Kerala has started to warm up to Hindi, a language that hadn’t so far caught on in the state. Police and traders have been taking lessons to communicate better with migrant workers from North India, who number 25 lakh according to a government estimate.
Although migrant workers settled in Kerala for decades have learnt to speak Malayalam, there are also a large number of seasonal workers who do not feel that necessity. Locals who hire or deal with them, therefore, have been learning a little bit of Hindi to be able to communicate with staff on buses, hotel workers, sales staff and those working in the service sectors.
Again, police have occasionally picked up migrant workers, sometimes for involvement in crime and sometimes for being found on the streets at odd hours. The workers have rarely been able to explain themselves, with few policemen conversant in Hindi.
Of late, a few police stations in Kerala have hired teachers for basic lessons in communicative Hindi. Says Abdul Raheem, inspector at Meenachil police station in Kottayam district, “To question migrant workers from North India, we felt that police should learn to speak in Hindi. In many incidents, we faced a language barrier when the migrant workers were involved in cases. Hence, I sought the help of a local Hindi teacher to train police in some basics of communication in Hindi. At times, we have had to seek the help of retired defence service personnel to communicate with migrant workers.”
Prof A U Varghese, who teaches Hindi at Bharat Mata College at Thrikkakara, near Kochi, says he has given training in Hindi to policemen at the local station. “I have held classes on how to elicit responses in Hindi on basic details from a complainant or an accused . All the policemen at the station were very keen to learn Hindi for basic communication,” says Varghese.
Retail traders in small towns and villages, many of which have settlements of migrant workers, have started to display their price lists in Hindi too, besides putting on display essential bits of information in that language.
“If we traders don’t know Hindi, we are going to lose our business with migrant workers,” says M Mohiydeen, a cellphone-cum-footwear trader at Payippadu village in Kottayam. “If we do know Hindi, they will feel comfortable in the locality, prompting them to stay and buy from us.” Mohiyudeen knew no Hindi until migrant workers started arriving at Payippadu village. “I took the help of a relative who knows the language.”
At a hotel at Payippadu, the owner-cum-supplier takes orders from a client and passes on instructions in Hindi to the kitchen staff.
Traders in Perumbavoor near Kochi, which has one of the earliest settlements of migrant workers from North India, have made themselves conversant with Hindi. The owner of a medical shop here says many migrant workers approach the sore to deal with various ailments. “They describe the ailments and we give them medicine. Had we not learnt Hindi, we would have simply lost the business from that segment.”
On buses in many places, the staff can be heard speaking to migrant workers in Hindi. With workers’ settlements having come up in several areas, buses are also displaying destinations in Hindi.
Migrant workers are in several skilled and semi-skilled jobs. Many of them have become waiters, hotel room boys and workshop mechanics, and the need to learn Hindi has forced itself on Kerala’s own people seeking those services in their home state.
Besides, some migrant workers have married local women, giving Hindi a permanent residence in Kerala.