Row Over Hindi Threatens to Escalate
South Indian states up in arms
COLOMBO: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose credo is to road roll multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious India into “one nation” based on the motto “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan”, is now eager to spread its tentacles to the non-Hindi speaking, multi-lingual and substantially multi-religious people of South India.
Since coming back to power for the second consecutive time with a massive majority in parliament earlier this year, the BJP led government had been able to implement its Hindutvite agenda in the North Eastern State of Assam and the Muslim-majority Northern-most State of Jammu and Kashmir by using brute military strength and legal guile in Kashmir, and by exploiting the 1985 Assam Accord. In both States, the changes have resulted in the political neutralization of the Muslims.
After excluding from the list of Indian citizens 1.9 million residents of Assam on the ground they are “illegal” Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, the government turned to Jammu and Kashmir and stripped it of Statehood. J&K was reduced to the inferior status of two Union Territories directly administered by New Delhi.
Emboldened by the lack of resistance to these sweeping changes, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has turned to South India now with the announcement that the north Indian languague Hindi should be spoken by all.
Next only to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in BJP’s political hierarchy, Amit Shah pitched for a common language for India. He said that since Hindi is spoken by “most” Indians, it can unite the country. He declared that when India faces the next general election in 2024, Hindi would have achieved a “monumental status.”
Speaking about his own Ministry he said: “When I first took charge of the Home Ministry, in the first 10 days, not a single file came to me with Hindi noting. Now, 60% of the files which come to me have Hindi noting.”
In other words, if Shah continues to be Home Minister, no-non Hindi speaking Indian will be able to get a job or posting in that all important ministry unless he is as good as a native Hindi speaker in Hindi. Shah could well set a trend which is irreversible given the fact that North-Indians dominate the Indian parliament.
But this move can boomerang. Leaders of the 60 million Tamils of Tamil Nadu have already warned that they will revive the massive anti-Hindi agitation of 1965, which stopped the roll of the Hindi juggernaut and also obliterated India’s “national” parties in the State. India’s national parties, which are committed in varying degrees, to making Hindi the sole official language of India, have not been able to capture power in Tamil Nadu since 1967.
The Opposition Congress party said that the de facto use of both Hindi and English should not be tinkered with, and controversies must not be stirred up on "emotive" issues well settled by Constitution-makers.
Tamil Nadu’s DMK announced mass protests on September 20. DMK President M.K. Stalin recalled that since 1938 Tamils had been protesting against Hindi imposition and agitations had taken place in 1949, 1953 and 1965. “The need has once again arisen for an agitation of that scale, ” Stalin stressed. He charged that Tamil was sidelined in the competitive examination conducted by the Railways and the Postal Department.
Tamil Nadu Culture Minister K Pandiarajan (AIADMK) said that If the Centre imposes Hindi unilaterally, then there will be an adverse reaction not only in Tamil Nadu but also in non-Hindi speaking states like Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh
Kerala Chief Minister and Marxist Communist leader Pinarayi Vijayan pointed out that the people in the South and Northeast don't speak Hindi and accused Amit Shah of planning to make non-Hindi speaking people disown their mother tongue.
“The claim that Hindi unifies our country is absurd. That language is not the mother tongue of a majority of Indians. The move to impose Hindi on them amounts to enslaving them. The Union Minister’s statement is a war cry against the mother tongues of non-Hindi speaking people,” Vijayan thundered.
Tamil matinee idol-turned politician Kamal Hasan released a video in which he said that India became a Republic in 1950 with a promise to the people that their languages and cultures will be protected, but now, the rulers in Delhi are “constrained to prove to us that India will continue to be a free country.”
Former Congress Chief Minister of Karnataka, K.Siddaramaiah said: "We will never compromise Kannada’s importance. India has a rich history and diverse geography and there is a need to embrace the country's diversity to remain united.”
Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy demanded that the Home Minister withdraw his comments as they may lead to unrest in the non-Hindi speaking regions.
“India is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and a secular nation. Any move to impose Hindi would only strike at the pluralistic features of the nation and its cultural identity,” he said.
Writing in The Hindu, K.Venkataramanan said that the Hindi imposition issue got a new lease of life when a paragraph in the Draft New Education Policy 2019 referred to the mandatory teaching of Hindi in States where Hindi is not spoken.
The 1968 National Policy on Education (which the 2019 document reiterated) said that in the ‘non-Hindi speaking States’, the Central government should encourage the establishment of colleges and other institutions of higher education which use Hindi as the medium of education.
The origin of the row over Hindi goes back to the debate on the official language in the Constituent Assembly which drafted the Indian constitution in 1949-50. It is noteworthy that Hindi was voted in as the official language by a single vote.
However, as per the Munshi-Ayyangar formula, the constitution added that English would continue to be used as an Associate Official Language for 15 years. The Official Languages Act incorporating this formula came into effect on the expiry of this 15-year period in 1965. That was the background in which the anti-Hindi agitation took place in Tamil Nadu.
However, in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in parliament that English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it. This was reiterated by Indira Gandhi in 1965 in Tamil Nadu to help end the anti-Hindi agitation in that State.
“An important aspect of the opposition to Hindi imposition is that many in Tamil Nadu see it as a fight to retain English. English is seen as a bulwark against Hindi as well as the language of empowerment and knowledge. There is an entrenched belief that the continued attempts to impose Hindi are essentially driven by those who want to eliminate English as the country’s link language, “ Venkataramanan writes.
Explaining the rationale behind the demand to keep English as an official language, a senior Tamil Central government official said who did not want to be identified said: “The non-Hindi speaking people, especially the Tamils, feel that the increasing importance given to Hindi in the functioning of the Central government and all other all-Indian institutions will give an unfair advantage to the people whose mother tongue it is. A child born in a Hindi-speaking family will have a natural advantage over a child born in a non-Hindi speaking family. This is iniquitous. On the other hand, if English is the official language ,all Indians will be equal with no linguistic group enjoying a natural advantage.”