Even as political commentators debated inside television studios, the home ministry’s decision to ‘promote’ Hindi on social media, tech-savvy youngsters took to social media to raise awareness of the importance of linguistic equality in India.
Social networks witnessed a flurry of activity over the past few days as youngsters sent out tweets and updated their Facebook statuses to criticise the move: while a few changed their Facebook profile pictures to black and white pictures of anti-Hindi agitations of the 60s, others chose to quote DMK founder C.N. Annadurai.
Some created online petitions, while others shared television debates that clearly articulated their point of view.
Born into a Telugu-speaking family and raised in Chennai, Vivek Babu, a postgraduate student, says he first started thinking about the importance of language after a customer care executive denied services to his mother because she did not know English or Hindi.
After experiencing similar incidents while studying abroad with other Indian students, he decided to create a platform for like-minded people on Facebook, called ‘Promote Linguistic Equality: Hindi is not the National Language’. The community today has a little more than 3,300 members from various linguistic groups operating with a basic goal: to make all 22 languages official languages in India.
The group constantly exchanges ideas on how to raise awareness about the need for linguistic equality. “Through this group, we have managed to generate nuanced narratives, which have made some of the television debates around linguistic equality embarrassing to watch. As a rule, we exchange ideas only in English and strictly prohibit those who espouse hatred for other communities,” says Vivek.
Hailing from Bangalore, Vasant Shetty created an online petition asking the Prime Minister to declare all languages present in the 8th Schedule official languages.
“India is not a monolithic entity speaking one language. It’s a union of linguistic States and treating every language equally is the way to foster greater sense of unity among Indians. One of the things about social media activism is that you have to persevere. The petition I began might not bring change tomorrow, but it is things like these that add up in the end,” he says.
Reiterating that it is after all a justified demand, Vasant says social media has made it possible to forge a coalition with other linguistic communities.
“We can’t expect politicians from Tamil Nadu to always take the lead. Other linguistic communities should also stand up and be counted,” he says.