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Shami Chakrabarti and Monica Ali
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Wed 28 Nov 2012 11:00 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
28 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 28 November 2012

India has a new deity, the Goddess of English, worshipped by former Untouchables who see the language as their deliverer from poverty and ignorance. Zareer Masani investigates.

The English language and the educational legacies of the Raj are still hotly contested. Lord Macaulay, the 19th century imperialist who introduced Western education, is reviled by Indian nationalists. The term "Macaulay's Children" is still used by as a pejorative label for anglicised Indians.

Yet Macaulay's ideas have been enthusiastically adopted today by India's Dalits, the former 'Untouchables', For them, English is a liberating force. Their saviour from caste oppression is personified as a goddess, modelled on the Statue of Liberty, in a sari and mounted on a computer.

Zareer visits the elite Cathedral school, where he was a pupil, a English medium school for poorer people, and one that teaches in the local language, Marathi. Talking to teachers, students, business people and politicians, in classrooms, by the pool at the Willingdon club, and in a cramped Dalit flat, Zareer explores the education of upper-class "Macaulay children", and the hunger for English among poor Indians.

English is essential to upward mobility: politicians committed to education in indigenous languages send their own children to English medium schools. Servants spend half their salaries to get their children into these. Yet the teachers themselves might not speak English well. So, is a foreign language really the best medium of instruction for India's educational system? What is the impact on India's indigenous languages? Zareer ponders, too, whether English has now become as native to India as any of its own languages, in its vibrant Indianised form known as 'Hinglish'.

Producer: Julian May.

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