Hybridity and the war of linguistic purification


By Dr. Aysha Munira Rasheed

“The very concepts of homogenous national cultures, the consensual or contiguous transmission of historical traditions, or ‘organic’ ethnic communities – as the grounds of cultural comparativism – are in a profound process of redefinition. The hideous extremity of Serbian nationalism proves that the very idea of a pure, ‘ethnically cleansed’ national identity can only be achieved through the death, literal and figurative, of the complex interweavings of history, and the culturally contingent border-lines of modem nationhood. This side of the psychosis of patriotic fervour, I like to think, there is overwhelming evidence of a more transnational and translational sense of the hybridity of imagined communities.”  Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture 1994

 Human migrations and settlements

While we are trying to address homegrown nativism in India, with xenophobic tendencies showing their active presence among people, and with NRC causing fear and suicidal tendency among people from all communities, we are faced with a difficult question of the right which people have to the place and country they live in. The attempt to answer the question by determining the length of time people and their ancestors must have spent in a particular country leaves no scope for immigrants who may like to adopt the country, apply for citizenship and decide to be its residents.

The second and more difficult task this scenario brings us to is that of mapping the journeys Homo sapiens undertook in the process of evolution spanning over millennia. As a matter of fact they migrated from one place to another for reasons ranging from search for greener pastures, safety, and curiosity and also for power and control among many others, though not necessarily in the same order of probability. Anthropological researches have pointed to various patterns of migrations undertaken by different groups of people and races leading to settlements in various regions on the surface of earth.

History now and ever

The complex socio-cultural systems evolving in the course of human history make it an interesting as well as daunting task to fathom tangled and labyrinthine processes and trajectories people go through over thousands of years to reach where they find themselves at a given point of time. The claims, which are made at a given point in history with short term goals to not only explain, but also to substantiate a discourse favourable for the power that be, are at best a synchronic reduction of our evolutionary process, or a matter of diachronic falsification, elision, and concoction at worst. Despite the claims made at a particular time to create a particular narrative with specific goals, no matter how short term they are vis a vis the eons of human evolution, history has a way to peep through the discursive practices prevalent at a given time. One has to keep their eyes open to see the signs and read history in what is not stated. It is the responsibility of the intelligent and the conscientious to be alert and read the elisions, what is spoken without being said, and also what is there glaring on the face hidden in plain sight.

 The idea of nation-state and nationalism

With the rise of the idea of nation-state impacting global geo-politics, formation and integration of societies as one political entity in form of nation-states is a challenge for those at the helms of power and is addressed in a variety of ways. Nations with policies based on multiculturalism attempt to unite its people around the ideas of civic nationalism which are inclusive and incorporate traditional liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. However twentieth century has witnessed the rise of radical nationalism and proletarian nationalism, which served the interest of the power instead of the public and led to the rise of fascism and was one of the most important factors leading to the II World War.

Radical Nationalism thrives on the idea of homogeneity: one nation, one people, one history, one culture, one language, one colour, and one religion so on and so forth. Yet considering the complex evolution of human societies, the idea of homogeneity and purity may sound facile. Nevertheless it is the only idea around which a narrative of nationalism is woven which favours political dispensations bent on staying in power as long as possible without too much care given to social welfare and economic growth.  It is a talisman for success in a country where the general public is less pragmatic and more emotional, less knowledgeable and more sentimental, less egalitarian and more hierarchical, so far as its perceptions of nation, political leadership and government are concerned.  The conditions of post-truth make the talisman more potent with social media blurring the vision of a civilized and developed country in the minds of the common public and very often forcing it to work against its own interest.

Language: Pidginization, Purification and Promotion

One of the recent debates that Indians find themselves caught up in is Hindi being tabled as a national language: an idea, which is fraught with problems and ironies in a country gushing with linguistic diversity. The idea was vehemently presented on 14th September 2019 Hidni Dewas by the Gujarati Home Minister of India, notwithstanding the fact that Indians sing a national anthem ‘Bharoto bhagyo bidhata’ written in Bengali shadhu bhasa by Tagore, a national song ‘Bande Mataram’ written in Bengali by Bankim Chatterjee, a popular patriotic anthem ‘Tarana-e-Hindi’ composed by Iqbal in Urdu rendered to a martial rhythm.  One of the many ironies is the fact that the announcement to invite the Home Minister for speech had a couplet in what sounds like Urdu. Mushkilon se khelne ka jinhen hasil e sha‘oor/ We kabhi tufan mein karte nahin sahil ki baat.

With hasil, sha‘oor, toofan and sahil words derived from Arabic, the tone of hybridity for the upcoming speech was adumbrated. The speech keeps hovering between words from common parlance like din (day) and an attempt at appropriacy like diwas, with Hindi din appearing at least thrice despite a struggle to control it on part of the speaker.

