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Should Hindi be the sole official language?

Hindi zealots, while ostensibly acting for the greater good of the nation, actually end up alienating others, writes A.R. Venkatachalapathy

Subramania Bharati, the great Tamil nationalist poet, is presumably known to every educated Indian, even Hindi zealots. Not so his childhood friend Somasundara Bharati, who was V.O. Chidambaram Pillai’s associate in his great anti-British Swadeshi shipping venture. In 1937, to protest against the C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji)-led Madras government’s attempt to make Hindi compulsory in schools, Somasundara Bharati left the Congress to join the anti-Hindi agitation led by Periyar E.V. Ramasamy.

This is how Hindi zealots, ostensibly for the greater good of the nation, actually end up driving them away.

Overenthusiasm that harms

In time, Rajaji himself warned, in 1965, “Let us not make the sixty million people in the south seditious, by one stroke.” But it seems Hindi enthusiasts have simply not learnt the lesson.

The Congress got a drubbing in the 1967 elections in the State, and it has been on a never-ending leather hunt. Surely, for the Bharatiya Janata Party, ramming Hindi into unwilling Tamil throats will take it no nearer to Fort St. George. Sadly, even Lohiaite socialists are cut from the same cloth.

It is over half a century since the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 and Delhi’s assurance that English would continue to be associate official language until non-Hindi-speaking States so desire. Since the days of Hindi scraping in through a single vote in the Constituent Assembly, no intellectual argument has been made for why the south should accept Hindi. Their case is usually made in Hindi, resulting in a dialogue of the deaf. From Subramania Bharati to Periyar to Rajaji Tamil leaders promoted, in good faith, Hindi language teaching in Tamil Nadu to foster better integration. Only to give it up as counterproductive, the arrogance and insensitivity of Hindi advocates contributing in no small measure to their disillusionment.

What has changed in the fifty years since the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation? If anything, the case for Hindi has weakened. Over the last many decades, south India has made rapid strides in the social, political and economic spheres.

The south’s surge

The social transformation triggered by the Mandal Commission recommendations was modelled on a caste-based reservation system fashioned in Tamil Nadu. The rapid strides in education in the south have underpinned the software revolution and the leap in the service sector.

Any reasonably informed survey of trends in modern India will tell you that most of the major intellectual currents have bypassed the Hindi language. Hindi newspapers are not a patch on their Malayalam counterparts. The vitality of the little and middle magazine tradition in Tamil outstrips anything remotely similar in Hindi. Despite the billions of rupees spent on official language commissions, government largesse, and the appointment of Hindi officers in every Central government office, only sarkari Hindi, which is about as fecund as a mule, has thrived. On the contrary, with little or no government patronage, Tamil and Malayalam constitute a far more vibrant presence in the virtual world.

Such inadequacies apart, Hindi’s trajectory in modern India has been inflected — or rather, infected — by Hindu communalism. Hindi zealots have, on the one hand, been intent on Sanskritising their language, and on the other, erasing its rich dialectal variety, leading to separate movements such as for the protection of Maithili.

In the hands of a majoritarian government, with utter contempt for the cultural plurality and diversity of our great nation, the pipe dream of making Hindi the sole official language takes on nightmarish proportions. Hindi simply doesn’t make the cut.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy is a historian and Tamil writer.

Spoken by more than 50% of Indians and understood by another 20%, Hindi is the natural lingua franca, writes Nand Kishore Pandey

On January 26, 1950 our Constitution came into effect. Article 343 gave Hindi the honour of ‘official language’ (Rajbhasha). There are 22 Indian languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

The point to be noticed, in a country like India with a population of 125 crore, is that Hindi is spoken by more than 50% of the population and understood by 20% of the non-Hindi-speaking population. Hence, Hindi is naturally the lingua franca of India.

The aam aadmi (common man) converses in Hindi or in various dialects of Hindi.

Non-Hindi-speaking States are wrong to assume that if Hindi flourishes, their languages will get suppressed. Seventeen per cent of the world’s population resides in India, whose languages also constitute 25% of the languages in the world. And each and every language is enjoying its own space. Is this possible in countries like Canada, France, England, Britain, etc.? It’s not.

I don’t support the idea of not speaking in one’s own mother tongue and enforcing Hindi. But I definitely do feel that when two people, say, one from West Bengal and another from Kerala, meet and do not understand each other’s language, then instead of talking in English they should communicate in Hindi, if they know Hindi.

