The Big Story: Lingui-stick
Among the factors that led to the creation of modern standard Hindi in the nineteenth century, were the large numbers of Bengali bureaucrats who served in north India under the Raj. Historian Alok Rai writes that the then nascent Hindi language looked up to Bengali – already used extensively for literary purposes – for how to develop into a literary language.
It was, therefore, more than a bit ironic that President Pranab Mukherjee, a Bengali, on Monday signed a presidential order that made it compulsory for all government dignitaries, himself included, to compulsorily deliver public speeches in Hindi. The president was accepting suggestions from the Committee of Parliament on Official Languages. Other suggestions from the committee include incorporating Hindi into airline tickets and in-flight reading material. Mukherjee also granted his “in-principle approval” to making Hindi a compulsory subject from Class 8 to Class 10 in all Central Board of Secondary Education and Kendriya Vidyalya schools. Moreover, the committee also suggested that universities in non-Hindi-speaking states offer students an option to answer examinations and interviews in Hindi.
All in all, this flurry of activity left little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Union government preferred Hindi to the other languages of the Indian Union and was prepared to impose it incrementally on non-Hindi states.
This is nothing new. The Union government has followed this policy since 1947 . Hindi along with English are the only languages used by the Union government for its business. Given that only 26% of Indians speak Hindi, the majority of Indians are unable to access the workings of their own federal government. This push towards Hindi, however, has only become stronger with the Modi government taking power, given that the Bharatiya Janata Party – and earlier, its predecessor the Jan Sangh – has a long time policy that advocates for Hindi as a national language for all of India.
New Delhi’s push towards Hindi follows standard models of nationalism, given that almost every country in the world is organised around a language. In that, however, it must be recognised that Indian nationalism is different. Given that India’s many regions have rarely been united politically, they have their own linguistic traditions that have histories and roots that are much deeper than Hindi. While monolingualism might underpin most nationalisms, imposing Hindi will, on the contrary, severely fracture Indian nationalism.
If any reminders are required, the example of India’s twin Pakistan is stark. The country split along linguistic lines in 1971, giving rise to Bangladesh after West Pakistan imposed Urdu on East Pakistan.
Already in India, there is disquiet over the Modi government’s Hindi push. Referring to the CBSE order, West Bengal MP Saugata Roy said, “The Centre should have been more cautious before implementing the decision in non-Hindi speaking states.” MK Stalin, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam also voiced his disapproval. Earlier in March, Stalin had warned the Modi government of “Hindi hegemony” given that it was using Hindi on road signage even within Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu has seen violent protests against Hindi in the 1960s, after it was made compulsory by the Union government. As a result, in 1967, the Indira Gandhi-led Union government adopted a policy of indefinite bilingualism that enshrined both English and Hindi as official languages of the Union government. State languages were to be left alone.
Given this history, the Union government’s imposition of Hindi is unwise and also pointless. On Tuesday, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu backed this policy up by arguing that “programmes such as Make in India and Digital India will become successful only when we use more Hindi in implementing them”. This is a curious argument given that all the big manufacturing and software industry states are non-Hindi speaking. The Hindi states lag behind in terms of economic development and industrialisation. What practical use, then, does Hindi imposition serve?
Far from Hind imposition helping, India’s policy of promoting linguistic states and giving them as much freedom has worked well. Linguistic states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra have managed to do well for themselves socially and economically. Destroying this careful arrangement by imposing Hindi would be a disaster for India.
The Big Scroll
- It is time for the government to stop spreading the lie that Hindi is India’s “national language”, argues Garga Chatterjee. He also points out that imposing Hindi on all is as bad an idea as insisting that India is a Hindu country.
- Stop outraging over Marathi, says Shoaib Daniyal. Hindi and English chauvinism is much worse in India.
- Did you know: Hindi is the mother tongue of only 26% of Indians.
- The Union government used “adverse” Intelligence Bureau reports to reject the names of six former judges for tribunals and commissions.
- Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in order to work out a united Opposition candidate for the upcoming election of the president.
- Panama Papers: a court rejects calls to oust the Pakistani prime minister over claims of corruption.
- A day after pro-Kannada activists intensified their stand against Tamil actor Sathyaraj for his allegedly insulting remarks against Kannadigas by calling for a Bengaluru bandh, the director of the movie sought support from Kannada audiences for his film.
- The freewheeling use of Article 142 is raising questions about judicial diktats inattentive to consequences, argues Kapil Sibal in the Indian Express.
- There is no case for water privatisation. In pushing for it, we are ignoring the key issue, which is better governance, write Himanshu Thakkar, Arun Lakhani and Mihir Shah in the Hindu.
- Indian society deludes itself that caste discrimination is a thing of the past, yet it suffuses the nation, top to bottom, argues Prayaag Akbar in Aeon.
“The image of youth tied to jeep doesn’t define the Army’s approach to Kashmir”: Saikat Datta interviews former Indian Army commander DS Hooda on the Army’s approach to the human shield incident.
“Insurgency-related incidents have certainly come down from the peak levels of the early 2000s. The nature of the problem has morphed into a form of hybrid conflict where we are seeing the visible involvement of the local population in clashes with security forces. Social media is being used as a powerful tool to radicalise and inflame passions. This does require a slightly different approach where the police are at the forefront of tackling protestors. And this is what is largely happening. The Army does not really get involved in tackling mobs unless they are directly attacked. This is a clear operational principle.”