We do not endorse banning English, but...
To be sure, we do not endorse banning of English anywhere. Banning English and/or computers in education or governance is not a way of progress.
Instead of blocking the source of development, governments and educational institutions and industries must focus on bringing the vast body of knowledge in English to Indian languages, and also make Indian-language computing bug-free and user-friendly. It is only when one assumes that all this is impossible that, pressed with the need to bring about equality, one starts making such mindless statements as Mulayam Singh Yadav's.
Until such time as Indian languages grow to the level where they become the chosen media for education in India, it is wrong to distance education in India from English. While there's no need to ban English in government work, there is no need to believe that English is necessary in this space. Indian languages can replace English overnight in government work without any loss, and indeed with much profit. If, that is, the respective governments are serious enough about governance.
English is not India's "great leveler"
It is wrong to believe that English is a great leveller - one which can reduce or remove the divide between the haves and havenots in India, simply because it's a scientific fact that one learns best in one's own mother tongue. Amartya Sen gets his facts wrong in claiming that English is "widely used" - unless one confines his attention to urban centers alone. Even to this day, more than 80% of Karnataka learns and works using Kannada. In the Hindi-belt, this percentage is as high as 97% (data based on education statistics published by DISE)
It is disheartening to hear Amartya Sen endorse the idea of English as a great leveler. Here's what Amartya Sen had to say in response to Mulayam Singh Yadav's manifesto which, in his view, tries to "exclude" people from learning English:
So rather than being an egalitarian force, the exclusion - if it is carried out - will have exactly the opposite effect: that is to keep the stratification as it is. Because obviously Mulayam Singh Yadav will not be able to prevent people from doing English in India as the language of commerce, industry, rule of law and public use.Surely, Mulayam Singh Yadav will not be able to prevent all that - but irrespective of Mulayam Singh Yadav's capability or incapability to prevent this or that, what is disappointing is that Amartya Sen doesn't even seem to dream about a future where Indian languages are the language of commerce, industry, rule of law and public use.
Sure there is no point in excluding Indians from learning English, but it is wrong to believe that English is necessary for education or for any of the purposes which Sen enlists. English becomes necessary only under the assumption that Indian languages are dying, and that their role is slowly but surely becoming ornamental. That assumption is neither necessary nor illustrated by recent trends of Indian language usage on, for example, the internet. That assumption goes against the very development and equality which Sen is so concerned about.
Tagore's insistence of mother-tongue education
It is surprising too, that Sen, a strong advocate of Rabindranath Tagore's worldview, apparently fails to see the merit in Tagore's insistence of the imporance of mother-tongue education. Perhaps we must redraw the attention of Amartya Sen to Tagore's Shikshar Vahana (The Vehicle of Education), an essay published in 1915 and paraphrased by Narmadeshwar Jha in his biography of Tagore published by UNESCO:
The use of English in education hindered assimilation of what was taught, and kept education confined to urban centres and the upper classes. Thus, if the vast rural masses were to benefit, it was absolutely essential to switch over to the use of Bengali in the context of Bengal at all levels of education, including higher education.Of course, Sen has the right to differ with Tagore. But in differing with Tagore on this point, Sen is differing with reason. It is an established scientific fact that mother-tongue education is crucial for the success of any elementary education programme.