Who decides what we learn or eat?

Listening to a debate on the emotive issue of Language in India on TV, I was surprised at how people took it upon themselves to be guardians of what they call Indian culture. What's even more disturbing is the fact that this guardianship running roughshod over what I call 'Individual Liberty' (read, the right to choose) was totally lost on the 'guardians'.

The issue being discussed on the program was about what could be a 'link' language in India. The general agreement stayed at 'Hindi'. Of course I don't have a problem with that. But what I have a problem with is if someone (read, government) dictates a certain language be the 'link' language. Now shouldn't it be left to the people to decide the language that take to en masse, which in turn then leads to what will become the link language? For example, if more people choose to learn and converse in English, should it be seen as a problem? What our cultural guardians have a problem with is the fact that people today see English as an 'aspirational language'. What can I say, if people see English that way, they surely must have a darned good reason. Again, should a section of society's yearning for what they call 'preservation of culture' be a reason to others not learning English, instead learning a language that's Indian?

I bet the people who propose cultural corrections don't ever send their children to a school that has any other language other than English as a medium of instruction. So then why this hypocritical yearning and a subsequent diktat to others?

Using legislation to dictate what people in a society learn or eat shouldn't be seen as act aimed at cultural preservation. Instead it must be seen as an unfair substitution of individual rights with a hypocritical morality of the collective. As Karthik Reddy writes in his take on a legislation in Britain that prohibits cigarette vending machines in pubs and forces retailers, including convenience stores, to remove displays of cigarettes;

'More important than the regulatory costs and redundancy of the law is the paternalistic attitude that underlies this and the rest of the regulations that are the product of the crusade against tobacco use. Such paternalism is dangerous because it subverts self-determination and places in its stead values that are imposed by the government. British adults are not ignorant of the health effects of smoking and are fully aware of the consequences of their actions; those that choose to smoke merely choose to accept these consequences. For those who have supported restrictions on tobacco products, the health of the individual is of greater priority than his or her wishes and preferences. While improving health is certainly a noble goal, the substitution communal goals and values for individual autonomy is a dangerous path for British society to walk. It is take stop and turn around.'


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