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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 39-42 September 17 - October 8, 2022 - Bumper issue

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Sept 17 - Oct 8, 2022

Friday 16 September 2022

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Sept 17 – Oct 8, 2022

India is a very diverse multilingual society and whatever their location most people in their daily lives seem to have a real familiarity with more than one language, irrespective of what the law says. The Constitution of India reflects this reality with 22 languages having formal recognition in its eighth schedule. Every now and then political tensions erupt over the question of language of instruction, official language of administration, and judiciary. Over the past decades, there has been a slow but continuous thrust from lobbyists to push Hindi above all and even seek the erasure of English. In the backdrop is the overarching reality of our political landscape where Hindi-speaking states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh with high population numbers have greater political representation in India’s parliament and exercise undue political advantage over all other non-Hindi speaking states in legislative matters. Drafts of legislation, discussions, and speeches in Parliament are in English and Hindi. In recent years more and more of these seemingly are being pushed and promoted in Hindi. We wonder how the non-Hindi speaking citizens handle this. Official Hindi, like official English, like all official languages, are already a species apart, deploying a vocabulary not spoken by ordinary citizens on the street. Millions of people access websites of national institutions for information and to apply for jobs and to obtain government services, driving licenses, certificates of various kinds, train tickets, etc. People from across the country migrate from one region to another for economic and social reasons and are left at their own devices to navigate the language barriers to obtain services as citizens. Difficult to say if the language in official rule books, circulars, notices, and governmental communication will ever become simplified and easy to use. Politicians who are pushing for Hindi across the board in opposition to English or all other languages are looking to ferment social tensions. They seem to forget the anti-Hindi protests of the mid-1960s in Tamil Nadu, or the case of our immediate neighbour Pakistan that eventually broke up as a country over the forced imposition of Urdu in a linguistically diverse country, Sri Lanka too has seen enormous strife over Sinhala vs Tamil. English is extremely sought after given its social utility as a passport to upward mobility and to the world at large. National statistics on school-going children are limited but show that English medium enrolment in schools has been growing. Government must respect people’s choices. Government policy or not, migrants from all regions often learn local languages when they can for practical reasons. We should continue to encourage multilingualism and promote translations, teaching, and cultural mingling to create common ground and break away from parochialism. A society that can think and express itself in multiple languages is socially and culturally enriched constantly. Since we are witnessing undue leverage being accorded to Hindi, some argue that promoting, and strengthening English as our national link language will be hugely beneficial. We must constantly debate the pros and cons of our language policy and make it evolve but steer it away from extremists trying to play politics of language as a vehicle of majoritarian domination.

17 September, 2022 - HK

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