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If English, Bangla, Assamese And Bhojpuri Be Gender Neutral, Why Is Hindi Far Behind?

Is The Search For Gender Neutrality In Hindi Even Possible?

Festivities of Pride Month are going on and all websites are filled with posts related to the history and opposition of the Queer community. Allies are also taking to social media to post against the heterogeneous notion of sexuality. As a linguistic understudy, I often think about how a queer individual can represent themselves in the most widely accepted/imposed lingua franca of our nation i.e. Hindi. Are there any queer-assertive or queer-celebratory terms in the language?

Arbitrariness In Hindi

This is a widely acknowledged idea among linguists that Hindi is fixated on sexual orientation. Nouns in Hindi have only two genders, masculine and feminine. Linguistically, Hindi is structured in a way that the gender of the noun/subject decides their inflection. Verbs need to concur with the sex of the subject, and the same is the case with modifiers as well.

For instance, the verb eat in the sentence ‘I’m eating’ changes as indicated by my sexual orientation twofold: “Mai kha rha hun” or “Mai kha rhi hun”. Here, the language offers choice to only males and females to address themselves. Individuals who identify as non-binary or gender fluid find themselves in a trap of heterogeneous sex differentiation.

Representational image.

At an everyday level, Hindi-speaking LGBTQ+ individuals must confront this quandary. People with non-binary and fluid sexuality don’t have options to represent themselves with any other gender except the binary distinctions. It is possible to feel cheated or misgendered.

The Idea Of Gender Neutrality Via Some Indian Language

Language is the most impressive means available to humans for communication. It is one of the most extraordinary revelations by the human race. If in a language, a community has no representation, it should be considered an exercise of injustice on that particular community. Here, the question lies: is the LGBTQ+ community excluded from representation from all languages?

The answer is a loud and clear ‘no’. I’m a native speaker of the Angika language and familiar with other Bihari languages, including Khortha and Bangla.

None of these three languages possesses a gender binary. The sentence ‘I’m eating’ is not gender-discriminatory in Bangla, Angika, Assamese, Bhojpuri, Maithili and Khortha. It will be ‘Ami khachhi’, ‘Ham/Hame khai chhiye’, Moi khai asu’ and so on. Why can’t Hindi adopt this kind of verb conjugation?

This needs deeper research and inclusiveness of thought, but there are some possibilities in Hindi that are more inclusive for all.

In Bihar and some part of UP, people usually denotes themselves with we, i.e. hum. ‘Hum’ is a form of first-person singular pronoun. “I’m coming” in the idealised form of Hindi would be different for masculine and feminine. “Mai aa rha hun” and “Mai aa rhi hun”  respectively.

Whereas, in Bihar and UP, due to the effect of language of these areas, people from any gender can say: “Ham aa rhe hain”. Looking at the first instance, according to the descriptive grammar, it seems like a masculine representation, but other genders of these areas speak the same sentence. So, pragmatically, it’s gender-neutral.

This kind of neutrality should be researched and taught in school and college classrooms. But here, the rigidness of the classiest idea of language comes into play. On my first day of my bachelor’s degree, when I addressed myself as “hum”, my professor asked me how many persons I am addressing with myself.

Hindi teachers must relinquish this rigidity, textbooks should be changed and mention the possibility of gender neutrality, just like in English which has evolved to the possibility of individuals who want to recognise themselves outside of the gender binary. Pronouns such as they/their/them are used instead of he/his/she/her.

A ray of hope appears slightly in the honourification second-person pronoun. While talking to elders, Hindi speaker use ‘aap’. For instance, while asking elders ‘How are you?’, Hindi speakers usually say, “Aap kaise hain” or “Aap kaisi hain” for the masculine and feminine gender respectively. But some also say: “Aap kaise ho” for both men and women. The verb “hain” should be replace by ‘ho’, which has already been adopted by the younger generation.

Almost every Eastern dialect of Magadhi is gender-neutral. Many scholars consider these languages dialects of Hindi. These people never thought of opting the inclusive quality of Bhojpuri, Maithili, Angika, Magahi or Khortha. According to the 2001 Census, 53.6% of the Indian population declared that they speak Hindi as either their first or second language, among which 41% declared that it as their native language or mother tongue. This makes the total number of Hindi speakers, native or L2, 691,347,193. Comparatively, Angika, Bajjika, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Assamese and Khortha have a lesser number of speakers.

Bangla, the third most spoken language of India, has 107,237,669 speakers and constitutes 8.85% of the total population. Over 51 million people speak Bhojpuri, whereas only 750, 000 people speak Angika. These languages share the great beauty of gender neutrality.

Why can’t Hindi be gender neutral as well by learning lessons from others languages spoken in the same area? If the most widely accepted lingua franca of a country excludes a huge community on the basis of their sexuality or gender, then how will they represent themselves? Is this not arbitrariness? Flag bearers and scholars of Hindi must search for answers of these questions.

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  1. Ishita Panigrahi

    This gender neutrality exists in the Odia language too.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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