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Hindi imposition on south India: then and now

Kiran Batni kiranbatni

Updated: January 21, 2015, 12:37 PM IST
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This Republic Day will be a special one: it also marks the completion of 50 years since widespread anti-Hindi agitations rocked South India, with Tamil Nadu at the lead.

These agitations, which led to several deaths and police actions, forced the central government to continue official-language status to English in parallel with Hindi. Hindi chauvinists, even to this day, think this illustrates the greater love of South Indians for a foreign language, but they are mistaken. What South Indians want is not English, but their own languages as official languages on par with Hindi. Only, the conditions under which such a decision could have been taken in Parliament had not presented themselves when the constitution was being drafted.

If one analyses the events that led to the formation of the Indian Union, it becomes clear that South India participated in it rather unwillingly. Even the uprisings against the British were largely confined to North India; what one does observe of them in the South were imitations and extensions of movements involving much more passion and action in the North. Whatever the reasons for this may be, it is important to note that this had automatically led to a decreased level of participation of the south in post-independence matters, including the drafting of the Constitution of India. For this and several other reasons such as the general atmosphere of English in elite circles, the south seems not to have asserted, to any significant degree, its right to see its languages take a place on par with Hindi at the Centre.

But we are living in another time now.

There is a lot of pressure on the southern states to do exactly that. As I write this, tens of thousands of Dravidian youth activists are urging the Government of India to declare every language mentioned in the eighth schedule of the constitution as an official language of the Indian Union. To those who are programmed to expect this activity to be limited to Chennai, it should come as a surprise that this time, Bengaluru is on par with Chennai, if not ahead. To those who are still stuck with the idea that Hindi is our language (as in every Indian's) which we all should prefer over and above English, it should again come as a surprise that the youth of the south are actually preferring their own languages even over and above English. This does not mean that they are rejecting English and everything it has to offer; far from it, they talk of rangaku, a Japanese word for 'learning from the west'. They have begun to work seriously to enrich their own mother tongues using the knowledge available in English. On crowd-sourced online platforms such as Wiktionary, Hindi's presence is negligible compared to Kannada's or Tamil's. Hundreds of crores of rupees being unfairly spent by the central government to promote Hindi seem to offer no competition to the will of a few Dravidian youth. Well-educated people have begun to send their children to community-run mother-tongue medium schools while the most respected English-medium schools are reporting case after case of child sexual abuse, not to mention the abuse that is English imposition itself.

Hindi is seen as an intruder come only to destroy political will and arrest progress which is possible only in the mother tongue. This impression has begun to spread like wildfire due to the recent excesses of the Modi government in trying to push its Hindi imposition agenda much further than any previous government at the centre. Every place where one sees Hindi in South India is calling Dravidian youth to protest - and you know by now that I don't mean Tamil youth alone. Social media sites are full of information on how to tackle Hindi imposition in public places, banks, post offices, advertising agencies, government departments, and the like. These details apart, one must also recognize that the improvement in the living conditions of people have automatically led them to consider issues beyond their selves. And what do they see beyond their selves? They see Kannada speakers in Karnataka, Tamil speakers in Tamil Nadu, etc. Many of these youth are also aware, thanks to the internet and actual travel, of the situation elsewhere in the world. The European Union, which spends truckloads of money on translations, is seen as a model for how the Indian Parliament ought to be: every major language must be an official language of the Union.

Therefore, as I said, we are living in another time now. Those on the other end of the table, from where Hindi imposition seems to be the only way to keep India united, are the ones who haven't. They are yet to come out of the infancy of Indian democracy. India will remain united if and only if every Indian language gets to occupy the same status as Hindi today does. When this happens, English will gradually be shown its way out - gradually because there's good stuff to take from it.
First Published: January 21, 2015, 12:37 PM IST

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