In the past, English was undoubtedly an imposed language in India. It was imposed by the power that dominated over India. Therefore, while it opened out windows of knowledge, it also sat on top of our own languages and our own cultural traditions. To some extent that memory lingers though we should try to get rid of it and consider the matter more objectively and impersonally.
It is true that the Indian languages have suffered psychologically and otherwise because of English: yet they have gained a great deal too from contacts with the wider world. I am rather partial to English. I consider it to be important. But I do think that it will be a bad thing if in India the feeling perseveres that a person who does not know English – he may be a scholar in his own language – is inferior to another person who knows English, however imperfect that knowledge be.
In the case of language, the major change that has come over India is that the medium of instruction in schools is now the language of the State. English is certainly used in education especially in the universities. But the instruction in the regional language is a big break linguistically from the past. You can therefore regard English only as a secondary language, a compulsory secondary language if you like a highly important language, but a language which is not the medium of instruction. It is learnt as a foreign language. That is inevitable and also right.
There are certain risks and dangers in the Indian languages becoming autarkies or developing a separateness. We should fight any such tendency, but in fighting it we should try not to come in the way of their development. We should encourage their fullest development. I believe it is through such development that the languages can come together. We shall get over the danger of linguistic separatism as long as we encourage the right tendencies and one language group does not try to impose its will on other groups.
I have said I am partial to English. But I am also partial to the masses of this country. I cannot forget that we have to carry 400 million people, and we cannot carry them psychologically, emotionally or practically in any way except through their language. It is no good forgetting that it is the non-English-knowing people who will decide the fate of India, because they are the vast majority in this country. We have to encourage our languages, and we have to conduct our education and work progressively in our languages in order to keep in touch with the people and to bring them into emotional contact with what is happening in the Government and the country.
Our Constitution laid it down that Hindi should develop progressively. We took that decision not because Hindi is better or more powerful than the other languages, but for certain very practical reasons. I believe that this should be done.
I suggest two things, Firstly, as I have said, there must be no imposition. Secondly, for an indefinite period - I do not know how long – I would have English as an associate, additional language which can be used for official purposes. I would have it so not mainly because of the existing facilities, but because I do not wish the people of the non-Hindi areas to feel that certain advantages are denied to them, being forced to correspond in the Hindi language. They can correspond in English. I would have English as an alternate language as long as the people require it, and I would leave the decision not to the Hindi-knowing people, but to the non-Hindi-knowing people.
I come to English and its importance. It is important not because a number of people know it in India although it is a factor to be remembered. It is not important because it is the language of Milton and Shakespeare, although that also has to be considered. There are great poets in other foreign languages too like French, German, Russian and Spanish, apart from Asian languages. English is important because it is the major window for us on the modern world. And we dare not close that window. If we close it, we imperil our future.
In conclusion I will say that is of the utmost importance that the people grow from their roots. Our languages represent a continuity of our cultural tradition from Sanskrit. We have to develop our languages, and we have to keep in touch with the masses of our people. Therefore we have progressively to function in our languages. At the same time, we have to remember we live in the modern scientific age. We must have a foreign language to serve as a window to the modern age.
From speech in Lok Sabha during debate on Mr.Frank Anthony's resolution for including English in the English Schedule of the Constitution, August 7, 1959