We Indians, have the privilege of being exposed to numerous languages, probably the most in the world. One look at our rupee notes and we make our point. With denominations worded in 18 languages (and nearly as many scripts), our currency is the easiest and perhaps, the quickest testimony of our linguistic diversity to the world. The Constitution of India recognises 23 languages today, but in fact there are 35 Indian languages that are each spoken by more than a million people – and these are proper languages with their own scripts, and grammatical structures that serve as envoys of varied cultural practises, and are not just dialects (and if we’re to count dialects, there are more than 22,000).
Having said that, Hindi is considered as one of the main languages and also enjoys special constitutional status. It is also the language of Bollywood- a multi-billion dollar industry with which the world identifies India.
Exclusion based on linguistic identity is widespread and takes different forms and contexts. First, it manifests in the exclusion of even the officially recognized languages, when the speakers of these languages migrate to another linguistic region . The mobilizations by Shiv Sena in Mumbai and the Kannada Chaluvaligars in Bangalore against Tamils with their ‘sons of the soil’ arguments are well known. In such contexts exclusion is based on the imagined or actual threat posed by cultural outsiders in the fields of education and employment.
Second, exclusion is practiced through stigmatization of those who speak the dialects of developed languages. The classic case in India is the exclusion of the numerous and numerically substantial, dialects of Hindi such as Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Chhattisgarhi, Maithili and Rajasthani. Not only are these languages excluded from the Eighth schedule, all of them are not even used for imparting education till the age of 14 as mandated in the Indian Constitution. Apart from this exclusion the state indulges in, speakers of Sanskritized Hindi look down upon the speakers of these dialects.
Though nowadays, with English being considered as the language of the elite, most urban Indians tend to speak in it when they meet, be it in or outside India. Moreover, it is also recognized as an official language by the constitution.
Management of language is key to any migrant’s survival. Being a Lucknowi and having lived in Gurgaon, Ahmedabad and Bangalore, I understand the ‘why’ of this very well. When a person migrates, his most sincere prayer is about finding at least one person of the same tongue while the ‘real’ problems sleep peacefully in the back seat. They will of course eventually have to be managed.
At 7, moving to Ahmedabad from Gurgaon transformed me from an extrovert to a book-loving introvert. No prizes to guess the devil – language. My inability to communicate in the ‘other’ language proved disastrous for my personality. Somehow, I, and more importantly, my family learnt to live with this change.
Again, at 21, during my brief sojourn in Bangalore, I faced similar problems. Bangalore being the IT centre is a dynamic hub of the Indian diaspora. Amidst it all, I would often hear my friends complain about how people formed their own lingual groups. What they didn’t realize is that common language works like a glue. It blatantly opposes the notion that similar things repel each other.
I too received many sugar-coated, melodramatic and tearful sympathies from people back home when they found out that I was the only one speaking Hindi in an office which boasted of people speaking Tamil, Telugu, Kannada. I was titled a ‘bechari (poor thing)‘ by many.
I didn’t get this exaggeration. I was in my own country; on the same land that gave me birth, not in some far away land.
Every morning, every school kid pledges to treat all Indians, regardless of all differences, as his brother or sister. Then why can’t an X-speaking Indian group welcome a Z-speaking Indian in their group; why is the Z-speaker left out?
No doubt, culture is important and language is an integral component of culture; after all, without culture we all would be totalitarian beasts. But is culture above humanity? By adjusting slightly, can’t we, at least, make an attempt to accommodate the linguistically different? In today’s time, when reports on intolerance are ruling the roast, shouldn’t we give a thought to linguistic intolerance too?