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The Hindi debate: Old issue, new packaging

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Rishi Khemani
Rishi Khemani
A keen observer of national politics and everything falling on its left and right.

In the past few days, after the Union Home Minister made a comment about Hindi becoming a language that can reinforce the unity in this country, the debate on ‘one nation one language’ has gathered some strength again. Contributions to this debate have been arriving from all parts of the country, with opposition parties claiming that this is a tool being used by the ruling party to suppress the non-Hindi identity of different regions of this country. The Union Home Minister has however issued a clarification on this saying that his statement has been purposely twisted to suit opposition’s recipe of deception.

Without getting into the politics of this debate, let’s look into the realities of language as a unifier in a diverse country like India. Firstly, looking at the diversity that India hosts, it is impossible to impose one language on the whole population of this country. The Home Minister is well aware of the fact that in this country, where language changes in every few kilometers, no political power can possibly impose the language of their choice on the people. So surely, imposition of single language was not the intention behind his statement, made on the occasion of Hindi Diwas. Also, at this crucial stage, with so much happening in the country and around the world, national integration is at the top of government’s priority list. The government cannot afford another issue on its plate, something like the 1965 anti-Hindi agitations can prove disastrous.

An objective view on this subject of language would tell us that the government’s stance is promotional, not intrusive as is being widely circulated in the non-Hindi speaking states. This promotional stance of the government becomes clearer when one looks back at the events which unfolded earlier this year when the draft of the National Education Policy was issued. The Three-Language Formula suggested by the draft was given a different tone by the opposition parties, forcing the government to issue a clarification about the same. The government, in the official clarification, cleared that it is for equal treatment and promotion of all languages and that there will be no imposition of any language in any institution nor will there be any discrimination towards any language in this country. This in itself is proof enough that the government is very liberal and flexible in its stance on this subject.

Coming to the subject of promotion of Hindi and other Indian languages, one can’t help but think of the lack of linguistic infrastructure available in the country to implement such a policy. The issue, from a constructive angle, is an important one as it holds an ocean of opportunities in itself. Knowing more than two languages betters the employability of individuals. Having said that, rigidity of any kind, towards learning any language serves no purpose as it keeps one devoid of an important tool in the arsenal. At the end of the day, when learning English, a foreign language altogether, hasn’t been a problem, why is there such resistance towards Hindi? This clearly reveals that the issue was taken up by the political class to turn it into a sentimental subject from which infinite political mileage can be drawn.

Language is a link which connects people, improves one’s skills of negotiation and management. Greater exchange of languages and cultures within a vast and diverse country like India is warranted as it helps create bridges and enhances national integration. Government’s move in favor of promotion of Indian languages is a welcome one, but the moot point remains – do we have a structure which provides good enough facilities to cater to the learning requirements of such a large population? India needs facilities which can provide professional training to teachers of different Indian languages and the trickle-down effect of the same would be an easy answer to the problem of promotion. This can then provide a platform for learning, where learners, according to the level of competency they require, can learn the language of their choice.

The issue of language has been a big hindrance in the path of constructive discussions on other issues in education system of this country. It is high time we settle this debate once and for all, to move on to bigger issues in the education policy that concern us. ‘One nation One language’ was never intended, nor was it the answer to the problem. The political representatives need to understand that stubbornness will serve no purpose. The people, on the other hand, should understand that ‘learning is growing’.

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Rishi Khemani
Rishi Khemani
A keen observer of national politics and everything falling on its left and right.
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