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The Row over Hindi being the National Language: Justified?

Had Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru taken a strong position on Hindi being the national language then, it would have easily become through some consensus. He literally behaved like Hamlet: to be or not to be.

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer

Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement to use Hindi instead of English for communication within India has sparked a row recently. There was a Twitter war of words and arguments. Many past colonies of the British tried shedding colonial legacy. Some question the English imperialism/hegemony over their native languages. But are unable to wriggle out of this complex English language problem.

As per the western concept of nation/state, it should have three qualities. First, a nation should have ‘one’ religion. Second, a nation should have ‘one’ language i.e. the national language. Third, a nation should have a territory i.e. boundaries. India defies the first two i.e. a national religion and a national language and the third: the territorial nationality, which we obtained after the British left India making it economically weakened and territorially truncated by the partition of India and Pakistan. Otherwise, Bharat was Akhand.  Though the phraseology: Hindi, Hindu, Hindustani is in the minds of most of the people in India, it has no Constitutional sanctity.

In the beginning, in independent India, all national leaders wanted to have Hindi to be the national language. Like many others, B.R. Ambedkar too favoured Hindi. “Since Indians wish to unite and develop a common culture,” he would write, “it is the bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their language.” Without this, we would be left “a 100 per cent Maharashtrian, a 100 per cent Tamil or a 100 per cent Gujarati” but never truly Indian.

However, there were a lot more debates and discussions than in the constituent assembly on Hindi being the national language. “The dithering of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru by listening to both parties from the North and South of India, could not make much of a headway in declaring it (Hindi) as the national language. Jawaharlal Nehru conceded that the regional languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, etc.) are ancient languages, with a rich inheritance each spoken by many millions of persons, each tied up inextricably with the life, culture and ideas of the masses, as well as the upper classes. … None of the regional languages—not even Hindi—should be newly put in a position of superiority over the others”, writes KR Srinivasa Iyengar in his book: Indian Writing in English.

Had Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru taken a strong position on Hindi being the national language then, it would have easily become through some consensus. He literally behaved like Hamlet: to be or not to be. It is pathetic to see such a big country, India, not having a national language. Many foreigners (especially from the West) ask Indians, which language they need to learn when they visit India to speak. All their countries: Germany, France, Italy, Denmark etc. all have their national languages. Indians have no national language to specify, yet we say to learn Hindi to have to talk in India. Indians are born and brought up with no national language of pan India appeal since Independence. So, when Indians of two different language origins meet in India or abroad they speak in English. English has become the lingua franca. But many Indians are not capable of conveying their thoughts in English.

As soon as Hindi is being mentioned as a national language in making, the South Indians resist. They say that it is a kind of “imposing” the other Indian language on them. However, they voluntarily embrace English, though English is not an Indian language. English is still indicative of imperialism and colonialism to many. Many colonial countries would like to decolonise their mind by not patronizing English. Some liberal western minds in India would argue that Urdu is an Indian language and it has no religious connotations. But, undoubtedly, in Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s mind, it is the language of Muslims. In Jinnah’s 1948 speech in Decca, he said, “Let me restate my views on the question of a State language for Pakistan. For official use in this province, the people of the province can choose any language they wish…There can, however, be only one lingua franca, that is, the language for intercommunication between the various provinces of the State, and that language, should be Urdu and cannot be any other. The State language, therefore, must obviously be Urdu, a language that has been nurtured by a hundred million Muslims of this sub-continent, a language understood throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan and above all a language which, more than any other provincial language, embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition and is nearest to the language used in other Islamic countries.”

Of course, Bangladesh was divided from Pakistan on the Bengali language identity issue. They fought with the hegemony of East Pakistan. Hence, language is an emotional issue. Language has a strong identity connection. What Pandit Nehru could not do, what the governments at the Centre were not able to do all these years, the Hindi entertainment T.V. channels and movies could do. They slowly brought Hindi to invade India. In the Hindi language propagation, the North should not belittle South Indians for their Hindi accent or mannerism. It is the northern Hindi belt that has to win the hearts of the South. Already Hindi has crept into many southern states. It is only time to become a national language.

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G Indira
G Indira
Author of the book: The India I Know and of Hinduism. Publications in -charge Pragna Bharati Organisation, Hyderabad. Academician and free-lancer
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