Re-presenting Reform: Decolonial Globalization and Language Policy in India

Author: Bageshree Trivedi (The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat, India)
Speaker: Bageshree Trivedi
Topic: Language Ideologies
The CALA 2021 General Session


This paper seeks to examine the symbolism of ‘reform’ and its persistent engagement with the language policy in India across two significant moments – the historical consolidation of the colonial empire; and the contemporary incentivization of decolonization for a nation with global aspirations.

Historically, language has been a contested site where the power-play of identity has often unfolded in nation-states. Hence, the politics of language and identity grows more complex in multilingual and formerly colonized nations like India, owing to the fraught relationship between the language of the colonizer (English) and the language(s) of the colonized (vernacular). The mid-nineteenth century in India witnessed an important institutional shift, with the introduction of English as the medium of education. The ‘medium’ was chosen for its capacity to transfer the ideology of the colonizer to the native mind. However, implementing it required creation of an environment ripe for its reception, which took the form of ‘reform’ symbolism.

‘Reform’ was not merely a ‘movement’ but an idea constituted by the political-economic intentions of the colonizer; a perception popularized via various media, that identified the ‘drawbacks’ in natives to be remedied by the ‘enlightened’ colonizer. This ‘reform’ symbolism created the gateway for English; while also mediating the constitution of the ‘vernacular’.

In 2020, the nation witnessed another significant institutional shift in the education sector through the ‘reform’ called the National Education Policy (NEP). The most vociferous responses to the NEP have singled out its language policy as their subject, with heated debates over the three-language formula, the comparative status of English versus regional languages, etc. Clearly, language continues to remain entwined with identity, as the debates question whose identity does the nation seek to represent via language.

While the mid-nineteenth century language policy viewed the vernacular through the lens of English; the decolonial commitment of the NEP privileges the vernacular. Yet, English continues to persist through the reverse filter of the vernacular, owing to the demands of the digitalized economy that privileges English as the lingua franca of globalization.

Thus, in this paper, I present a comparative analysis of how the pivotal ‘reform’ symbolism refracts across these two historical moments, and examine:

  • how the construct of ‘reform’ transforms across time,
  • why and how it chooses language policy as its central structuring mechanism,
  • how language is used to negotiate a decolonial identity in a globalized digital society.

Keywords: Reform, language policy, NEP 2020 India, education, decolonization, globalization