional languages lack quality textbooks though the number of vernacular medium students is greater than English-medium students. The university administration should make an effort to get good English books translated into other languages. Delhi University has created a special department for the job, but barely two or three books are translated in a year, which is clearly not enough,' says a DU lecturer.

Vernacular students feel they do not get good marks as the majority of teachers are from the English medium. Says ex-student leader Aditya Jha: 'Vernacular students should get separate classes and should be taught in their own medium. Their exam sheets should be checked by teachers who've done their education in either Hindi or in a regional language.'

However, when it comes to awareness about social and political issues, the vernacular students score over their English medium counterparts. The former are more aware of the burning issues and problems and are more active politically. Rohit Chahal, a former executive councillor of Delhi University Students Union, says, 'The DUSU election is an important affair as the union not only raises sensitive issues but also determines the direction of student politics. But on election day, most of the public school, English medium type in DU disapper. They prefer to watch a movie or a rock concert rather than taking part in student union elections.' Clearly, the linguistic division in our educational institutes is at multiple levels and is somewhere seeping into our society as a whole.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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