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Is Tamil Nadu Becoming The Hub Of Linguistic Narcissism?

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By Tarun Surya:

It is said that India is a nation of languages, teeming with a variety of tongues that makes the linguist’s ears quiver with ecstasy. But all this becomes propaganda in the face of the domination of one single language: Hindi. Right from the government, everyone in India seems to be in the business of promoting Hindi as a common medium of exchange, either intentionally or unintentionally. For the government, it offers relief from one of the many problems it faces in terms of governance. A large section of North India believes Hindi to be a national language and expects it, in some way, to be present even in the culturally and linguistically foreign South. Such is the pervasive power of a language that it reflects even in the attitudes of the working class and more specifically, auto drivers. In large cities of the South, like Bangalore, calling an auto driver ‘bhaiya’ immediately grants you passage to any corner of the city, even if the same request without the honorific term had been rejected earlier. Add to this the fact that most workers, maids, ration shop owners and other such members of this class respond almost immediately to an ambiguous query in Hindi, shows the subversive power of a language even in areas where it is not popular.


Despite this subversion, one bastion of the South still resists the incessant pounding of Hindi upon its linguistic walls. The state of Tamil Nadu, where Tamil is spoken, has always been inordinately proud (sometimes bordering on narcissism) of its own language and has resisted all attempts to even think of introducing Hindi as an alternative official language. In fact, it was the only state to oppose the adoption of Hindi as a national language after India was declared independent. In areas of the state entrenched in Tamil culture and history, the mere mention of being able to speak only Hindi makes one a social outcast, a leper of sorts. An attitude of ‘learn the language or leave’ develops from such observations.

Upon analysing the apparent pride that Tamilians take in their history and the fact that Tamil is considered one of the oldest languages of the world, it does not seem likely that such an attitude will change anytime soon. In certain senses, the elevation of the language to such a high level gives the impression that Tamil Nadu is an entity unto itself, cut off from both India as a whole and South India too. The inability of any other party to establish itself in the state, where the existent parties are founded on a linguistic basis, is an ode to the power of language as a medium. Multiple attempts to dislodge this linguistic narcissism have failed miserably, aided by the fact that the parties in power at the Centre must appease the ruling party in Tamil Nadu to ensure it has some say in the state’s jurisdiction.

No other state in India exists without a significant Hindi speaking population within its borders, a fact that is unbelievable but true. Thus, it remains to be seen if Hindi will ever be able to breach the walls of the land where ‘Amma’ and ‘Thalaivar’ rule supreme.

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  1. Anirudh G

    Can’t believe YKA published this…Most of what is written here seem to be based on a particular individual’s experience and certainly can’t be generalized across TN. In fact you would find that TN people believe in simplicity and are very amiable people.There are plenty of Hindi-speaking people living both in Coimbatore and in Chennai regions. Personally I see no reason why Hindi must be introduced here. Learning English is burden enough for the rural kids from TN. In fact I would go on to say that it is English which is more important from an employment assurance perspective. Even in cities like Hyderabad the Hindi influence has drastically reduced in recent years. Only political parties and Tamil scholars take pride in Tamil language’s history;but if you consider Punjabi every single person from Punjab or Punjabi origin takes a hell-lot-of pride in the so-called Punjabi culture and language. Tamil Nadu is no way narcissistic.Tamils are just a collection of individuals ;lacking in unity even in comparison to Telugu people and Mallus. Name of state doesn’t tell the whole story. A lot has changed.Nowadays people from TN take pride in themselves not their language.

    1. YouthKiAwaaz

      Hi Anirudh, this is definitely the writers’ own perspective and we provided the platform for the same to come out. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Ram Bhaskar

    Also, this is not really completely true. The same level of resistance is found in Kerala too. Not so aggressively, but more passively. Making fun of people of the north, making fun of Bollywood, the places, the language is a very common feature in its comedic circles.

  3. KP

    Why is the Hindi government in Delhi not allowing other Indian languages to be co-official (as in South Africa). When a foreign origin and foreign cultured language such as Hindi can be official, why not India’s original languages which are Tamil and Sanskrit. When Israel could make its historic language Hebrew as official language, why did India a Muslim origin, foreign language Hindi (which is the Hindu name of Urdu, the language of the enemy country called Pakistan).

    Worse, why is Delhi government banned other languages out of radio entertainment across states. Only Hindi is allowed across state borders. Why did the Hindian govt reduce the cut offs in entrance for Hindian states, why are other languages banned in Second and third language options in CBSE schools.

    So it appears that India’s most racist people are housed in the capital.


      Well said KP…. Hindi will get its due respect in Tamil Nadu, only when the hindi speaking population of this country respect Tamil (and of course other south Indian languages). For now, unfortunately, they have an attitude like “MY GOD – YOU CANT SPEAK HINDI” instead of “SORRY – I DONT KNOW YOUR LANGUAGE, HELP ME OUT”…. This attitude needs to be set right

  4. Rathnavel Sankaralingam

    While this is a very old post, I just want to share my view point.

    If YKA thinks this is just the writer’s perspective and not endorse it, it would help if they add a disclaimer saying the same thing!

    And for the narcissism as the author chose to articulate it, I still don’t understand what makes it narcissistic for one to speak one’s native language and reject another language foreign to the native people in his own land. When you say that Tamils should accept Hindi as the national language, you mean to say that we should accept an identity which is not really our identity! Until you realize, when in any form if Hindi is imposed, you are imposing an identity. When Hindi is not my identity, how can it be my national identity while I’m an equal citizen of the great diverse nation.

    If you still wanna term this as narcissism, I would have to say the author, if not arrogant, comes across as one!

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