A few shrewd people have replaced hunger with language just for a mere debate,
They know that the starving will seek refuge in the language debate,
When the hungry will rage, he will have to eat his own nails
These translated lines from a poem by Sudama Pandey ‘Dhumil’ capture the political game that is being played in India in the name of language.
The Madhya Pradesh government got three books of MBBS first year syllabus translated into Hindi, and they were unveiled amid much fanfare by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. At the launch, it was claimed that the initiative will make it easier for Hindi-speaking students to study medicine. Academics have been of the view that education should be in their respective regional language as it naturally enhances their ability to learn and memorise. But in a multi-lingual country such as India, the challenges of imparting education in mother tongue are numerous. That’s something that the government doesn’t seem to have thought over before undertaking this political stunt.
According to reports, a team of 97 doctors translated these three books into Hindi after laborious work of four months. This clearly suggests that the doctors were shouldered with a responsibility they were not ready for. Reports also suggest that the framework of the project was designed by Madhya Pradesh Minister of Medical Education Vishwas Sarang. This in itself is unusual—the framework of an educational programme being outlined by a political leader instead of an expert.
Understanding the language logic
Sarang himself had admitted that there was no other option of medium of instruction for medical studies other than English. But now, the aim is to provide such a platform to the students through which they can easily understand the subject matter. The question is: Can forcibly offering a substitute for something which doesn’t have an alternative provide an ideal solution to the problem? When Sarang convened the first meeting of this project, the experts present were said to have been in disagreement with the minister. However, gradually they concurred. Were they pressurised?
The three books translated from English are Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry. In Hindi, these names have been left unchanged— just their script altered to Devanagari. The same has been done to chapters. If technical words are translated into Hindi, they often go beyond common comprehension and students have to resort to their English names. That has been the difficulty in studying science and medicine through Hindi medium and no efforts have been made to resolve this. The MP government, instead of translating the technical terms, simply changed the script to Hindi. How does that solve the problem?
Will simply changing the script qualify as a change of language? Does this make the language more understandable? Whether the etymologies and definitions of those terms will also be available in Hindi or will the students have to resort to English for this?
Even the three books, whose Hindi translations were issued recently, will not be implemented for now as there are no books in Hindi for third and fourth year students. What explains this grand release? Material for at least three years’ course is yet to be translated and reviewed but celebrations are on.
Students are posing questions.
Whether those studying in Hindi will be left behind compared to those who study in English? Will there be separate Hindi and English classes for MBBS? In case of simultaneous tuition, will the lectures be bilingual? Wouldn’t entangling studies with language debate affect the quality of education? Whether a person obtaining an MBBS degree in Hindi is eligible to study MS or MD in South India or abroad? Can a student studying medicine in Hindi practise in Southern states? Will Hindi medium students be able to migrate to Chennai, Pune or Bengaluru for further studies after graduation? Will it be mandatory for a MBBS degree holder from a Hindi state to stay in that state only? Which language will a student pursuing MBBS in Hindi adapt to attend international conferences? How will the papers be presented? In which language will the thesis be written?
All important books and complete courses in medical education are still in the English language. Technical glossaries have not been translated. All original works and research are still being conducted in English only. What are the preparations related to them in Hindi medium? Indian doctors are far better than medical graduates from those countries where the medium of instruction for medical education is in their own language instead of English. Medical graduates from Russia, Ukraine, China — studying medicine in these country’s native languages — need to clear the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE) conducted by the National Board of Examinations to prove their worth in India. But students who have studied medicine in English from the US, England and Australia are not required to take this exam. Why is it so?
Data show that in several countries of the world, including Europe and America, the number of medical practitioners who have studied in India is highest. These doctors are not only referred to as the ‘brand ambassadors’ of India, but also help in boosting the foreign exchange reserves of our country. Will students studying medicine in Hindi be able to go and work in any other country of the world?
Getting the priorities right
A recent video from the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh has gone viral. A bereaved father is seen carrying the dead body of his four-year-old daughter on his shoulders due to non-availability of an ambulance.
In Singrauli, again MP, a pregnant woman could not find an ambulance resulting in her newborn’s death. The deceased infant’s father carried the dead body on his bike. Can the government reveal what its programme on preventing such tragic incidents in the state is?
According to the Madhya Pradesh Medical Council, there is only one doctor for every three thousand people in the state, which is almost three times lower than the WHO benchmark. There is a huge shortage of doctors all over India, and availability of beds in the hospital is only five per 10,000 persons — the worst in the entire world.
India’s state of healthcare is crying out for strengthening infrastructure. But the government’s priority is extended to electoral festivities only.
The author is associated with the Congress party and has been the President of the JNU Students’ Union. He tweets @KaunSandeep. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)