Modi uses a new tool in India’s war on the English language: Hindi medical degrees | India

NOTArendra Modi’s government is stepping up efforts to relegate English to the margins of Indian life where it feels it belongs as a ‘colonial relic’ by offering medical degrees in Hindi for the first time.

Since coming to power eight years ago, Modi, along with Home Minister Amit Shah and other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, have intermittently snapped the English language and spoken Hindi , the language of North India.

Modi has often spoken of freeing Indians from the “colonial mentality” left behind by the British Empire and removing the relics of that rule. Just this week, Modi spoke about the ‘servile mentality’ that surrounds English.

In October, government officials in BJP-ruled Maharashtra were banned from saying “hello” when greeting members of the public. Instead, they should say “vande mataram” or “I bow to you, oh homeland”. Abide with Me has been kicked out of the annual Indian Republic Day celebrations and replaced with a Hindi patriotic song, while the English names of some army regiments are to be changed.

In 2020, the government declared that practitioners of Ayurveda, the system of traditional medicine, should be allowed to perform surgery, much to the horror of the medical establishment.

Now, once again, doctors are appalled after Madhya Pradesh state government’s decision to offer medical degree in Hindi. Until now, medicine was taught in English all over India.

Over the past nine months, an army of 97 translators have searched Hindi lexicons to find words for terms such as biopsy, neuroblastoma and haemorrhoids.

Now that anatomy, physiology and biochemistry textbooks in Hindi are ready, freshmen from 13 public medical colleges in Madhya Pradesh will be taught in Hindi from November, although the opportunity to learn in English remains.

The aim of the new Hindi medical degree, Modi said, was to enable Indians from poor families who are not fluent in English to pursue their dream of becoming doctors.

“We are aiming for children of poor parents to become doctors and engineers even if they are not educated in English…” Modi said in Gujarat on Wednesday when speaking about India’s new education policy , announced in 2020.

This push in favor of Hindi is part of this policy which, among other things, emphasizes the teaching of technical and medical courses in Indian languages. The idea 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 have felt inferior for not being fluent in English, would agree with Modi when he says that English should be treated as a means of communication, not a “criterion of intellectual ability”.

The problem for orthopedic surgeon Dr Rajan Sharma, former head of the Indian Medical Council, is the ideological motivation behind the decision. He believes that politics should not be allowed to interfere in medicine.

Sharma speaks Hindi but, as he admits, he has no idea how to say ‘heart attack’ in Hindi and he doubts there are many chemists out there who can read a prescription in Hindi. He is proud of the contribution of Indian doctors to health care around the world, through their training in English.

“It’s regressive, backward-looking, pathetic, deplorable,” he said. “Where are the Hindi-speaking professors to teach medicine? I’m not even going to talk about the quality of the translations, because that implies that we accept the policy, which I don’t accept. The policy will be a failure.

Science commentator Dinesh C. Sharma, writing in The Tribune newspaper, said he hoped the course material would not be compromised by the translations.

“These graduates will be dealing with human lives. And textbooks are only part of medical courses. There are hundreds of medical reference books, manuals and protocols, most of which are in English, which are essential to the training and functioning of a doctor,” said Sharma.

Others suggested that a better idea would be to offer English transition classes to help rural students cope more easily.

Proponents of the new policy agree that it will initially be difficult to find easy Hindi equivalents. The Hindi for anatomy, for example, is the awkward “sharir rachna vigyan”. But Madhya Pradesh translators have already said that many English terms would be retained if there was no easy Hindi option.

Pediatrician Dr Arun Shah sees no inherent difficulty in teach 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, then why not Hindi? There will be some hiccups, but it’s worth trying and persevering.

Inspired by Madhya Pradesh, two other states, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have also said they will also offer a medical degree course in Hindi, although the English option remains.