Language Imposition: An Identity Crisis?
If I am not listening to music, which is highly improbable (I am writing this listening to an album that I loved in recent times, Brochevaarevaruraa!), I will be reading some random book in my house. I am very much fascinated by the kids section in the magazine that accompanies the Sunday edition of Eenadu (a Telugu daily) or all of my English supplementary textbooks from Class VI to X (published by the State Board of the former state of Andhra Pradesh), fondly called the ‘Non-Detailed’, ironically very detailed.
We had an opportunity to read the abridged versions of the classics of English literature: ‘The Trojan War’, ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, ‘Great Expectations’ and finally the famous ‘The Hound of Baskervilles’. I later on went to read all the books in their original form.
I migrated to CBSE for my senior-secondary schooling. The English textbooks seemed boring then. Not anymore, I read them more than twice since the lock-down began. Reading Chapter 1 of Flamingo (English textbook for Class XII) “The Last Lesson”, sure brought back some memories of Class XII and more importantly struck me for the relevance and the similarity it has to the current situation of languages in India.
As soon as the BJP government formed in 2014, they have made it clear that their aim is to promote Hindi language. Multiple notifications, circulars & orders have been issued in this regard and this even went to an extent to make Hindi a compulsory subject in CBSE schools till Class X. This is yet another ‘I don’t know which adjective to use’ decision, just like the countless other decisions taken without scratching the knee (sarcastic v. Telugu for much thought).
Note: The following section contains a combination of history, politics, geography and statistics which may not be appealing to everyone (TBH, it’s not everyone’s cup of coffee. It is mine, definitely!).
With a new official document published by the Rajbhasha Committee for the promotion and progressive use of Hindi in central government offices and public sector banks and undertakings, the hashtag #StopHindiImposition started trending on Twitter. I absolutely supported it. Many asked me why am I in support of the hashtag although I speak Hindi. That question made no sense to me!
Hindi is not my mother tongue and making Hindi compulsory effectively hinders the growth of my mother tongue in my own state, damn it! I will break the answer into several parts and try to explain my perspective on why this move by the government is not justified in any way.
Let’s start by looking at the linguistic census of India.
There are 19569 mother tongues reported in India, according to the document titled “Languages: India, States and Union Territories” published by the Office of the Registrar General on 25th June, 2018. This number is based on the 2011 Census of India, which later is subject to a thorough scrutiny, edit and rationalization, resulting in 1369 rationalized mother tongues and 1474 unclassified mother tongues. These numbers are less against those in 2001 Census which identified 1635 rationalized mother tongues and 1957 unclassified mother tongues. Out of the 1369 languages, there are 121 languages that have more than 10000 speakers which are further categorized into two parts A and B. 22 languages in the to the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India constitute Part A and those 99 which did not find the place in the said Schedule along with the “Total of Other Languages” are included in Part B.
Speakers of the dialects of any scheduled language are counted as the speakers of that language itself. Looking at the list, I was amazed that Hindi has so many dialects (57 to be precise). Digging deeper, I found that these dialects, although have significant differences compared to Hindi, are grouped as its dialects. This essentially increases the number of native speakers of Hindi, making it the most spoken language of the country. One such example is Rajasthani. Follow this link to read more about a mother tongue classified as Hindi’s dialect and being lost. Others include: Magadhi, Pahari, Kumaoni, Gharwali and Bhojpuri. Most of these languages lack a script and have adopted various lipis (n. Sanskrit for script) for writing. By ‘who knows how’ means, they started writing in Devanagari, the same script in which Hindi is written. Magadhi evolved from Magadhi Prakrit, one among the Prakrit family of languages traditionally written in the Brahmi script. In the contemporary world, the language is written utilizing Devanagari. Why surprise, even Sanskrit wasn’t written in Devanagari all through its history. Brahmi and even some South Indian scripts were used to write Sanskrit!
So, there has been extensive manipulation of the data to increase the number of native speakers of Hindi. Why? To prove that they are the majority. That brings us to the next point. Whose idea was it to promote Hindi?
Ironically, the idea of promoting Hindi is not indigenous (just like any other idea that the politicians come up with). It was the British who came up with this idea during the implementation of ‘divide and rule’ policy. They established a Hindi-based Hindu nationalism (point to be noted) against the Mughals. The lieutenant governor of Oudh, Anthony MacDonnell has permitted Devanagari (read Hindi) to be used in the courts, although not exclusively. The idea of political units based on linguistic provinces and vernaculars was supported by the Indian National Congress in the 1920s. So, how did Hindi become one of the official languages of the Union?
During the meetings of the constituent assembly in 1940s, the members from the Hindi speaking provinces have demanded that their language be deemed as a ‘National Language’, by virtue of its inherent superiority over other languages (What? How?) which was promptly opposed by the members from East and South India who supported English and other regional languages. This issue grew to an extent that the constituent assembly was about to lose its unity. It is said that MK Gandhi dreamed of a nation with one national language (Did he mean that there should be only one language in this country? We have no answer to that question!).
Let us now look at the Article 343 (1) of Part XVII of the Indian constitution, which states that Hindi in Devanagari script shall be the official language (not national language) of the Indian Union and the Roman number system would be used instead of the Indian (Devanagari) numerals (read Munshi-Ayyangar formula). In spite of this, Article 343 (2) allowed usage of English for all the official purposes for an initial period of 15 years, which was extended indefinitely in 1965 because of the protests in Tamil Nadu.
