The national language debate is back in Tamil Nadu, and this time, it has stirred up a nation-wide Twitter storm. The hashtag #StopHindiChauvinism has been trending on social media as several Tamilians take to Twitter to vent their anger over the perceived imposition of Hindi on the state by the central government.
At the centre of this debate are little white and yellow milestones that dot the national highways of Tamil Nadu. Last week, English signs were being erased from these milestones by the National Highways Authority of India and replaced with Hindi signs instead, reported The New Indian Express. Milestones on NH 75, which connects cities in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, now reportedly have signs only in Kannada, Tamil and Hindi. Similarly, NH 77 which connects Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu with Pondicherry has been reported to have place names written only in Tamil and Hindi.
This weeding out of English has raised concerns over the inconvenience that might be caused to travellers, truckers and medical tourists from other states. Moreover, it is regarded as a violation of the three-language road signage policy - which must include the regional language, Hindi and English.
But the entry of Hindi into these milestones, in the place of English, seems to have touched a raw nerve among the people of Tamil Nadu. Tamilians have historically strongly opposed the imposition of Hindi on the state. In 1965, when Hindi was to be made the sole official language of the country, anti-Hindi agitations peaked in the state resulting in two months of violence, arson and looting spread across the state.
Following media reports on the milestones, leaders of Tamil Nadu political parties like Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Pattali Makkal Katchi have issued warnings of large-scale protests if the centre continued to push for Hindi at the expense of other languages.
“This shows bringing Hindi hegemony through the backdoor in Tamil Nadu,” said MK Stalin, DMK’s working president, in a statement to the press.
Meanwhile, social media users argue that while Hindi may be an official language, it is not the national language of the country and cannot be forced on non-Hindi states.
Several social media users from other states across the country have voiced their protest against the move to replace English with Hindi on highway milestones. Lashing out against Twitter users who asked “Why can’t you learn Hindi?”, people from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and even Bihar joined in the clamour against the imposition of Hindi.