The Great Indian Language Debate Amid The Hinglish Hegemony

Posted on July 8, 2014 in Society

By Mahitha Kasireddi:

My mother responds differently when I call her Amma, from when I call her Mommy. My father softens and forgives my follies faster when I apologise in Telugu rather than when I put up a straight face and say “Sorry”. He believes me more when I say “inkepudu cheyanu” (I won’t do it again). Not just normal conversation, even swearing in one’s own language gives higher satisfaction to temper and ego than swearing in English. Like how we say it in the Hyderabadi lingo- “Khaali peeli dimakh kharab math karo” (Don’t irritate me).

Language is something we deal with every day, every hour, and it’s obvious we’d want to choose the language we are most comfortable with. As Kailash Kher rightly puts it, no other language can exude the magic of emotions that our mother tongue can.

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No one can deny it’s beginning to impose Hindi against one’s wish. This would be seen as an attempt to treat non-Hindi speakers as second-class citizens,” television channels quoted DMK chief M Karunanidhi.

The Prime Minister has been showered with praises for speaking in Hindi (not even his mother tongue) to his international counterparts and diplomats. Lately, the government kicked up a controversy by ordering bureaucrats to promote usage of Hindi in social media. By the time the PMO came out with a clarification saying it applied to only Hindi-speaking states, the speculation had already taken place. The common resisters to Hindi had already spoken and the opposition had cautioned the government on this move. Old arguments and debates around Hindi as a national language propped up again with newspaper articles and blog posts refreshing bitter memories from History which are so non-Indian in spirit.

Difference between Official Language and National Language:

Anybody with a vague idea of Indian culture would concretely assume Hindi to be the national language of India, Hindi being so mainstream. It is easy to mistake official language as national language, because the work in various government offices is done in Hindi and non-Hindi speaking states have to translate all bills, documents and orders in to Hindi. Does India have a national language? Hindi and English are official languages in India and we do not have a national language. According to the Greenberg’s diversity index, India stands 3rd in the world in language diversity. For a hugely multicultural and multilingual country like ours it is impractical and partial to declare any one language as its lingua franca (reasons irrespective).

The National Language Debate in History:

It was not easy for the framers of our constitution to debate over the official language issue. In their speeches in the Constituent Assembly, various leaders had equated official language with national language in their thoughts and words. The debate was very heated up with open intolerance towards other languages such as Urdu. Some had proposed Hindustani to be declared the official and national language, but Hindustani would again see Urdu flourish which was vociferously opposed by few. Majority of them were debating strongly for Hindi to be used for all procedures in the government, completely weighing out the number of other dialects and native languages spoken by the variable demography in India. The leaders had taken for granted that majority people have accepted and understand Hindi. But, in the house there were other voices who opposed the move. Violent anti-Hindi agitations had already taken place in Tamil Nadu from 1937-40 lead by Periyar and Justice Party, and in 1946-50 lead by Dravida Kazhagam. Fortunately, we had some intellectually sound and fair leaders like Shyama Prasad Mukherji, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad who rightly comprehended that promoting Hindi at the national level will lead to coercion and forceful imposition on non-Hindi speaking population. In 1950, the Constituent Assembly passed a resolution which declared both Hindi and English as official languages of India and that English should be replaced with Hindi after 15 years, meanwhile the state would work towards progress of Hindi. But, in the later years it was amended that English shall continue to be used in future for all official purposes.

“According to the 2001 Census, 42 crore people speak or understand Hindi all over India. But, only 25 crore declared Hindi as their mother tongue. 8.5 crore people speak Bengali, 7.5 crore people speak Telugu, 7 crore speak Marathi and 6 crore speak Tamil. 5 crore speak Urdu, 4.6 crore speak Gujarati, 4 crore speak Kannada, 3.5 crore speak Malayalam, 3.3 crore speak Oriya, 3 crore speak Punjabi, 1.5 crore speak Assamese, 64 lakh speak Santhali and 55 lakh speak Kashmiri languages.”- Source

Hindi Hegemony:

During the freedom movement, great leaders who campaigned throughout British India and princely states addressed the masses mostly in Hindi and its dialects. Today in India, power, politics and language cannot be studied separately. Promoting Hindi is now a political agenda than a constitutional obligation. Our turf with wanting to replace English with an Indian language for daily conversations and procedures has brought up a new Hindi-versus-other-Indian-languages debate.

