What a Look at the Academic Books Available in India Reveals on the Translation and Language Debate

About ten years ago, anxious to find books in Hindi to help the faculty of SCERT and the teacher training colleges with which I was associated, I walked into the library of the Central Institute of Education (CIE) in New Delhi. The institute offers a pre-employment teacher preparation program in Hindi as well as English and the postgraduate program also allows students to take exams and the thesis in Hindi. I was impressed with the volume and variety of books in the library. And once I had taken my eyes and mind off the books displayed in different disciplines, I asked for the Hindi section. The exhibition of books in English made me anticipate the end of my search for documents in Hindi that I could bring back to our institutions to enrich our discussions and conversations. Two piles of guidebooks and exam preparation materials were all there was in the Hindi section! It came as a brutal shock.

As I hunted, it became clear that this was a common experience for anyone visiting the libraries of educational institutions providing instruction in an Indian language. The volume, variety and nature of books available in English for any discipline are many times greater than those available in Hindi or any other Indian language. In a good library at a college or even a high school, where there are shelves and shelves of books in English, the number of books in other languages ​​is miniscule. What is even more painful is that the only books available in Indian languages ​​are usually exam keys and guides, which do not help the reader to engage in knowledge at the level of ideas and concepts. . They lack in-depth speeches and nuanced discussions.

Sporadic efforts have been made to collect existing documents in Hindi and to translate the documents into Hindi and other Indian languages ​​by individuals and, in some cases, organizations. Most of these efforts have been short-lived and have little to show for the materials available or their quality. There are not many academic sharing forums where current ideas and new analyzes can be presented in Indian languages. Since most schools and even colleges have courses in Indian languages ​​even when exams are to be written in English, this lack of materials and forums is crippling for knowledge to be internalized and for people in the field to convert their experience. in knowledge.

The experience of people working with schools and children does not benefit from the reflections of their peers because there is no way in which they can document and share it. The analysis of what they see, struggle, experience and achieve remains circumscribed by the knowledge available in books, which are rarely in a language other than English. Field experiences are therefore neither shared nor widely known. Furthermore, they do not form the basis on which further analysis can be carried out. The absence of forums for sharing ideas in Indian languages ​​leaves little room for the documentation of experiences and reflections. Lack of critical feedback will limit the learning process. This is a great obstacle to the development of ideas of education and learning based on the context of the struggles of teachers and students.

Recognizing this incongruity is an important first step in addressing it, but the road ahead is long and difficult. It is a question of creating forums of expression and discussion in Indian languages. It commands academic respect for those who contribute to the knowledge of these languages. It therefore requires a two-pronged approach.

First, hold academic seminars and conferences in regional languages ​​and ensure that all seminars and conferences invite papers and commentaries in those languages. And second, to increase access to existing documents in various disciplines in these languages ​​by translating quality texts.

There are many challenges in this journey, and they must be overcome, but the most difficult part is the non-acceptance of articles and writings in Indian languages ​​as academic work for credit in academic circles, including universities. Papers and conference presentations written in languages ​​are also not respected and work on academic translations is not accepted as an academic endeavor (although we know how difficult it is to translate a good academic text) . It is not just a question of finding equivalent words, which is in itself complex, but of placing the idea in the context of a different language and culture without altering the essence of what the author wants to convey is not an easy task.

Another big challenge in this way of making materials widely available is the issue of copyright. It is not easy to obtain authorizations to translate texts which can form the basis of learning for various disciplines. The task is even more difficult if the goal is to make the translation freely accessible. It is difficult to reach the people who own the copyright and then to convince them of the usefulness of this accessibility. As a team at Azim Premji University, it has been a journey of learning and discovery to create the possibility of this access through a repository. This is a small part of the University’s efforts to make access to quality higher education inclusive and to ensure that the public education system becomes increasingly dynamic, reflective and self-correcting.

Hriday Kant Dewan leads the Translation Initiative, Anuvada Sampada, at Azim Premji University

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