Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hindi For Tibetans

Language in its varied forms and facets has always played a pivotal role not only in evolving civilisations but also in sustaining social harmony. Imagine a world without language, without signs and symbols used to communicate, without a native script, without signals of varied sorts, wouldn’t it be a more chaotic place than today?

Imagine further what repercussion surface when misinterpretation takes place in communication, when lack of sufficient fluency in a particular form of language leads to misunderstandings and resolution of issues become difficult, and when inferences are misconstrued due to poor grasp of either of the parties language. Many of the world’s differences occur today, simply because of the lack of understanding of the other side’s language and the culture responsible for that language’s evolution.

Being a Tibetan born in exile, I had the privilege of studying both in an Indian school as well as a Tibetan school. Throughout my primary education other than English, Hindi was the primary mode of communication. This was mostly because I was studying among Indian students at the Indian school. Then in my junior school I had the privilege of having the opportunity to study Tibetan at a Tibetan school. Even then I still was able to study Hindi till my eighth grade. But what I see now is that since almost a decade now, Hindi is only taught for three years between sixth, seventh and eighth grade to be precise. The standard of Hindi taught during these three years is what a lower KG, upper KG and a first or a second grader learns at an Indian school. The result is an even poor level of understanding and fluency in the language of the land where we are currently in exile. Another major step was to reduce English to just one language class and all other subjects are taught in Tibetan now till the fifth grade. Of course, there were reasons ascribed to such steps being taken.

Primary reasons given for such steps were to improve the standard of Tibetan among the Tibetan students. This policy was later strengthened by the Education Policy implemented around 2003-05 by the Education Department of the Tibetan government in exile. Now this change has been in effect for almost a decade. What bothers me most is the question of whether or not periodic evaluation of such a policy taken place? Whether or not prompt analysis or proper studies are being carried out to study the outcomes so far? Every policy, especially with regard to education needs constant evaluation and review to gauge its viability with time and necessity. Is such a need felt within the education department of the CTA? The question bogs me.

In my personal opinion, formed through experience of working with students graduating out of school and colleges, as well as Tibetan population in general, such a policy as above has only resulted in the degradation of Hindi and English language skills of Tibetan youths. And also, this surprisingly has not also been able to uplift the poor standard of Tibetan language in exile schools.
Anyhow, leaving policy discussions behind, I come back to my main issue of the negligence of Hindi language in Tibetan schools and its repercussions.

Many underestimate the importance and significance of Hindi language for the Tibetan community in exile. The practical need and the viability of knowing the Hindi language for a Tibetan in India is enormous. I cannot even imagine how policy makers would underestimate the role of Hindi both in present and in future for Tibetans living in exile.

First and foremost all strategy for the future of Tibetans revolves irresolutely around the belief that the Tibet issue will be resolved in a near finite period of time. Of course in some cases, we see a more futuristic and long term appraoch towards policy making but the overall outlook in every policy concerning every aspect of our exile life is mostly near sighted. Infact, this can be clearly discerned from the fact that India is one place across the globe where awareness regarding the Tibetan cause is the least. When I say India, I don’t just mean some first generation Indian politicians of the time of Pandit Nehru, to some officials in and around Dharamsala and some few Indian journalists. I mean the general populace across India, students across Indian universities and schools, and the Hindi media (newspapers especially). Of course efforts have been up since the last few years in the form of some Buddhist exchange programs to some other initiatives and I applaud them. But over the course of last 50 years, I would ascribe the near zero outreach of the Tibetan cause among the 100 plus crore Indian populace and across the larger Indian political spectrum, primarily to lack of fluent Hindi speaking people in Tibetan community. And more than that the lack of interest in interaction with the Indian communities in general. This in some ways is one of the side effects of the settlement policy, which has still managed to nourish the isolation syndrome, we Tibetans so miserably suffer from.

