A recent statement of union home minister, Amit Shah brought language debate once again to the table. According to the union home minister, ‘Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local langue’. Similarly, the union home minister who chairs the Parliamentary Official Language committee had announced that Hindi would be made compulsory in all eight north-eastern states up to Class X. These new developments received a thrust from political leaders from north-eastern states as well as Indian states from down the south.
The making of crisis: Weaponizing language
It is true that no language in India is self-sufficient in nature. Almost all languages in the world have borrowed words from other languages. The scripts of languages can be different but they share word strengths with each other. For example, if someone explains that my house is near to ‘xyz’ landmark in the Bhojpuri language, the word “Niyare” is used. This word is very close to the English word ‘near’. Similarly, ‘Kareja’ word is used to indicate ‘Courage’ in Bhojpuri. This phenomenon is found in almost all languages. It probably happens due to cross-culture awareness.
All languages are unique in their way and have their own potential. For example, there is no word in Hindi and English to explain the relationship between a brother and a sister if one of them dies. But there is a word for this in the Andamanese language called, “Ropuch”. However, to describe such a relationship between a husband and a wife, there is a word like ‘Widow’ and ‘Widower’ in English and ‘Vidhwa’ and ‘Vidhur’ in Hindi. Such a beautiful relationship was weaponized by colonial power. It strengthened the closeness between language and identity. Subsequently, it was used to divide us and make us fight with each other on the false notion of ‘superiority’.
The colonial masters first politicized the language in the ‘Anglicist-Orientalists’ debate in India. An attempt was made to extend education in the English language so that the administration of the British government could become easy. Thus, it laid the foundation to spread English in India. Later, it was used to create a social crack in society. In 1867, the British government sowed the seeds of ‘Hindi-Urdu controversy’ by appeasing the Hindu community. Muslim politician, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan opposed it. A similar trend was found even after independence on the issue of reorganization of Indian states.
The language issue has been one of the prominent political fodder on the political horizon of south Asia. It was one of the major causes of violence in Indian states down the south. ‘Tamil-Telugu’ and ‘Marathi-Gujrati’ issues largely dominated just after independence in India. It was the language that played an important role in the division of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan. Subsequently, the same language issue (13th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution) has sown the seed for civil war in Sri Lanka. Thus, taking a decision on language is like walking on a tight rope.
Prospect of ‘Hindi’ envisaged by our forefathers
We often remember Mahatma Gandhi on several issues but his ideas on Hindi are set aside. Mahatma Gandhi said – ‘Hindi is the language of the masses’. He also talked about making Hindi – the national language of the nation. Mahatma Gandhi termed English as the ‘language of elite’ and not the common masses. In fact, the Indian national congress supported for Hindustani language, and subsequently Hindi was adopted in the Kanpur Session of INC in 1925. It is also known as Hindi-Urdu and historically also known as Hindavi, Dehlavi, and Rekhta. Subsequently, Subhash Chandra Bose being a Bengali, extended support for Hindi in the Devanagari script.
Even though there was a common consensus among freedom fighters over Hindi in place of English, a deliberate attempt was made to divide India into one more layer i.e., regionalize India with the help of language. Subsequently, it added one more shade to our Identity along with caste, and religion. When C Rajagopachari (Rajaji) started introducing in the schools of Madras Presidency in 1937, an anti-Hindi environment was created under the leadership of the Justice Party. E.V. Ramaswamy became the face of this warring camp. That’s why Dr. Ambedkar probably said in his last speech – “We are a group of warring camps and I may go even to the extent of confessing that I am probably one of the leaders of such a camp”.
Subsequently, leaders were seen divided on the language in the constituent assembly. They reached a compromise – the ‘Munshi-Ayyangar’ formula – English will be continued for 15 years for all official purposes and later parliament could substitute Hindi. It indicates that there was a consensus that the prospect of Hindi can be realized in later years. Unfortunately, Pundit Nehru enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963 to ensure the continuing use of English beyond 1965. Amid the pressure of DMK, an offshoot of the Justice Party, Indira Gandhi amended the Official Languages Act in 1967 to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages.
Decoding the myth of ‘Hindi imperialism’
If we read the statement of the union home minister, it asks to substitute link language from English to Hindi and not local language. Indian parliamentarians like Shashi Tharoor opposed his statement by claiming “Hindi imposition” and “Hindutva ideology is impatient with the notion of Indian multilingualism”. It should be clear that it was about to replace link language and not all local languages. Currently, English is used as a link language. Why can’t we claim that “English” is being imposed on us? I am not able to understand the attitude which accepts a foreign language, English as a link language but not Hindi which is indigenous to this land.
