Thursday, January 16, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



When to teach English

In the news item concerning the teaching of English in the government schools of Punjab, I found the title “Mother-tongue emerges winner” objectionable, to begin with. The issue of difference in opinion about the level from which the teaching of English should begin has been inadvertently made to look like a duel between the mother-tongue and the English language in the report. I am astonished to see the way the committee decided the issue, which is going to affect the lives and careers of students unlucky enough to be enrolled in the government primary schools.

The introduction of teaching of English at a particular standard, as we all know, is not an innocent issue; it is related, in the present context, with the questions of power, equality of opportunities and quality education. Delaying the introduction of English in the present educational Scenario of our state and country is tantamount to a cruel conspiracy against the students of government schools. It is precisely for such students who have been relegated to the level of step-children of mother India that the care and responsibility of our educational planners should have been the greatest.

Contrary to the views of the committee, people who can afford to spend a bit of money (some of these committee members might be among these), have shown their decision in quite clear and unambiguous terms — by sending their children to private schools where English is taught from the very beginning. We should be pleased to discover around us that teaching a foreign language with the mother-tongue from Class I has succeeded beyond some lukewarm hopes in the products of such private schools. Researches (and common observation) point out that three, four and even more languages can be learnt easily in the formative years of childhood.


No one can be impressed by the comparison of teaching of English here in India with the teaching of French in England. And no one knows it better than Dr S.S. Joshi perhaps, a linguist as he is, that English in India is no longer a flair: it is an issue now of jobs, livelihood, communication and self-reliance. each delayed stage is an opportunity lost for the learner.

Lastly, it is also a matter of hypocrisy masquerading as concern for cultural, ethical values. A wonderful article had appeared on the subject in the pages of this very paper some time back: “Punjabi for your child, English for mine”. And this about all sums up the attitude of some of the more vociferous voices on the issue — though the statement may give a misleading impression about the conflict between the two languages as inevitable. Languages are enriched through their genuine encounters and inter-relationships.

So I would request both our esteemed Chief Minister and Education Minister to reconsider the matter and give the innocent students of government and semi-government students a chance. This would only be in the interests of fair play.


Punjabi & English

Languages develop in rapport with each other. Punjabi has gained a lot from its relationship with Persian and English. Baba Farid, Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and Waris Shah had a good knowledge of the Persian language. Modern lexicographers, scholars and prominent writers were well educated in English. They include Bhai Maya Singh, Bhai Vir Singh, Bhai Kahan Singh, Prof Puran Singh, Principal Teja Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh, Gurbax Singh Preetlari, Prof Mohan Singh and Sant Singh Sekhon.

Even the modern form of Punjabi was shaped in the hands of English missionaries and officers. They pioneered the works of Punjabi grammar, lexicons, connotation and history of Punjab. The beginning of new literary forms in Punjabi such as poetry, short story, drama and novel and essays are directly linked with the influence of English literature.

It is a hard fact that the best Punjabi literature was created in the period when Punjabi was not the first language of the State of Punjab. So the idea of linking the development of a language with the introduction of official language is totally misplaced. Today there are so many activities like awards, honours, book-releases and seminars but the quality of Punjabi literature and language is becoming poorer day by day. The universities departments, academies and literary societies are utilising purposelessly huge funds in the name of Punjabi development without producing any concrete results. There is no single book of Punjabi to teach a foreigner, no conversation book, no standardisation of spellings and no accurate pronunciation chart.


Girls’ winter uniform

Winter is in full swing. And as part of the winter uniforms prescribed by various schools, boys wear warm trousers. Perhaps they are perceived to be more sensitive and susceptible to cold. Whereas young girls, because either they are deemed to be hardy enough, or probably with an intent to harden them for the stresses and strains of life in future, are required by school regulations, to wear only skirts or frocks. They are fined and punished if they dare to wearwarm stockings underneath in order to keep themselves warm. This unnecessarily keeps them exposed to the inclement weather. Often they can be seen shivering uncomfortably while waiting for school buses. And it certainly predisposes them to frequent colds. Mind you, this is not by choice but forced upon them by misplaced priorities of the school authorities.

Tell me if there is anything wrong with girls wearing the comfortable, warm and graceful salwar-kameez? Or for that matter, what’s wrong with allowing them to wear trousers like boys do? Given the freedom to choose, many of them, I’m positive, will definitely wish to opt for these, especially during the winter months. After all, we do live in the 21st century and subscribe to equality of genders, or don’t we?

Incidentally, it came as a pleasant surprise to me to see little children at St John’s School, Chandigarh, attending school in comfortable and warm tracksuits. This school deserves praise for considering the children’s welfare. I hope other schools will emulate St John’s winter uniform code for the sake of children’s health and comfort.