In Nagaland, English is the State language. Yet, there is a growing demand for Hindi.

There are 2,400 Hindi teachers teaching at various levels from primary schools to higher secondary. It is highly appreciable that the State government has given 2.8 acres of land to set up a Hindi institute.

The Northeast is considered to be the most disinterested in Hindi. But in fact, the lingua franca of its farthest part, Arunachal Pradesh, is Hindi. Arunachal Pradesh alone has 26 languages spoken by various tribes. Jammu & Kashmir has 11 languages, Meghalaya three, Nagaland about six languages with ‘Nagamese’ as their lingua franca.

Respect for diversity

We Indians were compelled to accept English as an official language and not as our mother tongue or our common language. And that is why, even after so many years of independence, English cannot become our communicative language or lingua franca.

Those who supported Hindi in the Constituent Assembly were not confined to Hindi-speaking people. As for people in Hindi-speaking States not learning other languages, I do not think it is the result of some mala fide intention. It is merely that the need for learning south Indian languages is limited. I may not speak Tamil, but that does not mean I am ignorant about Tamil literature. It is a classical language just as Sanskrit.

Hindi-speaking people have due respect for south Indian languages in their hearts and they readily want to know and study them. Hundreds of books are translated from each south Indian language to Hindi. Comparative research is a continuous process in universities in north India. Hindi is the language of a vast nation. It is spoken by the second-largest populated country of the world and also outside India.

In official terms, the whole nation has been divided into three parts — A, B, C — and the letters exchanged between them are sent with translations in Hindi and English.

I feel a board or a milestone in Hindi will not weaken other Indian languages. Nor will the identity of other Indian languages be belittled by Hindi.

No foreign language can ever take the place of our Indian languages. Our languages are our culture and tradition.

As told to Anuradha Raman

Nand Kishore Pandey is professor and director at the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Agra

When one starts looking at the question of Hindi’s claim to be recognised as the national language of India, the following four obvious factors need to be taken into consideration, writes G.N. Devy

Not everyone’s language

One, Hindi is not the natural language of a majority of States in India. These include Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka in the south; Goa, Maharastra and Gujarat in the west; Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir in the north-west; Odisha and West Bengal in the east; Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam in the Northeast. These make 20 States of the existing 29 States.

Two, of the remaining States, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh are seen as predominantly Hindi-speaking States; but a closer look at their linguistic composition shows that they all have their own native regional languages within each of them and Hindi functions there as a shared pan-State language. Three, in terms of heritage value, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Odia, Bangla, Nepali and Assamese have a historically longer legacy than the Hindi language.

Four, the Constitution has imagined India, both through commission and omission, as a multilingual country and not as a monolingual nation. The fact that it originally decided to list 14 languages in the Eighth Schedule clearly indicates the unwillingness of the makers of the Constitution to tether India to any single language.

Yet, the claims are not entirely misplaced considering the changing demography within the country and the global situation. When the Indian States were created as primarily linguistic States, the levels of interstate migration were relatively negligible. During the last seven decades, the changing livelihood patterns have induced large-scale interstate migrations. This process has created the need for linguistic vehicles for delivery of education, processes of governance and simply internal communication in urban habitats.

In the given situation, if one had to choose one of the 22 Schedule languages protected and promoted by the Constitution, Hindi clearly is the top-ranker. It is globally the fastest-growing language in terms of the number of speakers.

Over the last 50 years, the numbers of those who claim English as their mother tongue (not just as a functional language) has increased globally by 16 crore, against the base of 32 crore. Hindi shows a growth of 16 crore against the base of 28 crore.

If India had to put up only one of its languages as an ‘international Indian language’, Hindi would be a natural choice since it has a small or big presence in nearly 65 countries. However, languages issues are not to be sorted out only in terms of their numerical strength. Had that been the case, the Chinese Mandarin would have long back been accepted as the most viable international language.

Hindi appears to be threatening more than 60 smaller languages in the States surrounding the Hindi heartland. Besides, it is made, unfortunately, part of a political argument that seeks to promote India as a Hindu Rashtra, an anathema to any liberal-minded citizen. Were a referendum of the language question held in India, Hindi, which is not the first language of more than three-fifths, would lose hands down.

Hindi should wait for another century or so before staking the claim if we want to keep India united. And the unity of India is guarded by its diversity, not by its cultural fencing.

G.N. Devy is Chairman, People’s Linguistic Survey of India

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 1:38:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/should-hindi-be-the-sole-official-language/article18491652.ece

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