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nThe Arendra Modi government is stepping up its efforts to push the English language to the fringes of Indian life where it believes it belongs to a “colonial remnant” by introducing medical degrees in Hindi for the first time.
Since taking power eight years ago, Modi, along with Home Minister Amit Shah and other BJP leaders, have shot intermittently at English and spoke in Hindi, the North Indian language.
Modi has repeatedly spoken of liberating Indians from the “colonial mentality” left by the British Empire and removing the traces of that rule. Just this week, Moody spoke about the “slavery mentality” surrounding the English language.
In October, government officials in the BJP-ruled state of Maharashtra were prohibited from saying “hello” when greeting members of the public. Instead, they should say “Vandi Mataram” or “I bow to you, my homeland.” “Be With Me” has been kicked out of India’s annual Republic Day celebrations and replaced with a national Indian song, while the English names of some army regiments will be changed.
In 2020, the government said that practitioners of Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine, should be allowed to perform surgery, much to the horror of the medical establishment.
Now, once again, doctors are panicking after the decision of the Madhya Pradesh state government to offer a medical degree in Hindi. So far, medicine has been taught across India in English.
Over the past nine months, an army of 97 translators has looted Hindi dictionaries to find words for terms like biopsy, neuroblastoma and hemorrhoids.
Now that the Indian textbooks of anatomy, physiology and biochemistry are ready, first-year students at 13 government medical colleges in Madhya Pradesh will be taught in Hindi from November, although the option to learn in English remains.
Modi said the aim of the new Indian medical degree is to allow Indians from poor families who are not fluent in English to pursue their dream of becoming a doctor.
“We aim to ensure that children of poor parents become doctors and engineers even if they are not taught in English…” Modi said on Wednesday in Gujarat while talking about India’s new education policy, which was announced in 2020.
This pressure of Hindi is enshrined in this policy which emphasizes, among other things, the teaching of technical and medical courses in Indian languages. The rationale is that students can better develop their cognitive and analytical skills and be more rooted in their culture if they are taught in their mother tongue.
Some Indians, especially those who felt inferior to not being fluent in English, agree with Modi when he says that English should be treated as a means of communication, not a “criterion of intellectual ability”.
The problem of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rajan Sharma, former chair of the Indian Medical Council, is the ideological motivation behind the decision. He believes that politics should not be allowed to interfere with medicine.
Sharma speaks Hindi but, he admits, has no idea how to pronounce “heart attack” in Hindi and suspects there are many alchemists who can read a prescription in Hindi. He is proud of the contribution of Indian doctors to healthcare globally, thanks to their English training.
“It’s retro, retro, pathetic, unfortunate,” he said. Where are the Hindi speaking teachers to teach medicine? I won’t even talk about how good the translations are because that implies one accepts a policy that I don’t agree with. The policy will be a failure.”
Science commentator Dinesh C Sharma, writing in The Tribune, said he hopes the course materials will not be compromised by the translations.
These graduates will deal with human life. Textbooks are only one part of medical courses. “There are hundreds of medical reference books, manuals and protocols, most of which are in English and they are vital to the training and work of a physician,” Sharma said.
Others suggested that a better idea would be to offer English language courses to help students in rural areas adjust more easily.
Supporters of the new policy agree that it will be difficult at first to find easy Indian equations. The Hindi language for anatomy, for example, is “villain Ratchna Vijian”. But translators in Madhya Pradesh have already said that many English terms will be preserved if there is no easy Hindi option.
Dr. Arun Shah, pediatrician, sees no fundamental difficulty in Teaching medicine in Hindi. “I think it can work with time, acceptance and patience,” he said. “If the rest of the world can learn medicine in their mother tongue, why not learn Hindi? There will be hiccups but it is worth trying and persevering.”
Inspired by Madhya Pradesh, two other states, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have said they will also offer a medical degree course in Hindi as well, although the English language option remains.