Gandhi ‘responsible’ for partition

Mr V.N. Datta’s contention that Gandhi was responsible for partition of India is justified. However, Mr Datta has confined his comments to the causes of failure of the Cripps Mission. There were other reasons also that brought about the partition for which Gandhi is responsible. Gandhi often declared — “Don’t vivisect the country; vivisect me” — to express his disapproval of Pakistan. But he also said: “I am a man of non-violence,” therefore, cannot resist the demand for Pakistan. He also advised Muslims to shift to the Muslim majority areas if they thought they were unsafe in Hindu majority areas. It is thus clear that Gandhi was not against the formation of Pakistan, and subsequent partition of the country.

Gandhi’s determination to impose Pt Nehru’s supremacy on India was another cause of partition. Subhas Chander Bose, a potential rival of Pt Nehru, was coerced out of India and he went on self-exile. Mr Jinnah, the other potential rival of Pt Nehru, was coerced out of the Congress party. Mr Jinnah was a crafty person. He joined the Muslim League and exacted Pakistan from the Congress under the very nose of Gandhi. The way for Pt Nehru was thus cleared and he became the first Prime Minister of India.

Partition of India could have been avoided had the Congress leaders exhibited honesty of purpose. But they had their own axes to grind. Hence partition of India and the consequent catastrophe.

It is true that there would have been terrific loot, arson and murder in the country if the demand for Pakistan was rejected. There would also have been instability in the country. Yet that would have been tolerable and far less harmful than the destruction suffered due to partition, especially due to the following eventualities:

(a) On exchange of population lakhs of men, women and children were butchered. Property worth billions of rupees was destroyed. The entire energy and resources had to be directed towards rehabilitation of refugees. The Punjab government and to some extent the Central government also remained paralysed for about two years.

(b) Death and destruction caused by infiltrators in Kashmir in 1947.

(c) Death and destruction caused by the 1965, ’71 and Kargil wars.

(d) Death and destruction still being caused by terrorism let loose by Pakistan in Kashmir and other parts of the India.

We are afraid of attributing responsibility for partition of India to the whims of the Congress and Gandhi. But for how long can we suppress the truth to shield the Congress party? One day the cat will be out of the bag. History and nature will not forgive the guilty.

R. KAUNDINYA Ambala Cantt.

Why blame Gandhi?

Views expressed by V.N. Dutta at the Indian History Congress holding Gandhi responsible for Partition are totally biased. To say that Gandhi alone thwarted the Cripps Mission and lost an opportunity for preserving the unity of India is wrong as it is not based on historical facts.

In fact, the Cripps Mission was not despatched out of sympathy for Indian aspirations but under pressure from the allies and threatening developments of World War II when Japanese ships had appeared in the Bay of Bengal.

This mission was eyewash as it just made a promise to be fulfilled after the war. Not only Gandhi, but many top Congress leaders like Pt Nehru and Maulana Azad were also opposed to the mission proposals.

K.L. BATRA, Yamunanagar


Plight of Senior Citizens

This refers to a report about a 90-year-old Captain who is running from pillar to post for an income tax problem. It is mentioned that our government propagates (with fanfare and gaiety) various plans and schemes for the rehabilitation of Senior Citizens. These plans, it is a pity, are limited to papers only. No state or central government has taken up worthwhile schemes.

There is need to highlight certain problems related to the older people along with remedial measures.

1. The span of life of an average person has increased considerably due to advances in medical science, but special security programmes are limited and the quality of life with age worsens. Aging is of course inevitable, but should not lead to loneliness.

2. Some meaningful scheme is required to be devised for Senior Citizens, as their plight is miserable. Many of them are not eligible for pension, having retired before the pensionary benefits scheme was announced.

3. Speedy settlement of retirement and other pensionary benefits, including the implementation of the law protecting their rights is required.

4. Children should be motivated not to turn a deaf ear and close their eyes towards old parents immediately after their properties have been transferred in their names.

5. State governments are not implementing health care schemes, thereby violating the Directive Principles of the Constitution.

6. Social, religious organisations must come forward and lend a helping hand to the older people, at this critical juncture. On the part of elders it is suggested that they too should change their attitude and outlook towards their children and bridge the generation gap.

7. Rate of interest for their bank deposits should not be curtailed, as it is their life-long saving and security.

8. Senior Citizens are a neglected and unorganised lot. There is no platform, where they can voice their grievances.

Lastly, a law should be enacted (as in China), whereby it is made mandatory for children to look after their elders (unlike Japan, where elders are thrown from a cliff since they are no longer required by society). In India also, the aged are dumped in old age homes against their wishes. It is indeed praise-worthy that Senior Citizens in western countries are treated as the “1st citizens” and hence greatly respected.

“Blessed are the elders, who are instrumental in forming and maintaining a Happy family.”

M.L. BATURA, a World War II veteran, Karnal


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