Every October 5 is celebrated as Indian English Day by several equal medium education lovers in India. This is the 203rd year of the birth of English medium school education in India.

The first English medium school in Calcutta was started by William Carey, a British missionary who came from a cobbler family background. Carey came to India in 1793 and settled down in famous Serampore and began his educational agenda. In 1817 with Raja Rammohan Roy he started the first English medium school on October 5, which is also International Teachers Day.

During these 203 years’ English medium school education in India, who learnt English? Who lost out by being out of it? This history of school education needs to be examined, especially now that the New Education Policy of Narendra Modi’s central Government talks about teaching in the regional language – in the disguise of mother tongue – from class one to eight, only in state Government schools but not all schools.

All the central-Government run schools will remain English medium. All the private schools run by small, medium and big educational entrepreneurs will continue to run their schools in English medium. Some schools run by the monopoly industrial houses are modelled on British and American school education models. They do not have even one regional language subject in their entire teaching and learning process till the 12th grade.

In historical terms the largest number of people in India are Shudras, who constitute about 56% of the Indian population. They include Jats, Gujjars, Patels, Yadavs, Reddys, Kammas, Kapus, Velamas, Naikers, Nairs, Marathas, Lingayats, Vakkalingas and so on who are competing in the general pool. Besides these castes, all OBCs who come under the reservation category are part of the Shudras. Followed by these communities there are 18% Dalits and 7.5% Adivasis.

From all these communities if you see the writers in English in any field of life, the Shudras are absent. Those who write theory (political, social and spiritual), fiction, poetry, journalism, art critique and so on in English are from Dwija communities. At the all India level the castes that constitute Dwijas are Brahmins, Banias, Ksatriyas, Kayasthas and Khatris.

How did they acquire command over English, but not the Shudras who constitute such a massive population? Not all of them are very poor. The reason lies in the history of language and education in India.

Before Sanskrit landed in India in 1500 BCE, people who spoke other regional tribal languages that built the Harappan civilisation including cities like Harappa, Mohenjo Daro and Dholavira had their own languages. Without language among people building urban civilisation is impossible.

Rigveda was the first Sanskrit text composed in the subcontinent. In the Vedic period the Shudras were declared fourth varna - that was equivalent to slaves. Sanskrit was a banned language for them. Huge punishments were imposed if they learnt reading and writing in that language.

From the 13th century the Turkic and Afghan rulers came in and Persian was slowly made the ruling and textual language in India. Instead of opposing Persian the Dwija castes learnt Persian and became administrators and interpreters to the Turkic rulers. During Mughal rule the Persian language spread all over India. Mostly Brahmins and Kayasthas, apart from Muslims, learnt it and migrated to all parts of India to get Government jobs.

The migration of Brahmins and Kayasthas to Hyderabad state and Mumbai province (Bal Thakere’s family for example, who are Kayasthas) is a standing example. The Muslim rulers also did not think of educating tillers, artisans or improving the skills of agrarian masses in Persian language. Their illiteracy also caused low production in the agrarian sector.

Gradually Hindi and Urdu emerged from Persian. These were also called Hindustani languages. Hindi adopted Nagari Sanskrit letters whereas Urdu adopted Arabic and Persian letters.

But communicability between these two languages even now is structural. Hindi and Urdu also have mutual understanding and exchange with all those north Indian languages that use Nagari script, like Bengali, Marathi, Gujrathi. That is the reason why people from those states understand and speak Hindi very easily.

The Shudras, who were spread in the rural areas as cultivators and artisanal instrument producers, were never taught Persian because the same culture, that they are meant to do manual labour but not meant for intellectual work, was continued by the Muslim administrations.

In 1839 Persian was abolished by the East India company and English was made the administrative language. The Dwijas, mainly Brahmin and other Dwija youth who had started learning English from 1817 entered the English administration. No Shudra could get a Government job even in the British period after English was adopted as the teaching and administrative language.

The first known person who learnt English in personal friendship with British officials was Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a Brahmin jagirdar. Mahatma Phule was the first Shudra to join an English medium school, in 1841.

Dadabai Nauroji, a Parsee studied in English and went to England for business and became a politician. Mahatma Gandhi seems to have been the first Bania to study in English both at home and in England. Later the only Shudra, having come from a landed family, to study in England was Sardar Vallabai Patel. But he did not write much in English.

However, quite surprisingly, hardly any Shudra landlords sent their children to study in English to England. In Telugu states for example Kattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy seems to have been a well English educated Shudra, within India.

But even the Shudra landlords did not continue his heritage. They were happy with their landed power in the villages. They did not aspire for national status by learning a common national language. Now they are realising the importance of English medium education.

What caused the underdevelopment of all Shudras, and Dalits and Adivasis, was that they have not learnt a national language that could connect people living in different parts of India. They did not learn Sanskrit, Persian, or later English which were national and transnational languages.

Now the only way out is that the Shudras/Dalits and Adivasis have to learn English along with a regional language in which they do their production related tasks. English will become their national and international language, and the regional language will be their day to day production and functional language. Once those who know English involve themselves in agrarian production the quality of Indian agriculture will radically change.

It is important that India as a nation recognise that English is a national language and celebrate October 5 as Indian English Day. Any language that survived for more than two hundred years is a national language. Every language in India has a language day. English was born as a school education language in 1817 and has lived as only a Dwija language. This situation should change.

English is also our language now, so that every food producer can learn it without thinking that it is not our language. In a globalised world every farmer should have command over a global language, which is only English. Let there be no global conspiracy to stop English medium education to the poor and food producers of Indian villages.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is well known writer in English and Telugu and a social activist

Cover Photo: A farmer and his buffaloes in Maharashtra. ZACHARIE RABEHI for The Citizen.