I have seen some of the criticism in The Hindu to my article “Required, two tongues” (Op-Ed, September 20, 2012). I am a totally democratic person, and do not mind criticism at all. However, I would like to give my response:

(1) I have said that I am totally opposed to the imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu, or anywhere else for that matter. In the function at Anna University in Chennai, where I spoke recently, I advised Tamilians to learn Hindi. After my speech an elderly gentleman got up and said that Tamilians should not be compelled to learn Hindi, and English was good enough to be the link language in India. I replied that I was totally against any compulsion. If my suggestion that Tamilians should learn Hindi made sense to Tamilians, they should accept it, but if it did not make sense to them, they should reject it. Where is the compulsion? It is not fair to distort what I said.

(2) Tamil cannot be compared to Hindi, not because Hindi is superior to Tamil (I hold all languages in equal respect) but because it is much more widespread. Tamil is only spoken in Tamil Nadu, which has a population of 72 million. But Hindi is spoken not only in the Hindi belt, but in most non-Hindi states as a second language. In the Hindi belt there are 200 million people in Uttar Pradesh, 82 million in Bihar, 75 million in Madhya Pradesh, 69 million in Rajasthan, 27 million in Jharkhand, 26 million in Chhattisgarh, 26 million in Haryana, and seven million in Himachal Pradesh. Taking into account Hindi speakers in the non-Hindi belt in India (Punjab, West Bengal, Kashmir, Orissa, Assam and other North Eastern States,Telangana, etc), the number of Hindi speakers would be about 15 times that of Tamil speakers. Apart from that, Pakistanis (who number about 200 million) also speak Hindi, though they call it Urdu. How then can Tamil be compared with Hindi? Tamil is only a regional language, while Hindi is a national language. This is not because Hindi is superior to Tamil, but due to certain historical and social reasons.

(3) English is the link language only for the elite in India, and not for the common man. Anyone coming from Tamil Nadu to other parts of India will realise this. Without knowing Hindi he will experience great difficulty (in fact one of the Tamilian judges in the Supreme Court told me very recently that he had made a great mistake in not learning Hindi since he was finding it difficult in Delhi, but now he has started learning Hindi ). Only about five per cent of Indians know English (though I myself have appealed to people to learn English, since much of the knowledge of the world is in English, and I have strongly criticised those who say “Angrezi Hatao (abolish English”). In fact Hindi is already the link language for Indians, even for many South Indians, as I had explained in my article.

(4) When I was Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, I once went to a shop in Madurai. To my surprise I heard the Tamilian shopkeeper speaking to someone on the telephone in Hindi. Since I had picked up some Tamil I said to him, “Romba nalla Hindi pesreenga. Eppadi? (You are speaking such good Hindi. How is that?”) He replied, “Arasiyalle Hindi vendaamnu solvaanga, aanaa engalikku business pananum. Adnaal kathukitten. (Politicians say that we do not want Hindi, but we have to do business. So I have learnt Hindi”). I think this shopkeeper had more sense than those who oppose Hindi.

(5) I dislike both Hindi haters as well as those who wish to impose Hindi on Tamil Nadu and other States. The issue should be considered rationally, instead of emotionally. No one can dispute that Tamil is a great language, with great literary works like Tirukkural, Silapathiharam, Manimekhalai, Kambar Ramayanam, and in more recent times, the great poems of the nationalist poet Subramania Bharathi and many others. I fully support the demand that lawyers in the Madras High Court should be allowed to argue in Tamil (except before judges who have come on a transfer from other States), though judgments should be in English so that people from other States can read them. When in the Supreme Court, I would sometimes speak a few sentences in Tamil when a Tamilian lawyer appeared before me. I think I was the first Judge in the history of the Supreme Court to speak in Tamil in court.

I would appeal to Tamilians to once again consider my suggestion that they should learn Hindi. If my suggestion does not make sense, please reject it.

(Markandey Katju is Chairman, Press Council of India.)

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