India Insight

Has India squandered its English advantage?

When the British were finally expelled from India in 1947, driven out of a country scarred by decades of imperialist rule, they left at least one parting gift: a linguistic legacy that has formed a crucial ingredient in the country’s economic miracle.

English proficiency is hailed as an invaluable foundation in India’s rise to the top of the world’s information technology and knowledge outsourcing industries, fuelling the country’s rapid growth with billions of dollars of business every year and streams of overseas investments into global IT centres such as Bangalore.

Nine-year-old Chinese pupil, Sun Minyi, listens to his teacher during a special English class at Chongming county, north of Shanghai July 12, 2002. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

But, as Asian rival China surpasses India’s English proficiency rates for the first time, that advantage over other developing economies looks to have been squandered.

China was ranked one place above India in Education First’s 2011 English Proficiency Index, released last month, the first time India has been beaten by its neighbour and fellow BRIC economy in the international rankings of foreign countries English-speaking abilities.

“It appears that China is poised to surpass India in the number of English speakers in the coming years, if it has not already done so,” the report said.

Is India really the world’s fifth most powerful country?

India is the world’s fifth most powerful country, according to a New Delhi-authored national security document, the Times of India reported on Wednesday, as Indian analysts placed the emerging nation above major European powers.

Outranking traditional global powers such as the UK, France and Germany, India’s ballooning population, defense capabilities and economic clout were cited as reasons for its position behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Russia in India’s National Security Annual Review 2010, which will be officially released by the country’s foreign ministry next week.

Its statistical foundations in terms of population numbers and GDP aside — in terms of purchasing power parity, it should be noted — India’s experience of wielding power on the global stage of late, boosted by its temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, has been less encouraging.

Is India really ready for the Commonwealth Games?

While travelling to work in an auto rickshaw, the driver asked me, “Madam aap TV dekhte ho kya?” (Madam, do you watch TV?)Wondering what would come next, I replied with a nod.“Hamare desh mein agle saal khel hone vale hain, mehmaan ayenge magar mehmaano ke liye humne kya kiya? (We are going to have games in our country next year, guests will come but what have we done for our guests?),” he asked. With a very miserable expression he further said, “Padhe-likhe log bhi sadak pe kachra aur thook fekte hain.” (Even educated people spit and litter the streets) The auto driver is not the only one concerned about this issue.Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram remarked recently that people should learn to behave like citizens of an international city.“We want to encourage people to change their mindset,” he said. The Indian Olympic Association has expressed its concern over the logistical preparations for the event, but who is going to check on how the people behave?Beggars in the national capital are also looking forward to the Games. A large number of tourists would be a windfall and beggars are leaving no stone unturned to be prepared.An informal academy has been set up in New Delhi’s Rohini area where children are taught to beg in different foreign languages.Countries like Germany and China had taken the initiative to train their citizens to behave properly when they hosted the football World Cup and the Olympics. Should India also start a similar training program or is it too late?The Indian Tourism’s tagline reads – ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’. (Our guest is blessed and our visitor is God)Do you think people will adopt this tagline in the months to come? Are we really ready for a global event like the Games?

The Ugly Indian

– Jason Overdorf writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

The instant that the fasten seat belts light went out aboard Cathay Pacific’s inaugural Delhi-Bangkok flight this summer, a chorus of metallic dongs erupted like a romper roomful of Ritalin-deprived 5-year-olds turned loose on an arsenal of xylophones.

The passengers were attacking their call buttons.

In seconds, flight attendants were up and running. By the time they began dishing out the special meals, tempers were beginning to fray.

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