Mind the (language-medium) gap

Authored by: Chaise LaDousa

Routledge Handbook of Education in India

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138091610
eBook ISBN: 9781315107929
Adobe ISBN:


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At every halt on Delhi’s Metro rail service, with the announcement of the upcoming station, comes a warning for the deboarding passengers. The announcements in Hindi such as ‘doori ka dhyan rakhein’ are soon followed by ‘mind the gap’ in English. Sometimes, even the pronunciation of the names of stations are different in the Hindi and English messages. The second item in ‘Chawri Bazar’ is rendered with equal length and stress in the Hindi version, but is pronounced with a shortened initial vowel and stress on the second syllable in the English version. But while two languages coexist on the Delhi Metro, one can argue that schools across North India are doubly implicated in the language difference. Schools resemble the Delhi Metro because more than one language can be found within them, but a school is – additionally – identifiable by what language it uses as a primary language of pedagogy. The word used to refer to this phenomenon is ‘madhyam’ in Hindi and ‘medium’ in English. 1 It would be like having separate metros and finding the order of the sets of messages in each kind reversed, the Hindi one with Hindi and English and the English one with English and Hindi. This chapter outlines some of the underpinnings and consequences of the language-medium divide in North India. It traces some of the ways in which the language-medium divide has undergone a change in its articulation during the past 20 years that I have been studying it in Varanasi, and, more sporadically, in Delhi. Changes in the language-medium divide have articulated the changing relationships between metros and villages in the social life of education in India, specifically through the increasing salience of provincial or small cities, like Varanasi. Such cities provide the crossroads between metros and villages and offer places where people struggle in various ways with the inequalities, tensions, and contradictions embedded in ties between language and education.

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