Political support from India is not as substantial as Tibetans might want, and despite the geopolitical reasons behind this attitude by the Indian policy makers, one reason I believe is our inability to have been able to raise enough lobbyist for the Tibetan cause in the Indian community. And this mostly has happened due to our isolation from the Indian populace, resultant of a poor understanding and mastery of the Hindi language.

Secondly, one of the most critical things that sometimes worry me, is the surge in fights between Tibetans and Indians. It is understandable that, an area with two communities from a different cultural background might sometimes witness some friction among its members. And yet it goes beyond my belief that even after 50 years of our stay in India, we have not been able to grasp and adapt to the cultural intricacies of the land where we have sought asylum. The result is an increase in numbers of friction among Tibetans and Indians. This is not a matter to be slipped under the pillow. One might be too naïve to ignore the effects such incidents could have on the future of Tibetans in India, and believe me, we are here for another long stint.

Sometimes these individual skirmishes turn into communal disharmony (no matter how much one denies it). And we have seen such events occur as in the case of Chauntra and many other smaller incidents. Again, I believe that such events might have been prevented if there is more knowledge of the Indian culture among the younger Tibetan youth as well as a near thorough understanding of the Hindi Language. A good Hindi speaking (and I mean good, and not the usual typical illiterate Hindi we most Tibetans speak) person with good negotiating skills can easily diffuse such situations of tension. Of course other factors too contribute to such happenings but in the end, it all comes to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of each other’s intent. A suggestion here for the authorities, why not put one Hindi speaking Tibetan negotiater in sensitive areas where such incidents are common.

In the end, even this is just a quick fix. We would only be able to project a good image of Tibetans in India, just like the one the west has, by teaching Hindi again at the schools and also formally educating Tibetans in the Indian culture too. More engagement between Indian and Tibetans at schools and colleges should be encouraged.

Finally, one of the advantages of being able to read, write and speak proper Hindi language opens up more job avenues for the Tibetan youth. Networking is the core of increasing your opportunities of finding a job in the mainstream Indian market. Good Hindi skills, increases one’s chances manifold. Fields like insurance, marketing, public relations, journalism etc prefer a good understanding of Hindi language. Though the number of people speaking English in India is increasing manifolds, yet it always gives you and edge in your career, if you know the language of the people you work for. I have worked in the field of Youth employment and I have seen many younger Tibetans, school dropouts, school graduates and even college graduates, are not only lacking in English skills, but not so surprisingly in Hindi too. And of course I don’t even need to tell how good they are in their Tibetan skills.

What surprises me more is the fact that monks in monasteries and newly arrived Tibetans are not taught Hindi but rather English and Tibetan? Even science is taught now in the monasteries, but sadly no Hindi. Many are not even able to read the name of places where a bus is going. How can we then say that we truly appreciate this land of culture to whom we call our tutor?

Its time now that our education policy makers review the current policy and bring back Hindi to our schools. Teaching modules in Hindi should also be brought forth for newly arrived Tibetans in India as well as those who are born here.

I have heard about a culminating realisation of the importance of Chinese language across the globe. Especially many Tibetans too are saying that it is essential that we know Chinese. The reasons are surplus and I won’t be discussing them in this write up. Yet it makes me wonder, if 50 years have not made us learn the language of a place where we have been living and many who have been born. How this prudent realisation of the importance of Chinese language will shape up remains to be seen? But for now, I think its more then essential that efforts must be done to teach more Hindi.

This is the land from where Buddhism reached Tibet, from where Tibetans learned the lesson of “Ahimsa Parmo Dharma” (Non-Violence is the highest religion), a land where the roots of our Tibetan language lie, a land where we have sought refuge from Chinese oppression, a land where we have learnt democracy and a land from where we strive for our freedom.

If we don’t value and embrace the language of this land that has given us so much, I wonder how prudent are we in thinking that the future will be fine just as it is. It is this language, I believe that will play a far greater role then any other in our freedom struggle, and its high time we realise the importance of “Hindi For Tibetans”.