Hyderabad, Telangana, India, 2019. Schools all over the city have hardworking students, writing their English papers to turn in that day. The bustling malls and bazaars have big colorful billboards that display Western-like fashions. The advertisements are written 3 times: once in Telugu, then in Hindi, then in English. Everywhere you go, there are signs in English, people speaking English, and even young students studying from English textbooks. How did India get here?
British presence in India first started with the British East India Company, which came to India to trade their manufactured goods for spices. Soon, this company gained land and resources which outmatched that of the Indian kings. As the kingdoms were not united at the time, the British moved in and took governmental control over India. Once British military control was established, they were quick to enforce a new central government modeled after that of Britain. The British also made English the official language in the short time frame in which the new government was instituted, so Indian schools then forcibly taught children in English instead of their home language. Indians had to speak in English, write government documents in English, and do any economic exchange or payments in English. Many names of Indian cities, provinces, and rivers were changed to suite the pronunciation of the British men.
India had multiple language systems before the British took over, but after being conquered, English became the official language. Because English was used in India for so long, Indians adopted it, resulting in the disappearance of many Indian languages over time. Even after the British Raj ended, education systems in India continued teaching English standards in school. Without British influence, India may not have picked up on English so easily and may have missed out on trade opportunities or alliances with English-speaking countries.
Eventually, the British culture and English language became more prominent and valuable in India than their own, and has been a shaping factor in its culture. Before the British Empire, India had about 35 documented languages and about 20 kingdoms in the subcontinent. Communication has always been an issue of great importance in the country, even after nationalization.
Language provided Indians with a sense of identity and patriotism to their native kingdom, but it also connected the kingdoms together because it was common for the people of each kingdom to be literate in multiple languages. The languages nearby each other geographically tended to be linguistically similar as well, a trend which continues in India today.
English is currently the second most spoken language in India with about 125 million speakers, and is one of the official languages. This is for good reason. With the increasing global popularity of English with 1.39 billion current speakers, India is increasing emphasis on learning English to have closer connections with other developing countries. In addition, in the 350 years that the British lived in India and the 200 years they ruled it, there was a large amount of linguistic exchange between India and Britain. In addition, the British in India caused the formation of Indian English, which is a variation of English just as Australian, British, and American English are. Not many Indians fundamentally oppose using English because it is accepted and incorporated into our society, and many things were added onto it in our culture and overall to make English our own. Whether the increased usage of English in India is a good thing or not is heavily debated. Some people argue that holding onto the language of the rulers who oppressed us for centuries is not right, while others think that the westernization of India signifies an enrichment of our cultures and our languages over the years. The fact is that only 30% of Indians are fluent in English, which leaves the other 70%-about 800 million people-in the dark wherever English is concerned. However, the British Raj connected and communicated with the governments of each province with English, so the language connects India as much as it divides it because even Hindi, India’s national language, isn’t widely accepted by all of India’s provinces to the same extent as English.