Hindi—or its au courant variety, Hinglish—is already popular. Not only in all parts of India, but also abroad, whether in the Middle East, South East Asia, UK, or for that matter, the United States and Canada. It is an easy going, if not easy language, very unfussy and quite colloquial.
If you can’t remember a word in Hindi, you can substitute it with one in English. Or vice-versa. Close to twenty years back, celebrated British linguist, David Crystal, even called it one of the fastest growing languages in the world.
If you don’t believe me, just go to some remote part of India. Such as Arunachal Pradesh. Or Andamans. The language people readily speak to you in is Hindi. If you land in Dubai or Doha, it is very likely that the person helping you through security is of subcontinental origin and will talk back to you in Hindi. Even if he is originally from Kerala.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that almost everyone in South Asia understands some Hindi and will also speak a smattering of it if you try them.
This is as true for Bangladesh as it is of Nepal, Bhutan, or the Maldives. In Pakistan, Urdu, which apart from its Persianised lexis, is identical to Hindi, is both understood and spoken almost universally. Even in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, Hindi is appreciated and expressed. Thanks to Bollywood, TV serials, and social media.
When Hindi is already so prevalent, what is the need to impose it? This is the question that ruling party politicians and policy makers need to ask themselves. Especially, given that an anti-Hindi agitation is already brewing—once again—in Tamil Nadu.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-ruled state, whose party came to power by defeating the Congress in 1967 precisely on an anti-North Indian, anti-Hindi, and anti-Brahminical plank.
They called it Dravidianism, which is not without its ironies because dravid itself is a Sanskrit word, as are many, many words in Tamil. It is important to remember that the Congress or for that matter any national party never returned to power in the southern state.
M. K. Stalin, the Tamil Nadu chief minister, already sounded the battle cry on Sunday, October 30th, by writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi warning against the “continuous efforts to promote Hindi in the name of one nation.”
He said he is also against the efforts to impose Hindi in central government offices and educational institutions. Stalin said attempts to “impose Hindi are divisive in character” and would be opposed not only in Tamil Nadu also in “any state that respects and values their mother tongue.”
To my mind, given the DMK’s ferocious past record, Stalin has been relatively gentle, if not gentlemanly, in telling the PM, “Don’t force another language war by imposing Hindi.”
Tweeting on October 10th, Stalin had cautioned: "The rigorous thrust by Union BJP government for #HindiImposition, negating the diversity of India is happening at an alarming pace. The proposals made in the 11th volume of the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Official Language are a direct onslaught on India's soul."
Perhaps, Stalin was being an alarmist when he added, "If implemented, the vast non-Hindi speaking population will be made second-class citizens in their own land. Imposing Hindi is against the integrity of India. The BJP govt would do well to learn lessons from the anti-Hindi agitations in the past."
The fact is that youth in Tamil Nadu find themselves at a disadvantage outside their own state because Hindi is not taught in schools. Hindi is a great asset, so resisting it is only harmful to oneself.
But at the same time, forcing Hindi down the throats of non-Hindi sections of the population will result in a backlash. The DMK has already announced that on November 4th it will organize meetings all over the state to explain the resolution adopted by the state assembly resisting the imposition of Hindi by the central government.
Recent op-eds by Prof Makarand R. Paranjape
The state-centre dynamics in India’s federal polity always make the regional parties go vocal for local issues, portraying the centre as a tyrant. We will have to wait and watch who this latest war over words, literally speaking, pans out. Will it garner statewide support or turn out to be a damp squib?
While the BJP is all too keen to dump English because of its colonial baggage, they do not seem to realise that the modern version of Hindi was practically invented by the British colonial authorities in Fort St William, Kolkata, choosing one of its dialects, khari boli or the plain tongue, as the standard to be promoted over traditionally dominant literary languages such as Braj Bhasha or Avadhi.
Political and cultural mistake
Moreover, most of Hindi’s technical vocabulary, as that of most other Indian languages, is also translated from English.
Home Minister Amit Shah, addressing a gathering on the birth anniversary of India’s “Iron Man,” Sardar Patel, who is also credited with unifying the country, said that “We should learn as many languages from around the world, but we should not leave our native language.
Language is a form of expression and not of your intelligence,” he said. “No one should have an inferiority complex in not knowing English. You will have to keep your mother tongue alive.”
Who can dispute such wise words? But by this token, a Tamil or Kannada speaker’s mother tongue will also be as dear to them as a Bangla or Hindi speaker’s. Therefore, trying to force everyone to learn Hindi would be a huge political and cultural mistake.
It will render a popular language unpopular, making it a symbol of central rule over the states. Language chauvinism, whether in Tamil, Punjabi, English, Bangla, or Hindi is anathema to India’s multi-linguistic and multicultural fabric. Instead, the age-old Indian way has been multilingualism.
English in India, of course, requires a much more detailed and separate treatment, but getting rid of it would nothing short of shooting ourselves in the foot.