Official language or national language?

The terminology used in Sanskritized official Hindi is as unintelligible to the common man as English, defeating its very purpose

Updated - May 23, 2013 07:12 pm IST

Published - May 23, 2013 07:11 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A friend has drawn my attention to a May 1, 2013 order of the Supreme Court that set aside punishment given to an employee of the Indian Navy because, despite his repeated requests, he was denied the chargesheet against him in Hindi. My friend was elated as he saw in it a much-deserved victory for the “rashtrabhasha” — the national language — Hindi. He is not a typical Hindiwallah. He in fact happens to be the grandson of Mahadev Desai, Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary for 25 years but who, in anthropologist Verrier Elwin’s words, “was much more than that”. He was also “Gandhi’s Boswell” who recorded his words and presented his master’s voice to the world. As the Mahatma’s grandson and historian Rajmohan Gandhi observes, “Waking up before Gandhi in pre-dawn darkness, and going to sleep long after his Master, Desai lived Gandhi's day thrice over — first in an attempt to anticipate it, next in spending it alongside Gandhi, and finally in recording it into his diary.” My friend, unlike many others, has not discarded the core values of our national movement cherished by his grandfather and other family members. Promotion of Hindi or Hindustani is one of them.

While Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were in favour of Hindustani that would derive its sustenance from both Hindi and Urdu and would be intelligible to the man on the street, there were others in the Congress who were not in agreement. In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi zealots led by Seth Govind Das and Purushottam Das Tandon won the day and the government of free India was committed to adopt Hindi as its official language in addition to English with the provision that the use of English would be scaled down and finally stopped in 1965. Hindi enthusiasts began to refer to Hindi as India’s sole national language.

As I have mentioned in an earlier column, Hindi had acted as a uniting force during the national movement and thousands of people in South India learnt Hindi as a result of the missionary work done by Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Samiti. But, after independence, the overzealous Hindi enthusiasts antagonized speakers of other Indian languages as they tried to replace English by Hindi as the language of political dominance. The 1967 Angrezi Hatao (Remove English) Movement launched by socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia and his followers added fuel to fire and anti-Hindi agitations flared up in the South, especially in Tamil Nadu. Speakers of ancient and rich languages like Tamil could not bring themselves to accept Hindi as the national language while their own languages were relegated to the status of being merely ‘regional’.

While Lohia advocated the use of regional languages in the lower and district courts, he was in favour of the use of Hindustani in the higher judiciary. However, he, for some inexplicable reason, forgot that Hindi and not Hindustani had been accepted as the official language of the central government. As Hindi lacked an evolved terminology, the Constitution mandated it to create it by borrowing words from the Sanskrit stock, paving the way for officially-sanctioned Sanskritized Hindi. This has resulted in the creation of an artificial language that is as unintelligible to the common man as English, thus defeating the very purpose of the exercise.

However, the government and its various limbs remain completely oblivious of their constitutional obligations. Mithilesh Kumar Singh, an employee of the Navy, wanted to be served the chargesheet in Hindi so that he could defend himself adequately before the inquiry panel. However, his requests were repeatedly ignored by a callous government. Not only that, he failed to get relief from the Central Administrative Tribunal and the High Court. Finally, counsel Pyoli fought his case ably before the Supreme Court whose two-member bench consisting of Justices H.L. Dattu and Jagdish Singh Khehar on May 1, 2013 quashed the departmental orders to punish him and granted him relief.

One hopes that Singh will be able to decipher the chargesheet in Hindi as the official version of the language is generally incomprehensible.

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