Language debate

Read the fine print: Hindi is the mother tongue of only 26 per cent of Indians

The Census says about 45% of Indians listed Hindi as their mother tongue. But people who use Haryanvi, Bhojpuri, Maghadi and more than 49 linguistic traditions are also categorised as Hindi speakers.

On Thursday, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief M. Karunanidhi criticised an order by the Home Ministry advising government officials to accord priority to Hindi when writing letters and on social media.

Karunanidhi said that the order was an attempt to "impose Hindi against one's wish". He said it should "be seen as an attempt to treat non-Hindi speakers as second class citizens".

However, home minister Rajnath Singh clarified in a tweet, "The Home Ministry is of the view that all Indian languages are important. The Ministry is committed to promote all languages of the country."

On the social media, the directive found several supporters. Some claimed that the order was justified because Hindi is, after all, India's national language. It isn't: it's one of India's two official language, along with English.

Others made a majoritarian argument, suggesting that Hindi should be made the national language because it is the mother tongue of about 45% of all Indians.

That, after all, is what the Census of India says.


However, the devil is in the details. In reality, only about 26% of Indians in the 2001 census reported that Hindi was their mother tongue. But the census also counts speakers of more than 49 other related linguistic traditions and dialects as Hindi speakers. As a result, people who listed their mother tongues as Bhojpuri, Harayanvi, Maghadi, Marwari, Garhwali and scores of others were also categorised as Hindi speakers.


This has long been a vexed issue. "The question of the status of Hindi in the Indian Census has been debated since the earliest census exercises," said GN Devy, the chairperson of the People's Linguistic Survey of India, which was started in 2010 to create a linguistic portrait of India that is "rooted in people’s perception of language".

Devy said that the problem arose with the official Linguistic Survey of India conducted between 1894 and 1928 under the supervision of British civil servant George Grierson. That survey used the word "dialect" to categorise several languages spoken by smaller groups. Many languages of present-day Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh were described as dialects, Devy said.

"So long as that misconception is not removed, the exact status of Hindi as a language shall not be known," Devy said.

However, he cautioned against singling out Hindi "as an instance of over-enthusiasm of language imperialism". At one time, Konkani was seen as a dialect of Marathi as well as that of Kannada; Oriya was understood as a sub-set of Bangla, while Kuchhi in Gujarat is perceived as a sister of Gujarati.

Said Devy, "The question of 'language and dialect' has not been properly sorted out in part of the world so far."

 
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.