Required, two tongues

English and Hindi have irreplaceable roles in national integration and ensuring progress

Updated - June 28, 2016 11:34 pm IST

Published - September 20, 2012 01:49 am IST

When I was a Judge of Allahabad High Court I would be invited by the High Court Bar Association on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, which was celebrated every year on September 14 in a function at the Bar Library. I would tell the office bearers of the bar association that I do not like to come to the function because what I say would create controversy. However, they would insist and plead that I come and speak.

At the functions many speakers would say Angrezi hatao , that is, abolish English from our country. Some would disparagingly describe English as a dasi (slave girl).

Mother tongue

When my turn comes to speak I would tell the audience that if their children did not learn English they would only be fit to drive bullock carts ( Hal chalane layak rah jayenge ). I said I too loved Hindi, which is my mother tongue, but that did not mean I should behave like a fool. All knowledge in the world is in English. If one goes to an engineering college, all the books are in English; similarly all the books in a medical college are in English. If one wants to study history, economics, philosophy, science or literature, the books are all in English. How can one do without English? It is totally stupid to say Angrezi hatao , and only enemies of their children talk like that. In fact, we must spread English more for the country’s progress. At the same time, people in non-Hindi speaking States such as Tamil Nadu should learn Hindi, because it is the link language in our country. For instance, Tamilians face great difficulty when they come out of Tamil Nadu because they do not know Hindi.

Link language

When I met the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu some time back, I told her that Tamilians should learn Hindi as it is in their interest to do so. She told me that Tamilians had indeed been learning Hindi up to the 1960s, and Hindi was spreading in Tamil Nadu by Hindi films and Hindi Prachar Sabhas. But then some north Indians decided to impose Hindi on the south, creating a strong reaction and halting the learning of Hindi.

I told her it was wrong on the part of some north Indian politicians to try to impose Hindi in the south. This is the age of democracy, and nothing should be imposed. However, what has happened has happened, and now my appeal to the people of Tamil Nadu is that they should learn Hindi. Recently, I spoke to students of Anna University in Chennai and advised them to learn Hindi. I have received e-mails from some of the students saying they have started learning Hindi.

In my speech at Anna University, I recalled an instance when I was Chief Justice of Madras High Court and had been invited to a function in Gulbarga in north Karnataka. I flew from Chennai to Hyderabad, where I caught a taxi to Gulbarga. The professor of Gulbarga University who came to receive me was a Kannada speaker and the taxi driver was a Telugu speaker, but they spoke to each other in Hindi. I was surprised that two south Indians should speak to each other in Hindi. I asked the professor the reason. He said it was because Hindi was their link language. He did not know Telugu and the taxi driver did not know Kannada, but they both knew Hindi. This shows that Hindi is the link language in much of India. In fact, most people in non-Hindi regions like Punjab, Bengal, Kashmir, the North East, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, etc. can speak Hindi. In Pakistan, people speak Urdu which is very similar to Hindi. Thus, knowledge of Hindi makes it easy to communicate in much of the subcontinent. I appeal to all the people of India to learn Hindi and English. But nothing should be imposed.

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

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