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Posted at: Jun 15, 2019, 6:22 AM; last updated: Jun 15, 2019, 6:22 AM (IST)

Hindi row: Nationalism vs linguistic federalism

Sudhanshu Ranjan

Sudhanshu Ranjan
It is true that there is no dearth of Hindi fanatics whose weltschmertz over the language not getting its due is no secret. Rishang Keishing left the Socialist Party in 1964 when Raj Narain and other socialists created a ruckus in Parliament against President S.Radhakrishnan’s address to the joint session of Parliament in English. They were demanding that the President speak in Hindi.
Hindi row: Nationalism vs linguistic federalism
PRONOUNCED BIAS: Language is more sacrosanct than religion.

Sudhanshu Ranjan
TV Journalist and author

THAT the wave of rightwing nationalism has left a major part of the world awash is reflected conclusively in the victory of Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit in the UK. Even Spain, once considered an infertile ground for such politics, has come under its sweep. Globalisation, which became a byword for economic prosperity, is being dumped. Actually, the Brexit and the US presidential election gave a body blow to the very concept of globalisation and liberalisation. Proponents of globalisation argue that its advantages are self-evident and any country opposing it does not have a prayer. The Labour Party in Britain and the Democratic Party in the US were opposed to globalisation but Tony Blair propounded the theory of New Labour and embraced it, so did Bill Clinton by reversing the traditional stand of his party. Thus, globalisation had a free sweep with no one to oppose. 

Donald Trump sprang a surprise by excoriating it, going against the Republican Party's ideology. Dutch writer Adjiedj Bakas has coined the term "slowbalisation" to announce the demise of globalisation. But surprisingly, the urge for federalism is also quite pronounced. The protest against Hindi in Tamil Nadu and other southern states may be seen from this perspective. Barely two days after the new government at the Centre, which returned to power riding the surge of nationalism, took oath, political parties in Tamil Nadu strongly protested against the three-language formula advocated by the draft National Education Policy alleging a conspiracy to thrust Hindi. The reference to the oath-taking is purposive — 45 out of 57 ministers took oath in Hindi though many of them are from non-Hindi states, including Telengana. After the victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish that some sections of the media refer to the BJP as a party of Hindi states though it has made deep inroads into many non-Hindi states from east to west and from north to south. So, this is a clear pointer to the emerging ethos of the embrace of Hindi by non-Hindi states. In 1977 and again in 1989, the Congress was almost wiped out in the North, but the southern states came to its rescue as they perhaps apprehended that the background and political philosophy of the other north Indian parties gave them a unique weltanschauung which has a pronounced bias for Hindi. There were other factors too but the language factor had a crucial role. 

However, only a few days after the vociferous protest against Hindi from Tamil Nadu came, another report about a spike in the number of students from the state appearing for the Hindi language courses held by Dakshin Bharat Prachar Sabha, established by Mahatma Gandhi in 1918 "with the sole aim of propagating Hindi in southern states". While 27,600 students took the exam in 2009, 1.6 lakh students appeared for it in 2018. Yet another report is about how migrants are bridging the language barrier. Mohammad Dilshad, son of a Bihari daily wager, topped the class X exam in Kerala. He was enrolled in a government school where the medium of instruction is Malayalam. Bengaluru, the cyber capital of the country, has a large number of techies from North India learning Kannada on WhatsApp. 

It is true there is no dearth of Hindi fanatics whose weltschmertz over the language not getting its due place is no secret. Rishang Keishing left the Socialist Party in 1964 when Raj Narain and other socialists created a ruckus in Parliament against President S. Radhakrishnan's address to the joint session of Parliament in English. They were demanding that the President speak in Hindi. Earlier, during a debate in the Constituent Assembly on December 10, 1946, RV Dhulekar made an acerbic statement, "People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in this House to fashion a Constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this Assembly." In 1949, Seth Govind Das said in the same Assembly, "For thousands of years one and the same culture has all along been obtaining here…It is in order to maintain this tradition that we want one language and one script for the whole country." It was definitely an overstatement as there was never a single language for the whole of India. 

Language is more sacrosanct than religion. When Pakistan declared Urdu as its sole national language though only seven per cent of its citizens knew Urdu, there was a violent protest in the erstwhile East Pakistan which comprised 54 per cent of the population of Pakistan. On February 21, 1952, the police opened fire at rallies in Dhaka killing a number of students and injuring hundreds. East Pakistan finally seceded in 1971 and became Bangladesh. February 21 is observed internationally as the International Mother Language Day, after the UN General Assembly approved it in 2008, to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. Most European countries are unilingual as the nation- states were formed on the basis of language. However, there are exceptions like Belgium which has three languages -- Dutch, German and French. Its Constitution recognizes not only territorial federalism but also non-territorial which is linguistic federalism. 

In India, the love for the local language which the British contemptuously called 'vernacular' is laudable, but love for English is inscrutable as none of the states has any cultural or linguistic affinity with England. On April 18, 1993, approximately 2,000 people in Sarajevo took out a demonstration waving the flags of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, not of UN, NATO or the US clearly identifying themselves with fellow Muslims. On October 16, 1994, about 70,000 people rallied with Mexican flags protesting Proposition 187, a referendum measure meant to stop state benefits to illegal immigrants and their children. These immigrants from Mexico were demanding benefits from the American government but were holding Mexican flags. Not surprisingly, Proposition 187 was carried. 

Protest against Hindi started in Madras in 1937 when the Congress government led by C. Rajagopalachari introduced the compulsory teaching of Hindi in schools of Madras Presidency. Rajaji also signed the Official Language Act (Hindi) as the Governor-General. But later, he joined the anti-Hindi agitation. When asked how he could oppose Hindi which he introduced as the chief minister and signed as Governor-General, he said he was left with no option after Jawaharlal Nehru gave an assurance that Hindi would not be imposed. True, Hindi cannot and should not be imposed, but Hindi is spreading by virtue of Hindi films and serials and migration. The irony is that popular stars of Hindi cinema speak in English at film festivals and other programmes. Further, students of Hindi states should learn any non-Hindi language apart from English to win their hearts.

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