A language which isn’t even an Indian invention is being promoted as a language of unity in the days of ‘Make in India’. How ironic! Hindi, as we know today in the Khariboli dialect of the Delhi, ignoring Awadhi and other dialects, is a 19th century invention. Many linguists have opined that the Hindustani language which existed then has been segregated into Hindi and Urdu, with each of the languages having devised their own set of rules. While Hindi is massively influenced by Sanksrit, Urdu borrows words from Persian & Arabic. This division divided the country based on religious means with Hindus using Hindi and Muslims using Urdu. As it is possible from the recent research that Indus valley civilization is older than previously thought ref and hence, Indian history dates back to atleast 9 millenia. Hindi’s timeline is insignificant (max. 250 years, give or take) compared to the history of the country. Why did this language garner specific attention from the governments after the independence is still a mystery!
Probably the most powerful man in the country recently claimed that Hindi has been the unifying force for centuries (sic), which, of course, can be falsified based on the above evidences. Mr. Shah also appealed that the people should take a pledge to contribute to the protection and promotion of Hindi along with their mother tongue. Hmm, interesting! Won’t that be a cultural clash? Assuming that the cultures are already mixed, would the government implement any other language from the East or South in the Hindi speaking regions? Speaking of which, I remember being told multiple times to speak in Hindi, even if a single person in the group is from the North and the rest speak my mother tongue or any South Indian language. Insecurity of losing communication, maybe? Language is the identity for under-represented population of this country (one example: Gondi language spoken by the Gond tribe) and imposing Hindi on them is equal to losing their identity.
I have come across people who claim that Hindi is our national language and everyone must learn it. It makes sense when someone goes out of their state to the Hindi speaking region for work/study and learns the language so as to communicate with the local people and have a better understanding of the culture prevalent in the region. But, learning it in a state where it is not even spoken as a second language is just of no use!
It is often noted that Hindi speaking people consider all of South India as a single state called ‘Madras’, and refer to people from the South as ‘Madrasis’. They often live in ignorance about the differences between the languages spoken in this region. It is expected that South Indians should know Hindi when residing in the North. But, people of the North India who work in the South Indian cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore or Chennai are known to use terms like ‘Telgu raadhu’, ‘Kannad gothilla’, ‘Tameel theriyaadha’ respectively, which is hypocrisy at its zenith! This only applies to the elite lot that dwell these Southern cities, while those work for daily wages or own simple A simple suggestion to learn the local language might turn into violent arguments at times asking the native people to learn Hindi instead!
For the competitive exams conducted by the central government agencies like UPSC, the question papers are bi-lingual, in Hindi and English, giving the native Hindi speakers an unparalleled advantage over those who don’t speak the language. How? Simple, even if a native Hindi speaker is unable to understand a question in English, they can just go back to reading the same in their mother tongue while those who only can speak English, suffer badly. Let’s say population is made the basis for representation in parliament or any other organization according to the skewed census’ numbers, it would result in an increased representation of Hindi speakers in the legislation and executive arms of the government. This would not only lead to unfair bias towards their Hindi speaking states in policies and also the allocation of funds, but also fewer opportunities of raising voice to those who don’t speak the language spoken by the so called majority. The unfair bias is already apparent in recent times ref . Till date, there have been many attempts from the Central government to implement Hindi at various levels and promote it sidelining the other languages, some of which even have classical language status. This has raised some serious objections, but the government pays no heed to any dissent that had arisen, an approach common to every decision it takes.
The following points sum up this long(?) article. (TL;DR)
Why imposing Hindi as a National language makes no sense?
- India is a multi-lingual nation and Hindi is not spoken all over the country. It is restricted to the geographical region known as the ‘Hindi Belt.’ One nation — one language is a thing of the west! We are linguistically diverse society, with every language having its own dialects, each of them beautiful in their own way. The way a language is spoken changes every 500km, so why on Earth should we be speaking a single language to communicate between ourselves when we can respect and celebrate the diversity of this country in terms of language and hence, culture.
- Existence of English as a means of communication between the central and state governments and also among people dismisses the requirement of Hindi. Learning English or any other foreign language like Spanish or German would make more sense in this competitive world than Hindi. Number of English speakers in a state is inversely proportional to the number of Hindi speakers ref . This means that the Hindi speaking belt lack English education. The reasons maybe innumerable, but this has to change. Improving the English literacy (by improving education system) in states that don’t widely speak it can improve communication and also open a wide range of opportunities to that set of population, instead of pestering people who do not want to learn Hindi.
- Wasting resources by promoting something forcefully. It costs real money to held publicity programmes like “Hindi Pakhwada” in every school and government office and also constituting a Hindi Cell or equivalent in every government office. That expenditure, if claimed to be meager, can atleast fund stationery items! Instead of spending money on making people learn Hindi, why cannot the government use English as a sole official language for communicating with the states and then translate the same into respective regional language of the state, even into Hindi where it is widely spoken?
- Languages evolve by incorporating words of other language, when existing in an equilibrium. Imposing another language hinders that natural evolution and disturbs the existing equilibrium. Any culture is defined by the language, cuisine & festivals. When the existence & development of something very basic as the language is at stake because of the imposition of another, it is also the culture that is in the verge of extinction.
An earlier version of this article was improved based on inputs from తెలుగువాఁడు. Thank you Sir!