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By pushing Hindi is the government pushing it?

Language cannot be imposed upon people. Imposition spawns resistance. There are several instances in history that serve as evidence, including the history of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)

Written by Radhika Iyengar | New Delhi | Updated: April 20, 2017 4:58 pm


hindi, national language, Hindi language compulsory, Hindi compulsory in schools, Hindi language government, india national language, india offical language, hindi language, hindi india, india news A nation’s identity is rooted in language, which glues the people together, but what happens to the minorities then, who have their own set of traditions, culture and language?

In November 2016, in the midst of demonetisation, new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes were released. Among other elements that differentiated the notes, there was a new peculiarity: for the first time in India’s post-Independence history, the rupee notes carried Devanagari numerals. Critics emerged holding the central government responsible for giving privilege to one particular language over others. Certain scholars, critical of the new addition, labeled it as BJP’s attempt to have Sanskrit as the dominating language.

In March 2017, another new development took place: milestones on national highways in Tamil Nadu suddenly changed from English to Hindi.

READ: Not imposing, but need to promote Hindi, says Venkaiah Naidu

Furious, DMK working president M K Stalin called out the BJP-led central government: “This is bringing Hindi hegemony through the backdoor in Tamil Nadu,” and accused the government of “thrusting” both Hindi and Sanskrit onto the people since it got elected in 2014.

In the same month, President Pranab Mukherjee gave a nod (http://bit.ly/2pReow2) to the central government’s suggestion that all ministers (including the President) must give their speeches in Hindi. In the same list of recommendations, the government had also suggested that “In order to end the dominance of English, such schools should not be given recognition by the Government which do not impart education in Hindi or mother tongue”. This, the President refused to accept. Of late however, it does seem as though the government is trying to use Hindi as a language to unify the country.

A nation’s identity is rooted in language, which glues the people together. However, what happens to the minorities then, who have their own set of traditions, culture and language? One school of thought believes that such communities should adopt the language used by the majority. In his book, Modern Hebrew: The Past and Future of a Revitalized Language, author Norman Berdichevsky discussed this idea in context to the Arab minority living in Israel. According to him, Israel would be able to forge a strong, integrated identity if the Arabs embraced and adopted Hebrew as their primary language like the Israeli Jews (who are a majority). Could this be replicated in India? One cannot be too certain.

In Marxism and Problems of Linguistics, Joseph V. Stalin discussed the advantages as well as the complications of nations using language as a binding agent. While he said that, “Language has been created precisely in order to serve society as a whole, as a means of intercourse between people…serving members of society equally, irrespective of their class status,” he also forewarned. According to him, when a language departed from its “position of being a language common to the whole people” and gave preference only to “some one social group to the detriment other social groups of the society” then, it would lose its virtue and cease to be “a means of intercourse between the people of the society”. It would become “the jargon of some social group”.

Language, therefore, cannot be imposed on people, particularly for political means. Imposition spawns resistance. There are several instances in history that serve as evidence. In the 1960s, many non-Hindi states refused to accept Hindi as India’s sole official language. Tamil Nadu was rife with the anti-Hindi imposition movements, where DMK leader, Annadurai called out the need for a separate Dravidian state where Tamil would be the official language which would unite the Tamil people.

Same was the case in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). “Language became the pivotal point upon which the identity of the people of Bangladesh crystallised,” wrote historian Geeti Sen in her paper, On Language and Identity. While West Pakistan embraced Urdu as its national language, it imposed its ‘one nation one language’ ideology upon Bengali East Pakistan as well. Sen wrote, “The confirmation of Urdu as the state language of Pakistan, as against the plea for Bengali, is recorded in the statement made by Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951—linking the issue of language to religion.”

Khan, considered to be one of the leading founding fathers of Pakistan, underscored the importance of Urdu being the unifying language of Pakistan. He said, “Pakistan is a Muslim State and it must have as its lingua franca the language of the Muslim nation… It is necessary for a nation to have one language, and that language can be Urdu and no other language.”

As a response, Bengalis came out and fought. “Fissures erupted like molten lava in new writings and Bengali poetry that fought against the imposition of this tyranny,” Sen explained. In the midst of this, the Language Movement (1952) emerged, a symbolical political protest that fought for the recognition of Bengali as East Pakistan’s official language.

To impose a single language upon people who speak different languages then, is culturally unreasonable. In context to India, it would establish a hierarchical system of communication.

If Hindi becomes the dominating language, those who are well-versed in the language, would be able to lead, direct, control and manipulate the mode of communication, and by extension, the predominant narrative. Sitaram Yechury, in his speech on Language as Unifying Force (2010), took history as an example. He said that while language can be used as a “binding agent”, there are events in history that testify that language has been used “as a vehicle to promote chauvinism and divisions.”

In the light of recent events, it seems that India is capable of the same blunder and that’s something we need to be aware of.

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More From Radhika Iyengar
  1. V
    Apr 20, 2017 at 8:10 am
    Possibly central gov't of BJP has as sum ed that people im certain states, including Punjab, will never vote them. Imposing Hindi is a ploy to polarize voters.
    1. M
      Apr 20, 2017 at 7:11 am
      Hindi wallahs will never let this go. After fighting English, Hindi in Roman script, ignoring Sanskrit committee reports because according to them Hindi Sanskrit same same they got their way except for the national language status. Which they are trying now. Hindi is not the oldest language derived from Sanskrit, Marathi is. When it comes to literature states like TN, Bengal, Maharashtra and more are ahead. The only reason to hate English is emotional since it was the language of the British. All these arguments were made in 1947 and Hindi wallahs are still at it even though their literacy rates are poor and they lag behind in many parameters except sheer numbers.
      1. M
        Apr 20, 2017 at 7:21 am
        To add to above many states that have local language and English have better literacy rates and strong cultural output. Except for Central Government jobs what use is it for them to learn Hindi? No one goes to Hindi belt for jobs it is better to learn Marathi or Kannada in that case. Simply saying it is our patriotic duty is no good argument. Hindi wallahs should first improve their literacy rates before imposing on others. Their literacy rates itself would have been better if they had not been so anti-Hindustani and trying to make a Sanskritised language that was so difficult that its local po tion itself could not understand it.
      2. Mahender Goriganti
        Apr 20, 2017 at 2:58 am
        A national language is must for special recognition for heritage and patriotism. (despite the fact English has become official language of communication both national & internationally). Also Sanskrit is closet that represents our culture heritage Hindi the best that represents wast majority, that officially represent our culture & is embedded in all languages across the globe (Karma, Yoga, Dharma, pundit, Guru etc) , especially in India it is in our best interest. As to Islamic express tactics to spew out cast communal, regional language cultural hate and divisions and anti national activities are well known to all of us.
        1. S
          Apr 20, 2017 at 2:34 am
          common people are smart. they would learn the language that is needed for survival. If hindi speaking belt (Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh) produces more emplyment opportunities, then people will learn it. But these states are so regressive and lacking on humand development index. Why then progressive states will learn language that they have no use for. If you are telling that "lean Hindi because it is superior" - This will be the stupidest argument if you expect to win people over.
          1. Mahender Goriganti
            Apr 20, 2017 at 3:06 am
            Role of Hindi (closes to Sanskrit that truly represents our national iden y) is must for national integration & patriotism. Anything else as spewed out by Islamic express is part of its jihad on Hindustan.
          2. V
            Apr 20, 2017 at 2:18 am
            Why some people in this country have a problem with one language across all states for ease of communication and Unity when this country is divided in to various states on the basis of Language ?Already you are seeing how some states behave with such simple thing for their personal political gains.Shame on such politicians and country men who make an issue of non issue .
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