Vivek is the cofounder and CTO of Reverie Language Technologies. He is the key driver behind Reverie’s language as a service platform and its consumer apps initiatives, and leads his teams towards the goal of delivering unparalleled language experience across devices.
I distinctly remember when my brother and I used to continuously chatter in Oriya, exchanging stories on our long walks to school with heavy bags whose straps tightly stretched over our heads.
The final moments we stole to continue talking in our mother tongue before entering the school grounds have made for some of our most favourite moments.
Looking back, I understand why. Our school had imposed a rule on us to speak only in English.
Anybody heard conversing in their languages were made to pay fines.
It strikes me hard to realise that this situation has only gotten worse over the decades. Now, students are being expelled from top Indian institutions just because they cannot follow English. Growing up, my brother and I did not understand the ramifications of paying fines for simply conversing in your mother tongue for the longest time. Somehow, conversing in our mother tongues came naturally to us.
It was a while before we realised why. It came naturally to us because it is natural.
It was a while before we questioned the absurdity of it all.
We were forced to converse in a language foreign to us, because our curriculum was in a foreign language. The overall access to education itself is in a language that is not our own. The social, economic and cultural segregation of classes in India rely heavily upon many things. English knowledge or rather, the lack of it, is one of them.
It has been nearly seven decades since we achieved “freedom” from the British.
But by tying our access to knowledge itself to an alien language, are we really, truly free?
Language is fundamental to communication, understanding, knowledge, and bonding. Many people increasingly drop out of schools after primary education because they are limited by languages. This problem has to be addressed in its roots—making higher education available in local languages in India.
Many students drop out early from schools even in developed nations. But, they become literate via online education systems or home-schooling. There are many brilliant minds that end up learning a lot more off schools and innovate and make amazing creations later in life because they can read and obtain knowledge in their language. The technology that facilitates this knowledge transfer is also available in their language.
In India, sadly, the entertainment channels have understood this gap and are making billions off of it by offering content in local languages. Take the TV and print medium for instance. Content is generously available in most Indian languages, resulting in deeper market penetration.
However, lack of local-language content in India, in curriculum, technology and popular medium such as the Internet, is not only threatening access to education but also access to improvement in Indian economy.
This realisation and conviction to bring language equality, online and offline, is what formed the foundation of Reverie Language Technologies.
During the colonisation of “third-world” countries by “first-world” nations, people were forced to abandon their heritage, languages – anything that defined their individuality, in favour of adopting the culture and ways of the English-speaking population. As the colonised countries were “freed,” most of them took the challenge of reconnecting with their once-forbidden heritage and culture with enthusiasm.
This largely involved a linguistic revolution.
But, what really made us, as an entire nation, to adopt a foreign language so completely that it has now become customary to use it as a password to higher education, and in turn, technology itself ?
Nothing stops a student from learning an additional language (say, English) as a choice. But, In India we are learning our local languages as an additional choice and mandate all higher education only in English.
My recent trip to China opened up new understandings of this space.
It was common knowledge among the Chinese that minority users adapt to the expected behaviour of the majority. Many Chinese entrepreneurs I met were not savvy in English. However, their co-workers, employees and colleagues treated them with utmost respect.
This is not the same case in India. We disrespect and shun the majority population– the local-language users–especially when it comes to jobs, education and technology. A large number of capable geniuses who are not English-savvy will never have easy access to knowledge and the latest developments in any field.
We have simply bulldozed and strangled our languages and, in the process, the people who speak those. The words ‘English Firewall’ and ‘English Apartheid’ are befitting. We should be screaming loud about it. We silence our country’s innovators and geniuses.
And in doing so, we are digging our own graves.
This article is written in the same alien language I am condemning. Time for an irony check?