A few months ago, when a Bollywood actor was asked by a reporter to “speak in Hindi”, during a media interaction wherein she was conversing in English, she had simply said: “I don’t mind it, but will everyone understand it?” The reporter remained unconvinced, stating that she was obligated to talk in Hindi, since she works in the “Hindi film industry”. Not having any of it, the actor had retorted with: “I am a south Indian actor, too. Would you like me to talk in Tamil and Telugu?”
A roaring applause had followed.
At the moment, in the state of Tamil Nadu, anti-Hindi protests — led by the doughty Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party — are in full swing. The objective, says DMK MP Kanimozhi, is to let it be known that by equating learning Hindi with a false sense of nationalism, the Centre is doing a “shameful” thing. The daughter of the former chief minister M Karunanidhi recently told reporters in Chennai that the issue is not about knowing Hindi or not, “[but that] it is shameful that one can be Indian only if they know the language”.
The demonstration essentially follows the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, approved by the Union Cabinet on July 29. While it was largely welcomed by the southern states — albeit with some objections — the poll-bound state of Tamil Nadu continues to vehemently oppose it. In fact, immediately after its announcement, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party had made it clear that the state would not implement the three-language formula prescribed by the new policy. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Palaniswamy had stated that Tamil Nadu was against the imposition of Hindi as a compulsory third language in schools. He also opposed the promotion of Sanskrit.
And while this has not been the first time that such an opposition has taken place, it begs the question of whether or not there is a culture of Hindi dominance in the country. On the occasion of Hindi Diwas, indianexpress.com reached out to luminaries who communicate in the language — writers, poets, and playback singers — to understand their stance.
Poet and activist Kamla Bhasin says she thinks of herself as a Hindustani writer. “My writing is a confluence of Hindi, a bit of Urdu, and also Punjabi. I believe that language is a personal thing, which can only be embraced and not imposed. If we talk about our neighbouring country Pakistan, post independence, the citizens were forced to learn Urdu. They were told that this is the language of the country — both in East and West Pakistan. And that was the reason that led to the division of the country.
“This concept of ‘uniformity’ has been leading the world to destruction. It is against the law of nature. We need to become equal, not identical. How would a non-Tamil speaker feel if they are asked to learn the language? I am against this idea that Hindi language be imposed across the country,” the author of Satrangi Ladke and Satrangi Ladkiyan tells indianexpress.com.
Bhasin’s views are echoed by actor and writer Manav Kaul who says he communicates in Hindi because he “does not know any other language”. “I’d have written in French if I knew the language, but I don’t. Now, if you try to impose anything, there will always be some kind of resistance. I feel it is the Hindi film industry which has made the language popular. For instance, if a person sitting in Afghanistan speaks in Hindi, it is only because they have been exposed to the films, and not Hindi literature per se,” he says, adding that he does not think language is important.
“When I am in France, for instance, I feel like a French man. Now, if we were to force something upon someone — disregarding their own culture — there is bound to be some kind of a reaction,” he says, adding: “It also depends on how you hold on to your culture, while still being open to learning and exploring other things.”
Writer Surender Mohan Pathak — who is hailed as the master of Indian pulp fiction — believes that the idea that Hindi could be encroaching on other languages is “a myth”. “The southern states never accepted Hindi as the national language. They always insisted that at least one language from the south be taught in the northern schools, if they wanted Hindi to be taught in the southern states. This, for ever, remained a stalemate. The weak will of the Centre to impose Hindi has also been a reason. The result is only 43 per cent of India patronises Hindi. Its survival is due to only four states — Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Ironically, Hindi is the third language spoken and understood in the world, the first and second being Mandarin and Spanish. English, the language of our old rulers, comes at number four,” he says.
Pathak — whose early education was in Urdu and after independence, in Hindi — goes on to say that had there really been a ‘culture of Hindi language imposition’, “it would have gained considerably more importance, which it never did”. “If a government insisted absolutely, it could get away with anything. Then why not the imposition of Hindi? No government ever dared. No government wanted to displease states of the south as it could disturb their vote bank.”
Author Dinesh Sahay believes the significance of communicating in Hindi is that it allows you to “reach out to a larger section of people in India” who speak the language. He, too, thinks that the opposition is more political in nature. “Right now, people across the country communicate in Hindi; they like to watch Hindi films, and listen to Hindi songs. Being an author from north India, I am of the view that I must promote my books in Tamil, so that the people in the state get familiar with the cultures, thoughts and writings of other regions,” he reasons.
“After the Partition in 1947, Hindi was not promoted well and English was continued as the main medium in offices, schools, courts, educational and professional institutions. Having said that, I do not feel there is any kind of ‘Hindi imposition’. In fact, I must add that the majority of people want one common language (Hindi), along with a regional language. While it is a personal choice, it is better to know this language which is widely spoken and understood.”
Playback singer Krishna Beura takes pride in the fact that he can sing in 21 other languages, besides his mother tongue Odia. Beura, who lent his voice to the much-loved and acclaimed song ‘Maula Mere Le Le Meri Jaan‘ from the movie Chak De! India (2007), tells indianexpress.com: “In school, I was under the impression that Hindi is our national language. Later, I learnt that it is actually the most preferred language. I do not know why, but unfortunately in the south, people were never accepting of the language. We are a diverse country and every state takes pride in its own culture. But, it is not possible to accommodate all the languages when communicating. There has to be one language that everybody is comfortable in, and that can be Hindi.
“I feel everyone understands conversational Hindi. While any kind of imposition is wrong, and the people of the state have the right to hold on their traditions, Hindi should be made an option for those interested in learning it, or for the Hindi-speaking population living there,” he says.
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