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The enemy of Hindi

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On 14 September 1949, the Constituent Assembly recognized Hindi as the official language of India and it was made official language under Article 343 (1) of the Constitution with Devanagiri script. Hindi and English are the official languages ​​for official work at Centre. After seven decades, in listening and understanding, it seems very natural. But to get this right, Hindi too had to go through a long journey with a great struggle. It is also important for the modern generation to know that this struggle of Hindi language, also affected India’s freedom struggle.

Wood’s dispatch

In the medieval period and even during the rule of the East India Company, the official work of the princely states was carried out in Persian and Arabic. But under the influence of British politicians, the East India Company was under pressure to spread education in India. In 1854 AD, Sir Charles Wood sent some recommendations to the Governor General Lord Dalhousie for expanding education in India and that is called ‘Wood’s Dispatch’. It suggested to provide primary and secondary education to Indians, through vernacular, higher education through English medium and also to open schools based on vernacular locally and colleges at provincial level. The main reason for this was to help Indians in acquiring European knowledge and science. Some schools and colleges etc. were also established with under this scheme.

Hindi Movement

After the revolution of 1857, the power came in the hands of the British Parliament and the expansion of education was greatly accelerated. In this context, the Hindus of Bihar and United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh) requested the government that instead of using Persian and Arabic script as the language of official work, Devanagari script and Hindi should be given the status of second official language. Their reason behind this was that Hindi was a regional language and Devanagari script could be written and read by the general public. As soon as the government considered this suggestion as more pragmatic and wanted to accept it in 1867, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan started opposing it and launched a campaign to make Urdu the second official language.

His reason behind this, was that Urdu was the common language of Muslims. He was engaged in the promotion and propagation of Urdu language through his writings, since the end of Mughal rule and the schools and colleges established by him taught in Urdu medium. But his view was narrow and limited to Muslims only. On the other hand, non-Muslims like Hindus and Christians objected to Urdu being the second official language. There were two main arguments against his Urdu, first that it was the language of the common people. Secondly, its script is foreign, which the general public did not know how to read and write. For Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the insistence of Hindus to make Hindi the second official language was in some way a symbol of the decline of the influence of centuries-old Islamic culture in India. His argument was that Urdu Muslims and Hindus alike have political and cultural heritage. But, due to bitter memories of past Muslim rule, the Hindus were not at all willing to carry on a legacy in which both script and vocabulary are beyond the comprehension of the general public.

It is said that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, while appearing before the commission appointed by the British Government, he remarked that “Urdu was the language of gentry and of people of high social standing, whereas Hindi was to be the vulgar.” His such controversial remarks provoked a hostile response from Hindu leaders and advocates of Hindi. As a result of that Bhartendu Harishchandra and Raja Shiv Prasad Singh Sitare Hind started promoting Hindi in Khadi Boli with their writings. Acting on the request of the people of United Province and Bihar settled in Bengal, the Lt. Governor of Bengal G. Campbell in 1871, banned Urdu in courts, administration and even in schools. The Hindus of NWFP, Punjab and Sind also rose against Urdu as the second official language. This competition of Urdu with Hindi, created with the rigid instance of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, united Hindus in the region, against Urdu as the second official language.

The success of the Hindi movement was natural as it was close to the masses in terms of script and spoken language. Yet, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan took it Hindu dominance and started promoting Urdu as a symbol of Muslim heritage and language of Muslim intellectual and political class. Using Urdu language, he started pushing for the issues centered on Muslims exclusively. His approach further accelerated the mass polarization as educated and intellectuals Muslim elites adopted Urdu as their spoken language. Later on Urdu became the heart of Two Nation Theory. Thus, the polarization started with the pursuit for political dominance using the faith, had now reached to the language. It gave the impression to Hindus that Muslims would oppose everything that is linked to Indian culture.

Hindi after independence

After independence, the Hindi vs Urdu controversy again became a political weapon. When the issue of official language was being discussed within the Congress, Nehru proposed using Urdu as the official language for Delhi and United Provinces (U.P.). But, Govind Ballabh Pant, P.D. Tandon and K.M. Munshi etc. aggressively opposed his proposal. Seeing the strong opposition to Urdu, Nehru did not insist on it anymore, but he became upset with Govind Ballabh Pant. This incident has been described in detail by contemporary renowned journalist Durgadas in his book ‘India from Curzon to Nehru and After’.

Finally, Hindi emerged victorious and accepted as the official language. Later, on the eve of general elections in 1989, the then state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar gave the status of second official language to Urdu. This was purely appeasement politics which was widely opposed and Vasudev Pandey, a minister in Uttar Pradesh resigned in protest. Despite such obstacles, Hindi is still the language of common people and through TV and cinema, it has become very popular in other non-Hindi speaking states as well.

Today, Hindi is spoken outside India, like in Fiji, Maldives and Suriname in some other countries by the people who had gone there as labor migrants from India. In Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Gulf countries, some people have learnt Hindi only by watching Hindi movies and TV serials. All this show that in today’s world Hindi is a popular language beyond religion and geographical boundaries.

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