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Mainstream, VOL LX No 21, New Delhi, May 14, 2022

A Langauge To Disrupt India? | T J S George

Saturday 14 May 2022, by T J S George



Hindi zealots do not realise a basic fact of life — that zealotry is negative in its impact. Its dictionary meaning makes this abundantly clear. "Fanatical and uncompromising pursuit of religious, political or other ideals." Of course zealots do not see this. Their minds are so tightly closed that they cannot see the disserrvice they do to their cause — in this case, Hindi. Some of them allow zealotry to turn them into idiots.

No one with basic commonsense would say what UP Minister Sanjay Nishad said the other day. "Those who cannot speak Hindi," he said, "are foreigners and must leave India."

Actually Nishad is a foreigner who must leave India forthwith. He can speak only one of the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in this proudly multicultural country and is a stranger to the Dravidian languages spoken by 20 percent of Indians. The Indian Constitution does not say that Hindi is the national language. The more Hindiwallas promote Hindi with their one-eyed view, the more anti-Hindi sentiments develop in the country. That is why, if Nishad leaves the country forthwith, it will be good for Hindi — and no doubt for the country.

A realistic approach that accepts the historical limitations of Hindi would have been helpful to the cause. Unfortunately arrogance is the trademark of Hindi promoters. It prevents them from seeing what others can see clearly.

Half a century ago, for example, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri tried to make Hindi the pre-eminent language in India. He was a good Prime Minister with some good ideas. He promoted the Amul milk cooperative as part of the "white revolution" and also started projects to promote food production, the "green revolution."

But he erred on Hindi. His moves provoked angry reactions that led to widespread agitation. Riots and self-immolation and suicides set Tamil Nadu ablaze. Lal Bahadur read the message and, instead of fighting it as a self-willed autocrat, decided to respect popular sentiments. He quietly gave up his Hindi-based plans and changed the laws to ensure that English would continue.

If such accommodation was not forthcoming, India could well have turned into a Babel, the Biblical City where God confounded a presumptuous attempt to build a tower going all the way up to heaven. He made the builders speak in languages they could not mutually understand, and plans for Babel collapsed.

Over-emphasis on Hindi and conscious discouragement of other languages can, theoretically, create a Babel in India. This is why policy postures by leaders like Amit Shah create problems instead of solving them. His official status enables him to preside over key organisations such as the Parliamentary Official Language Committee. But his decisions are divisive. Is he suffering from an insecurity complex and is in constant need of reassurances of his importance? In the most recent meeting, he said that Hindi, not English, should be the link language between different linguistic communities.

He could not have been unaware of the impossibility of his proposal. He only had to take a quick look at Assam to understand how wrong he was. Central Government has initiated moves to make Hindi compulsory till class 10 in Assam. The Assamese are up in arms against the move. Warnings have been issued that popular uprisings might follow.

Why does a leader like Amit Shah go on provoking people? Why does he embarrass his own party people? The BJP had succeeded in forming a government in Assam by chanting the slogan of Assamese nationalism. Now the local leadership is finding it difficult to justify the Centre’s stance. Caught between a rock and a hard place, all that Assam’s Chief Minister could say was that there was no central order yet to make Hindi compulsory in schools. Local people will know the difference between what they experience in practice and what they hear from their leaders. Any discrepancy can only shatter the credibility of the leaders.

The Chief Minister went on record with the statement: "Amit Shah said that children must know Hindi." How nice! How considerate! Who would say no to such an obvious truism? Of course our children must know Hindi. They must know as many languages as they can learn. But knowing Hindi is one thing, enforcing it is another. Those in power would only be deceiving themselves if they think that people are to innocent to know what is going on. Amit Shah should know that he cannot fool the people. It will be wise for those in power to pay heed to the words of Akhil Gogoi, young peasant leader from Assam. He said: "Plurality is the core of India’s constitutional values. The statement of Amit Shah to impose Hindi imperialism will undermine the unity of India." Wise words which only the unwise can ignore.

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