By Abdul Bari Masoud
Renewed attempts to impose Hindi have incensed the Southern states, who sent scathing letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to reject the notion while reminding him of the past violent agitations against such a move while also warning him of the violent protests against such a move in the past.
In its 11th report, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Official Language Act 1963, which is chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, has advocated for making Hindi the compulsory language of teaching in all technical and non-technical educational institutions. The report makes 112 recommendations, some of which call for changing recruitment exam question papers to only be in Hindi and gradually displacing English as the medium of instruction. According to reports, the study, which was sent to President Droupadi Murmu on October 9, may open the door for more use of Hindi in administrative tasks, hearings in subordinate courts, and as a teaching medium.
As soon as the recommendations were made public, there were outrages, with Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin asking “not to force another language war by imposing Hindi.”
In a letter to the prime minister, the chief minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, strongly protested with the committee’s suggestions, arguing that “India has various languages and there cannot be a single language which can be called as the country’s language.”
Reacting sharply Telangana minister K T Rama Rao said in his tweet, “India does NOT have a National language & Hindi is one among the many official languages to impose Hindi by way of mandating in IITs & central Govt recruitments, NDA Govt is flouting the federal spirit”.
They termed recommendations as an assault on India’s unity in diversity and its soul.
Tamil Nadu even passed a resolution in the state assembly decrying the imposition of Hindi and accusing the BJP of manipulating “language for power,” a state that has traditionally seen periodic and violent protests against the use of Hindi.
Introducing a motion against any “imposition” of the language in the assembly on October 19 , CM Stalin alleged that the Union government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party was aiming to make “Hindi the language that symbolises dominance.”
“I am moving a historic resolution on the floor of the House, continuing with the tradition of voicing our opinion against imposition of a dominant language,” Stalin said in his speech.
“Imposition of Hindi has been done continuously since 1938 and we continue to oppose the imposition. The BJP, which is helming the Union Government, is in the habit of imposing Hindi in administration and now, they are extending that to education,” Stalin said.
Stalin accused the Prime Minister of breaking the Constitution by making such attempts in two letters he sent to him after learning about the parliamentary report.
“Hindi should not be imposed on non-Hindi speakers at any cost… English should continue as long as non-Hindi speakers want. Preference should not be given to Hindi speakers, such a move will be in contradiction with the Constitution,” he added.
It is to be noted the DMK-led anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in 1965, which led to the party’s first election to power; people were killed and were imprisoned. Because of this, English has been made in official communication through resolutions passed in 1968 and 1976.
People of Tamil Nadu see the effort to impose Hindi and make it the only language on the basis of RSS’s “One Nation, One Everything” policy.
Echoing similar sentiments, Kerala CM, Vijayan said in a tweet that, “Union Govt’s Hindi Imposition move is an onslaught on India’s cherished ideal, unity in diversity. It will disadvantage a vast majority of Indians in matters of education and employment. This callous move, an affront to cooperative federalism, has to be opposed unitedly”.
He also shot a letter to the PM saying “The state-specific aspects in the educational sector have to be recognised. There cannot be a hasty decision in this matter”.
Referring to the recommendation on changing the question papers in Hindi, the letter said, “Our youth has limited job opportunities in the Government sector and any attempt to put a substantial section of them at a relative disadvantage will not be in the best interest of our society”.
According to Dr. Thomas Isaac, a former finance minister of Kerala, “India is being dominated by a party that does not believe in the diversity of the country. How else could it demand that only Hindi will be used in the recruitment tests, which are a requirement for employment in the central government?
It is to recall that in his Hindi Diwas speech in September 2019, Amit Shah made an explicit plea for “one nation, one language.” The RSS ideology harps on “one nation, one language, one culture and it is easily associated with the recommendations that are being made currently.
There are 22 languages included in India’s 8th Schedule of the Constitution. Additionally, India is home to over 100 non-scheduled languages, each of which has over 10,000 native speakers. More than 700 different languages, 1,800 mother tongues, several dialects, and unrecognized or minor tongues are spoken in the country.