Urdu, literally meaning ‘multitude’ or ‘army’ in Turkish, is a language which came into existence in the Indian subcontinent as a result of contact between various cultures and languages belonging to Indo-Aryan family namely Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and khadi boli. Hindi, a name derived from Arabic Hindi or Persian Hendi meaning Indian, another descendant of Hindustani, is an Indio-Aryan sanskritized language.

As spoken by commoners, Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible, with syntax or sentence structure being almost the same, varying only in terms of lexis or words: Hindi mainly depending on Sanskrit and Urdu on Arabic and Persian. Hence it is very common to see people mixing them both without realizing that they are shuttling between the two more often than they know or desire. The speech which prompted hash tag #StopHindiImposition on Twitter and is being criticized for promoting linguistic imperialism of Hindi in India is no exception to this meandering mainly between Urdu and Hindi.

Sharing something that is good news for Hindi linguistic community and bad news for no-Hindi community, the Home Ministry claimed that in three month’s time the files in Home Ministry converted from 0% to 60% in the use of Hindi.

The speech made more than one reference to goal of shuddhikaran (purification) of the language in use. The Hoe Minister also said that the process has been started, as the central government will make provisions for teaching Hindi in all the states of India.

However, with loanwords words now fully absorbed in the lexicon of Hindi-Urdu, such as azadi (meaning freedom: derived from Persian) sadee (century: Arabic), qaayam (establish: Arabic), sawaal (question: Arabic), jaroor (definitely: Arabic zaroor), hazar (thousand: Persian), ehsaas (feeling: Arabic), taqat repeated more than once, (strength: Arabic, Persian), spirit (English), jyada, (more: Arabic zyadah), duniya (lower: Arabic), phile (English: file), suru (begin: Arabic shur’u), baqi (remaining: Arabic), qanoon (law: Arabic), maqam (position, status: Arabic), haasil (procured, achieved: Arabic), hausla afzai (encouragement: Persian), elaweh (without: Arabic), the entire speech exhibited faultlines in the ambition to purify Hindi and turn Hindi into a national language from its current status of official language among many others and use it as a tool for national integration. There was also a visible struggle on part of the speaker to replace the loan translation from ‘Hindi Day’ as Hindi Din with a ‘purer’ phrase Hindi Dewas. It was evident that hybridity is so deeply rooted that the project of purification had started showing signs of exhaustion and fatigue at the inception level itself.

With an aim to prove that Hindi is superior to many other global languages especially English, the speaker made a perfunctory reference to the existence of multiple terms available in Hindi for the concept of ‘love’, and kept inquisitive audience like me waiting for illustrations to be researched and discovered on their own. People must have also wondered how Neeraj who was praised for his linguistic purity could be an apt example. His songs such as “likhen jo khat tujhe/ wo teri yaad mein/ hazaron rang ke/ nazarey ban gaye” or “kaarwaan guzar gaya/ghubaar dekhte rahe” are very Urdu. Though it does prove that the speaker has a good taste in music.

Without going into details, a scores of names were also indiscriminately mentioned who allegedly campaigned for the promotion of Hindi including Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Dr. Lohiya,  Purshottam das Tandon, Lokmanya Tilak, Acharya Vinobha Bhave, Gandhi Ji and others. They were mentioned so much so that the project of Azadi sounded mainly focused on the right to speak Hindi instead of swaraj directed at socio-economic freedom, self-rule and independence. Leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sushma Swaraj and Prime minister Narendra Modi were given due credit for their attempt to assert the right to use Hindi at international forum like UNO.

The famous Hindi Dewas speech by Amit Shah has set many short-term goals such as promotion of Hindi by teaching it to the students of states where Hindi is not used as a vernacular, celebrating Hindi week and giving away incentives to use Hindi, like awards and prizes, and last but not least, purification of Hindi. It is interesting to note that the project of purification and imposition is explained through the metaphor of war, which points at a victory to be won in 2024.


Dr. Aysha Munira Rasheed is professor at Department of English, AMU.

3 thoughts on “Hybridity and the war of linguistic purification

  1. A very informative article on linguistic hybridity and the use of a language as a political tool. It also brutally exposes the hypocrisy and anti-humanitarian approach of the current government to divide people in the name of assimilating them together through a single national language. It also describes how radical nationalism is a threat for an inclusive and diverse nation like India. Well written article.

  2. Brilliant linguistic analysis of the Home Minister’s speech. The article also perfectly frames the debate about language within the current political environment and throws light on the possible motivations behind the government’s decisions.

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