Domination of one language is not a thing of today. In the past, Sanskrit was a language which was class confined and proved unaffordable and undeserving for lower-caste groups. This model has been passed on to contemporary India with Hindi on the pedestal. Why this comparison? There is an undeniable notion of prejudice against people who do not understand Hindi, which creates a need for people to learn Hindi, just what people hailing from rural areas in South and North East India face. The Hindi film industry has committed lot of disservice and insult towards south Indians by stereotyping their language, food and culture and made a mockery out of how South Indians speak Hindi and English. The Hindi-Wallahs for quite some time bore this general perception that every Indian living beyond the Vindhya Ranges spoke only Tamil thus collectively terming them as Madarasi. No wonder the north-south divide is so deep. The movie 2-States could have otherwise been an equally entertaining movie for people in south. Hindi today is held in supreme status than any other language in India because of widespread media and cinema in that language.

English Hegemony:

We Indians have always had a strange obsession with becoming ‘angrez’. Parents feel proud when their children speak a few sentences in English in front of their guests. Parents make number of sacrifices, put in extra effort and send their children to English medium schools. A sense of grandeur and prestige is attached to this language of merchants. English is associated with development and progress. Our grandparents feel sad and helpless on how we youth and children aren’t proud of speaking our mother tongue. We are not much familiar with the literature in our mother tongue and we know about the same in English.

English has definitely been the immeasurable advantage to India in global platforms and employment sector. It has been the one common medium in India to connect people of different cultures and dialects. Education is imparted largely in English and students who could not afford English at school level are forced to master it later. Higher education being in English, it is next to impossible to think of doing away with it. China today is trying to catch up with India on English. Having said that, it is equally true that there also nations close to us which are running towards becoming developed nations without adopting English as a main course in their education programs, I am hinting towards Japan and China. These are countries which are extremely respectful of their language and culture.

Native Language Neglected:

The bilingual approach by our constitution and government has lead to native languages suffering neglect. At early stages of education, for kids to learn, it is easy if they are taught in their mother tongue. The language which is first spoken to them by parents and family will be easy for them to associate with and helps in fast learning and grasping. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is interpretation of study material from English to Native languages. Whether school or higher education it is not always possible to find exact expressions in certain languages to explain concepts in technical subjects. They will have to come across English terms for which basic knowledge of English is required.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” ‒Nelson Mandela

In 1964, Kothari Commission on Education had recommended a 3-language formula in the wake of protests from non-Hindi speaking states. According to this, non-Hindi speaking states will have to be taught languages in this order: Local Language- English- Hindi and Hindi speaking areas will be taught, Hindi- English- Local Language.

“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” ‒Geoffrey Willans

Have you ever observed how Hindi cinema enjoys a wide audience from across the country? When it comes to cinema in regional languages it is only confined to the respective states. How many from the Hindi belt or to that matter any of us in the country have made any attempt to learn other Indian languages or watch movies in other languages? While some are making an attempt to learn Hindi at least to follow popular reality shows such as Big Boss. The exchange of art and culture is only way here. Popular Hindi TV serials such as ‘Balika-Vadhu’, ‘Iss pyaar ko kya nam du?’ ‘Bade Ache Lagte Hain’ etc. are being dubbed to regional languages. Recently, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Telugu TV serial artists and producers protested on the issue claiming that their livelihood was being put at stake.

Language and Culture:

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” ‒Rita Mae Brown

The bottom line of the age long debate is that imposing one language on others would mean imposing a culture, a form of imperialism. There is no harm in being proud of one’s own language, but also on the other side, disrespecting one’s language is synonymous to disrespecting one’s culture. Hating people only because they speak a different tongue is no less than any hate crime. Why do people learn new languages? – because they need them. These days people migrate from their states and settle in other cities for job purposes, and learning the local language becomes an immediate necessity to survive in a new place. Don’t we feel the familiarity with people from other cities once we start to learn their language, a community feeling develops automatically, we get to know their culture, food and lifestyle inherently; it is a mutual learning process.

I have come across people who argue saying languages have a pre-determined standard in the way they should be written or spoken, but languages do not stop evolving. New dialects keep emerging throughout the years, they develop into a more broken down and simplified manner. 50 years from now we shouldn’t be surprised if new dialects of existing languages make way into the list of languages in the constitution. The government should set up committees for each language in the respective states for promotion, propaganda and preservation of native and regional languages and number of other rear dialects spoken by Adivasis. We are a country where the mother tongue keeps changing from district to district and state to state, the benefits of a multilingual culture are many and we should harness and treasure this diversity of tongue. In the same light, you may wish to sign this petition which appeals to the Prime Minister to make all the languages listed in the 8th Schedule of our constitution as official languages. This ends the debate in the most positive way.

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