In India, about 56% of people do not consider Hindi to be their mother tongue. However, even the statistics that appear to have contributed to Hindi being spoken by such a huge population are convoluted.
Hindi speakers dramatically increased from 30.39% (13.34 crore) of India’s population in 1961 to 43.63% (52.83 crore) in 2011. While doing so, it neglected to give other languages their due attention even if they shared many of its traits. It is evident from a review of Census statistics that this is an example of wallowing in borrowed glory. Think about Kurmali and Maghi or Magadhi, which were included as mother tongues under Hindi in the 1971 Census report.
The change to the language classification in the census report made in 1971 had momentous effects. Only eleven mother tongues were categorised as Hindi in 1961: Awadhi, Baghelkhandi, Braj Bhasha, Bundelkhand, Chhattisgarhi, Khariboli, Laria, Lodhi, Pardesi, and Power. However, by sleight of hand, Hindi was recorded as the mother tongue for 48 different languages in the 1971 Census report.
It is also to be noted that only nine out of 28 states have Hindi as the first official language. Therefore, thrusting Hindi upon would have serious ramifications.
The Hindi imposition attempt led to the collapse of the Congress government in Tamil Nadu in 1967 and the rise of the DMK. In other cases, states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala have voiced similar viewpoints. The majority of State governments does not recognise Hindi as an official language or include it in their three-language formula.
Policies that impose Hindi are an overt attempt to homogenise Indian culture and disregard the states’ individual language and cultural identities.
Because of this policy, the biggest victim of Hindi’s imposition was Urdu, which had previously served as both the country’s official language and its primary means of communication. The major cradle of Urdu in Northern India, particularly Uttar Pradesh, saw the abrupt abolition of the language as a medium of instruction not long after the country’s independence. This was most likely brought about by Hindi’s fictitious existence. This is the rationale behind the annual September fortnightly campaign for the advancement of Hindi, which would be hindered by the presence of Urdu. Today, Urdu is all but extinct in Uttar Pradesh, and a major contributing factor to this is the indifference of the Urdu-speaking community.
In addition to being a sneaky way of gaining cultural hegemony over states that do not speak Hindi, the imposition of Hindi also undermines the federal structure of the Indian state.
The anti-Hindi movement gathered more traction in Madras as the day of switching over to Hindi as the only official language (26 January 1965) drew near. A major riot started on January 25 in the southern city of Madurai after a small incident between protesting students and Congress party members resulted in the deaths of about 70 (by official estimates) including two policemen. To calm the situation, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long as the non-Hindi speaking states wanted. For those killed during the anti-Hindi imposition protests in Chennai, a memorial was built.
Speaking with Muslim Mirror, Subramani Arumugam, National General Secretary of Welfare Party of India, who hails from Tamil Nadu, said that “One nation, one religion, one language and one culture policy of the BJP government is against the constitution, as India does not have a national language and all the 22 languages listed in the eighth schedule of constitution should be made official languages and given equal importance.”
The government should uphold the assurance given by Jawaharlal Nehru in the parliament that there would be no imposition of Hindi and English would continue to be in use as long as non- Hindi speaking people wanted it, the Welfare party leader said.
Another leader from the state, Prof M.H. Jawahirullah who is TMMK president and MLA, said putting one language on a higher pedestal is unconstitutional and goes against federalism and the principle of multi-linguistic equality. This goes against Article 14.
“The BJP and Parivar wanted to impose its ideology of One Nation and One Language. Non-Hindi speaking states like Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Karnataka have better development than Hindi speaking states including Gujarat. Hindi is not needed for development. Imposing Hindi would only impair development”, he underlined.
Attempts are also being made to impose Hindi through National Education Policy and signage in National Highways. A political analyst warns that if the Modi Government goes ahead with the Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations in order to please the RSS bosses, then it may be ready to face violent backlashes from the southern states which are already seething with the growing hegemony of North India.