Hindu groups attack Indian state's English move

A decision to promote English education among low-income people has been criticized as promoting religion
Hindu groups attack Indian state's English move

School students participate in an outreach programme in India's Shimla town on Oct 1. A move by Andhra Pradesh's government to promote English in schools has turned controversial. (Photo: IANS)

India's Andhra Pradesh state has decided to make English the medium of instruction in government schools, but Hindu groups claim the move is a "religious conspiracy."

State Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, a Christian, announced the plan, moving away from the system of state schools using the local language for lessons.

The southern state's School Education Department last week said that English will be the medium of instruction from first grade to eighth grade in the 2020-21 academic year. In grades 11 and 12, English will become the medium from the 2021-22 academic year.

The state's government schools currently use the local Telugu language or Urdu for lessons.

While Christian leaders welcomed the move, the first such in India, as a progressive step, the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threatened massive protests to oppose it.

The state's BJP chief Kanna Lakshmi Narayana said the government move would destroy the "linguistic culture" in Andhra Pradesh. He also criticized it as a move promoting Urdu and English.

While Urdu, written in a modified Persian alphabet, is associated with Muslims, English is connected with Christians because of its link with the British and missioners in India.

He told the media that the government's move was a "religious conspiracy." The government "should not impose the language on students, and it should let them make a choice," Narayana said.

"We won't keep calm if the government supports one religion in the name of the language," he warned.

However, Christian leaders like Father Muvvala Prasad, vicar general of Vijayawada Diocese, called it a progressive move that would help the poor.

"It will benefit poor students to get a quality education. Until now, English-medium education was generally the monopoly of the rich," the priest told ucanews on Nov. 12.

Most students who come out of government schools cannot communicate in English, adversely affecting their higher education and job prospects, the priest said.

He said many preferred church-run schools because of their high standard of English. English education, until now available to students in church-run schools or expensive private schools, will soon be open to all, the priest said.

He said the BJP's opposition makes him "wonder if they are saying the poor should not study and come up in life." The upper-caste Hindus "want the poor to remain poor and work as their labors," he said.

He said the children of BJP leaders who oppose the move are studying in English-medium schools.

Father D, Balashowry, vicar general of Visakhapatnam Archdiocese, also lauded the state move. "It will benefit the poor who cannot afford to get quality education from private schools," he said.

The move has become controversial as other opposition parties, such as the Telugu Desam Party and Jana Sena Party, also fought it.

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Reddy, however, said he wanted students from low-income families who study in government schools to "become well versed in English so that they can compete with students from other schools."

Reddy said students from Andhra Pradesh "had suffered a lot" in the national examinations because of their poverty in the language.

Government data show that the state has some 7 million students enrolled in 62,063 schools for the 2018-19 academic year.

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