Language should be an instrument of opportunity, not of oppression
- The Union Home Minister recently said that Hindi should replace English as the “link language” and that Government’s work will increasingly be in Hindi.
- The “Hindi-Hindutva-Hindustan” ideology is inconsistent with the notion of Indian multilingualism and undermines national unity and is against the diversity that our constitutional nationalism celebrates.
Part of ‘Hindi promotion’
- There have been several efforts to promote Hindi.
- Imposition of Hindi names on Central government programmes and schemes (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and the like) instead of translations or ‘neutral’ English labels.
- Making Hindi a compulsory subject for CBSE schools across the country; re-lettering milestones on national highways in Hindi instead of English; the use of Hindi in airport announcements; and launching ‘promotional campaigns exclusively in the Hindi script’, even when the words used may be from different Indian languages; and the practice of renaming well-known occasions or festivities only in Hindi or Sanskrit, such as Teacher’s Day as Guru Purnima.
- Latest controversy has revealed two essential truths about our country.
- We do not have one “national language” in India, but several.
- Zealots have a tendency to provoke a battle they will lose — at a time when they were quietly winning the war.
Missing the point
- Hindi is the mother tongue of around 50% of our population and it has been growing due to failure of population control in much of North India.
- But it is not the mother tongue of the rest of the country.
- When Hindi speakers complain about the use of an alien language imposed on the country by British colonialists, they are missing the point twice over.
- No Tamil or Bengali will accept that Hindi is the language of her soul
- Injecting anti-English xenophobia is utterly irrelevant to the issue at stake.
- All Indians need to deal with the government and we need to understand what our government is saying to us or demanding of us.
- When the government does so in our mother tongue, it is easier for us.
- The de-facto solution to this question can be a practical one: use Hindi where it is understood, but use English everywhere, since it places all Indians from all parts of our country at an equal disadvantage.
- Language is a vehicle, not a destination.
- In government, it is a means, not an end.
- In the five decades since the promulgation of the ‘three-language formula’, implementation has largely failed across the country, for two divergent reasons.
- At an ideological level, in States such as Tamil Nadu, the question of being required to learn a northern language such as Hindi has always been contentious, with anti-Hindi agitations a recurring episode in the State since 1937.
- In the northern states, there is no demand for learning a southern language, and so no Northern State has seriously implemented the three-language formula.
Vehicle of entertainment
- The prevalence of Hindi is far greater across India today than it was half a century ago.
- It is because Bollywood has brought conversational Hindi into every Indian home.
- South Indians and northeasterners alike are developing ease and familiarity with Hindi because it is a language in which they are entertained.
- In time, this alone could have made Hindi truly the national language.
- But it would become so only because Indians freely and voluntarily adopt it, not because it is being thrust down the throats of the unwilling.
- Its vocabulary, gender rules and locutions do not come instinctively to everyone:
- Native speakers of languages such as Malayalam that do not use gender can understand why a woman must be feminine but are genuinely mystified as to why a table should be feminine too.
Fear of an agenda
- Imposition is rarely a good policy in a democracy.
- But the real fear is the ideological agenda of those who believe in the nationalism of ‘one language, one religion, one nation.
- This is against the belief of those Indians who grew up and believe in a diverse, inclusive India whose languages are all equally authentic.
- The opposition to Hindi is based on the fear that such cultural uniformity is really what the advocacy of this language is all about.
- The quest for uniformity is always a sign of insecurity, and it threatens to undermine the very social fabric that has held the country together since Independence.
Prelims take away
- The constitutional status of Hindi
- Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution
Q. Should Hindi be Lingua franca for India? Comment.