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SIGN OF HEALTH

In India, the diversity of regional languages, even within a single state, can give rise to curious circumstances. A Santhal child in North Bengal, for instance, may be speaking in Santhali with his parents, in Bengali and English with his teachers in school, and using Hindi or Nepali with his friends. While the situation is potentially confusing, it is also a sign of health, since it means that the child acquires the ability to move seamlessly among different registers of languages at an early age ó which must be contributing to his mental agility in the long run. It also guarantees a continuance of the tradition of pluralism, which is perhaps Indiaís most valuable heritage. So the Supreme Courtís recent ruling that a state cannot impose a single language, including its mother tongue, as the only medium of instruction in primary schools is more than welcome. This move, which is intended to protect the rights of linguistic minorities in the country, can only make for a more wholesome process of education. While a child must pick up other languages in the course of growing up in order to deal with the wider world, at least in his initial years, he should be allowed to learn in the language he is most comfortable with. Education will surely be less intimidating for a child if there is a match between the medium of instruction in school and the language spoken at home. The ruling is also important for another reason. A number of regional languages of India are at the risk of being wiped out as there are a few surviving speakers left in those languages. The Supreme Court may just have ensured the continued survival of these languages with its ruling.

There are, of course, many practical problems which need to fixed if the court directive is to be executed properly. For one, it is necessary to get qualified teachers who can instruct children in their own language. This might prove to be difficult, at least initially, since the prevalent practice of teaching students either in the vernacular language of a state or in English means that teachers well versed in the regional languages will be hard to come by. At the same time, since the ruling applies only to the primary classes, finding the right teachers may not be that impossible a task. It is now up to the states to take a step in the right direction by complying with the courtís order, setting aside their own interests for once.