Language should be an instrument of opportunity, not of oppression

Contact Counsellor

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’

This is image title

  • 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.

Three-language formula

This is image title

  • 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.

Exam track

Prelims take away

  • The constitutional status of Hindi
  • Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution

Mains track

Q. Should Hindi be Lingua franca for India? Comment.