The ongoing controversy over the medium of instruction is getting communalized with the RSS determined to stop grants being extended to English primary medium Diocesan schools. The medium of Instruction has become a medium of obstructing the aspirations of the backward classes.
IT is unfortunate that the Medium of Instruction (MOI) controversy should have taken a communal turn. The Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch(BBSM) is primarily responsible for giving what is primarily an educational issue a saffron hue. Indeed the BBSM is now threatening to intensify the agitation. The bone of contention is not the freedom of choice of parents to decide in what medium their children should study at primary level. For BBSM, it is the government bending over backwards to appease the minority Catholic community. The BBSM is more agitated over the government making an exception of the Diocesan English medium primary schools than that of extending grants to English medium primary schools.
THIS is obvious from the inflammatory speeches of the State President of the RSS, Subhash Velingkar. Who has been vehemently protesting against the Christian minority community which comprises only 25% of the population dictating to the Hindu majority community which constitutes the remaining 75%. The RSS has even gone to the extent of dubbing the demand for grants for English primary medium schools, a return to the days of Portuguese colonialism. What started off as a debate on the freedom of choice is fast deteriorating into a deliberate and mischievous attempt at polarizing Goa along communal lines.
What is appalling is that even rational and secular Konkaniwadi chosen to align themselves with the chaddiwalas. We are not surprised that the RSS is insistent on the withdrawal of grants to Diocesan schools. We are however saddened that people of the stature of Uday Bhembre and Aravind Bhatikar are aiding and abetting the communal agenda of the RSS. From being an educational issue, the language controversy in the State has degenerated into a conspiracy to convert the most cosmopolitan state in the country into a rabid Hindutva state.
THE original intention of the then Education Minister, Shashikala Kakodkar, in limiting grants only to vernacular medium schools was to protect Marathi- medium primary schools. In the immediate aftermath of Liberation, the first Chief Minister of Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar, set up literally hundreds of Marathi- medium primary schools. This was because during the Portuguese colonial regime, Goans and particularly those belonging to the backward classes were deprived of the right to education. The only schools prior to liberation were in the Portuguese medium. The upper caste, primarily the Saraswats, also set up a few Marathi schools for the benefit of their own community.
Bandodkar’s objective in setting up schools was to empower the backward classes by providing the poorest of the poor access to education. If Bandodkar did not set up English-medium primary schools, it was because there were no English teachers available, since unlike India, Goa had been a Portuguese colony and not a colony of England.
IT was much easier for Bandodkar to set up Marathi- medium primary schools by recruiting teachers from neighboring Maharashtra. In any case, Marathi had by default become Goa’s language of religion and culture. By setting up Marathi-medium primary schools, Bandodkar also broke the monopoly of the upper crust Saraswats over religious and cultural institutions in Goa. Bandodkar never thought of the language issue in communal terms. It was incidental that the Marathi school teachers became a vote bank of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party. It was Shashikala kakodkar’s concern over the shrinking enrolment in Marathi-medium primary schools that provoked her to discontinue grants to English-medium primary schools.
Before Shashikala Kakodkar restricted grants to only vernacular medium primary schools, the Diocesan Schools used to get grants from the government for their English primary medium schools. The Diocesan Society switched to Devanagri Konkani as the medium of instruction under pressure from the elite within the Church who were passionate about Konkani. The Diocesan Society did not take into account that its teachers were not familiar with Konkani in the Devanagri script. Despite which the Diocesan Society switched to Konkani as a symbol of solidarity for Konkani being made the official language of Goa.
The ground reality is that far more Marathi-medium primary schools have been closing down than Konkani-medium primary schools. The Diocesan Society sought to shift to the English-medium not because they loved Konkani, our mai bhas, any less than the Konkani mogis like Uday Bhembre and Company. As in other areas of life, it was a question of supply and demand. As in the case of other vernacular medium schools in the state, particularly Marathi-medium primary schools, parents started migrating from Devanagri medium Konkani schools to English medium Konkani schools despite the stiff fees they had to pay. They did so not because they did not love or respect Konkani mai but they believed rightly or wrongly that education in the English medium would give their children the best opportunity of securing their future.
The majority of Diocesan schools are located in the villages. Unlike the parents of students of Marathi- medium schools, which are equally distributed between urban areas and rural areas, the Diocesan primary schools catered mainly to the poorest sections in the villages, who could not afford to switch to English-medium primary schools. It is for the benefit of the parents of the children of the economically backward that the Diocesan Society switched to English medium. The choice was between closing down the schools or persuading the government to extend grants to the schools even after they switched to the English medium.
Archbishop Filipe Neri initially approached the then Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, to permit the Devanagri Konkani medium primary schools to switch to the English medium. Since Digambar Kamat belongs to Catholic-dominated Salcete, he had little or no choice but to agree to the request of the Archbishop. This informal arrangement was formalized by Digambar Kamat’s successor, Manohar Parrikar. Not out of any love for the Catholic community but because he needed the support of the Catholic community to return to power.
It is not a coincidence that the shrillness of the demand to suspend grants to Diocesan English- medium primary schools has risen after the BJP came to power at the Centre. The BBSM is primarily an RSS front. The RSS has historically been vehemently opposed to the Christian minority community which it has been accusing of using its educational institutions as a cover for conversions. It is the RSS which is pressurizing the government to reverse the policy of Manohar Parrikar, who exempted Diocesan English- medium primary schools from the directive restricting grants to only vernacular medium schools.
THE RSS is not so much interested in the medium of Instruction but in cutting down to size the influence of the Church in the state. The objection of the BBSM is to the special exemption granted to Diocesan English- medium primary schools. The RSS believes that only education in the mother tongue will integrate students with the Hindutva culture. They are apprehensive that the extension of grants to English-medium schools will result in the shutdown of the vernacular medium schools. the RSS is aware that given a choice parents would prefer to send their children to English-medium primary schools.
Parrikar, unlike Parsekar, has always been sympathetic to the minority community. Having had wider exposure being an IITian he recognizes that English-medium is the key to greater opportunities in life for students in Goa as in other parts of the country. Ironically, Goans who know Portuguese are at an advantage with the spread of outsourcing and a number of countries having adopted Portuguese as the national language, apart from Portugal itself. The medium of instruction is about job opportunities and not about religion.
NOTHING prevents Devanagri Konkani mogis from starting their own primary schools. Nothing prevents them from admitting their children to Devanagri Konkani-medium primary schools. The fact of the matter is even the second and third generation of fanatical Devanagri Konkani mogis prefer to admit their children to English-medium primary schools. There is no contradiction between love for one’s mother tongue and the medium of instruction at the primary level. It is more than adequate to make Konkani a compulsory subject not only at the primary level but right up to the tenth standard to protect and preserve Goa’s mai bhas.
Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar has decided to defer the introduction of the bill to amend the official language act. In any case, Parsekar has made it clear that there will be no change in the present policy of extending grants to Diocesan English-medium primary schools. This is because with elections due late this year or early next year, Parsekar, like his predecessor Parrikar, cannot afford to antagonize the Catholic minority community. It is a logical corollary that if grants are made available to Diocesan English primary schools, they should be extended to all English- medium primary schools.
There is discrimination. The discrimination is not between vernacular medium schools and English- medium schools. The discrimination is between extending grants to Diocesan English-medium primary schools and English-medium primary schools run by private managements whether they belong to the majority or minority community. Consistent with the freedom of choice which is guaranteed by the Constitution, all schools imparting education in the English medium at the primary level should be eligible for grants. We should not let the RSS hijack the composite secular culture of Goa.
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