A new narrative is ‘Hindi Imperialism’ in the Indian political landscape. The anti-Hindi project is largely a political scheme based on the hate against Hindi that can be validated through two incidences – (1) the Political elite class is comfortable with a foreign language, English to link the local language to other languages but intolerant to accepting Hindi as a link language. (2) We didn’t witness any protest against Arabic, a foreign language in Tamil Nadu. It is ironic that Arabic is taught at the graduate level in several colleges across the State. In fact, we do not notice any such thrust when people demand the revival of Arab-Tamil that was declined due to colonial power.
There is a myth among the common masses that all people in the southern part of India hate Hindi. In reality, Hindi is hated by the elite section because it suits their political dynamics. Paradoxically, the flag bearers of the anti-Hindi project know Hindi very well. But they restrict the masses from Hindi because the basic foundation of regional parties down the south is the “anti-Hindi” narrative. C Rajagopalachari also belonged to the same region but he was in favor of Hindi. Similarly, in 2017, the vice president of India, Venkaiah Naidu openly claimed Hindi as the national language and remarked – ‘very unfortunate that we are obsessed with English’.
An attempt is made to sketch India as a “State nation” instead of a “Nation-State”. The Hindi language is used as an argument to corner the concept of the nation-state. The basis for this preposition lacks gravity. A senior fellow at CSDS, Yogendra Yadav claims that political boundaries do not coincide with cultural boundaries, thus India can’t be seen as a “Nation-State”. But this argument seems oxymoron because if there is no coincidence between cultural and political boundaries then on what basis the concerned state is envisaged as a “sub-nation”? Additionally, false equivalences are made at par with the disintegration of the USSR to create a sense of fear in the nationalists. It should be understood that USSR was not based on federal principles, it was by nature confederal.
Constitutional dictate should prevail over personal opinion
The Constitution of India clearly indicates that the Indian federal model is not based on the ‘Coming together model’. Its federal structure is based on the ‘Holding together model’. Even the phrase of Article 1, India as ‘Union of States’ is largely misinterpreted in the public domain. However, Dr. B R Ambedkar decoded the phrase India as ‘Union of States’ in constituent assembly in two major statements – (1) It means the Indian federation is not the result of an agreement among the states, like the American Federation. (2) Also the states have no right to secede from the federation.
If the union home minister asks to make Hindi a link language, he is certainly following the constitutional mandates – First, Our constitution protects 22 regional languages under schedule 8. Making Hindi a link or national language doesn’t mean abrogation of schedule 8. In fact, I believe that some regional languages like Bhojpuri, Rajasthani, and other regional languages should also be included in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution. Second, Why Article 351 of our constitution empowers the Union to promote the spread of the ONLY Hindi language? – Because our forefathers have envisaged Hindi as the language for India.
Third, if Hindi can’t be used as a link language in offices then why does the state government declares its official language. For example, the first official language of Bihar is Hindi, and the second official language is Urdu. I don’t know an iota of Urdu language written in Perso-Arabic script. Can it be said that it is politically imposed on people like us whose mother tongue is Bhojpuri? Similarly, erstwhile J&K made their state language ‘Urdu’ but the people of Ladakh don’t speak it. Sonam Wangchuk claimed that Kashmiri used to call them ‘Jahil’ since they were not comfortable with Urdu. That can be called language Imperialism.
Thus, Until the state creates hatred against any regional language, an attempt to declare a ‘National Language’ or ‘Link language’ can’t be considered language imperialism. As people in erstwhile J&K used to call Ladakhi people ‘Jahil’ just because they don’t know Urdu, was wrong. As far as the question of Singhalese in Sri Lanka and Bengali in the context of erstwhile East Pakistan (Currently Bangladesh), Singhalese in Sri Lanka and Punjabi Muslims in Pakistan used language with a negative connotation to corner a section of the linguistic community.
It carries the same differences that secularism and communalism carry. It means as you walk on the way, the way appears. It is misread that Hindi is going to be the ONLY language. In fact, it should be considered best as first among equals. Probably Hindi could be best placed as a language that would ease communication between different states so that we could communicate with each other on the line of sociological approach. It cannot be seen as a replacement for local languages but it would envisage a true spirit of unity among us.
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