Renewed Attempts to Impose Hindi Enrage Southern States

Abdul Bari Masoud studies the Centre’s recent bid to impose the Hindi language in Southern states as recommended by the 11th report of Joint Parliamentary Committee on Official Language headed by Union Minister Amit Shah. The move, which, if implemented, makes Hindi mandatory as the medium of instruction in all technical and non-technical educational institutions,…

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Abdul Bari Masoud

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Warning of dire consequences if government goes ahead with Parliamentary Committee report

Abdul Bari Masoud studies the Centre’s recent bid to impose the Hindi language in Southern states as recommended by the 11th report of Joint Parliamentary Committee on Official Language headed by Union Minister Amit Shah. The move, which, if implemented, makes Hindi mandatory as the medium of instruction in all technical and non-technical educational institutions, has caused wide protests across the states in South India.

Renewed attempts to impose Hindi have infuriated the Southern states so much so that they issued stern letters to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to shun the idea and reminding him of the past violent agitations against such a move.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Official Language headed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in its 11th report, has recommended that the medium of instruction in all technical and non-technical educational institutions should mandatorily be Hindi. The report has 112 recommendations, some of which include switching to Hindi-only question papers for recruitment examinations and progressively replacing English as the language of instruction. The report, which was presented to President Droupadi Murmu on October 9, is said to pave the way for greater use of Indian languages in office work, lower court hearings, and as a medium of education.

As soon as the recommendations were made public, there were outrages, with Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin asking “not to force another language war by imposing Hindi.”

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan vehemently opposed the committee’s recommendations in a letter to the prime minister, stating that “India has multiple languages and there cannot be a single language which can be described as the country’s language.”

Reacting sharply, Telangana minister K.T. Rama Rao, in his tweet, said, “India does NOT have a National language & Hindi is one among the many official languages To impose Hindi by way of mandating in IITs & central Govt recruitments, NDA Govt is flouting the federal spirit”.

They termed recommendations as an assault on India’s unity in diversity and its soul.

Tamil Nadu, which has historically seen frequent and violent uprisings against the imposition of Hindi, even passed a resolution in the state assembly denouncing the imposition of Hindi and charging the BJP of manipulating “language for power.”

Introducing a motion against any “imposition” of the language in the assembly on October 19, CM Stalin alleged that the Union government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party was aiming to make “Hindi the language that symbolises dominance.”

“Imposition of Hindi has been done continuously since 1938 and we continue to oppose the imposition. The BJP, which is helming the Union Government, is in the habit of imposing Hindi in administration and now, they are extending that to education,” Stalin said.

Stalin continued his criticism of the Modi government, saying:

“The BJP is trying to remove English completely from the administration…They want to prevent people from acquiring English knowledge. They say they give importance to state languages only for the sake of speaking. Otherwise, their heart beats only for Hindi. If the claim that the BJP loves other languages is true, are they ready to declare all languages, including Tamil, under the eighth schedule of the Constitution as administrative languages of the Union Government?”

Stalin accused the Prime Minister of breaking the Constitution by making such attempts in two letters he sent to him after learning about the parliamentary report.

Stalin continued by saying that Tamil Nadu continues to adhere to the dual language policy, employing both Tamil and English, and that efforts are being made to add all state languages to the list of the country’s official languages.

He went on to say that because people in Tamil Nadu are aware of the National Education Policy’s three-language restrictions, they are opposed to it.

“Hindi should not be imposed on non-Hindi speakers at any cost… English should continue as long as non-Hindi speakers want. Preference should not be given to Hindi speakers, such a move will be in contradiction with the Constitution,” he added.

He also accused the Modi regime of attempting to split India into three groups: “Hindi-speaking states, states where Hindi is less often spoken, and states that do not speak Hindi. Tamil Nadu is included in the third category. However, there are attempts to reduce us to second-class citizens despite being the legitimate proprietors of one of the oldest languages (Tamil) and its culture. We ought to speak out against this,” Stalin warned.

He recounted how, during the DMK-led anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu in 1965, which led to the party’s first election to power, people were killed and were imprisoned. “Our existence, our feelings, and our future are shaped by language. The DMK was established to defend our native tongue and fight against other languages’ hegemonic influence.”

In an effort to impose Hindi and make it the only language on the basis of its “One Nation, One Everything” policy, he continued, “the BJP is attempting to eliminate other languages.”

“We have to think that these recommendations have been made to ensure that non-Hindi speakers don’t get Union Government jobs. They have openly announced that only Hindi speakers can get government jobs by saying all exams will be conducted only in Hindi. Such a move will remove non-Hindi speakers from the national mainstream.” Stalin said, further questioning how it was fair to remove English, which has been in official communication through resolutions passed in 1968 and 1976.

Echoing similar sentiments, Kerala CM, Vijayan said in a tweet that, “Union Govt’s Hindi Imposition move is an onslaught on India’s cherished ideal, unity in diversity. It will disadvantage a vast majority of Indians in matters of education and employment. This callous move, an affront to cooperative federalism, has to be opposed unitedly”.

He also shot a letter to the PM, saying, “The state-specific aspects in the educational sector have to be recognised. There cannot be a hasty decision in this matter.”

“While communicating among themselves, people of India residing in various states have assimilated knowledge of other languages and appreciated the similarities. India has many languages and there cannot be a single language which can be termed as the country’s language,” he insisted in the letter.

Referring to the recommendation on changing the question papers in Hindi, the letter said, “Our youth has limited job opportunities in the Government sector and any attempt to put a substantial section of them at a relative disadvantage will not be in the best interest of our society”.

Former Kerala finance minister Dr Thomas Isaac said, “India is being ruled by a party that does not believe in the diversity of the country. How else could it insist on knowledge of Hindi as a precondition for central government employment by insisting that the recruitment tests would be only in Hindi?”

In his Hindi Diwas speech in September 2019, Amit Shah made an explicit plea for “one nation, one language.” The RSS ideology harps on “one nation, one language, one culture” and it is easily associated with the recommendations that are being made currently.

There are 22 languages included in India’s 8th Schedule of the Constitution. Additionally, India is home to over 100 non-scheduled languages, each of which has over 10,000 native speakers. More than 700 different languages, 1,800 mother tongues, several dialects, and unrecognised or minor tongues are spoken in the country.

In India, about 56% of people do not consider Hindi to be their mother tongue. However, even the statistics that appear to have contributed to Hindi being spoken by such a huge population is convoluted.

Hindi speakers dramatically increased from 30.39% (13.34 crore) of India’s population in 1961 to 43.63% (52.83 crore) in 2011. While doing so, it neglected to give other languages their due attention even if they shared many of its traits. It is evident from a review of Census statistics that this is an example of wallowing in borrowed glory. Think about Kurmali and Maghi or Magadhi, which were included as mother tongues under Hindi in the 1971 Census report.

The change to the language classification in the census report made in 1971 had momentous effects. Only ten mother tongues were categorised as Hindi in 1961: Awadhi, Baghelkhandi, Braj Bhasha, Bundelkhand, Chhattisgarhi, Khariboli, Laria, Lodhi, Pardesi, and Power. However, by sleight of hand, Hindi was recorded as the mother tongue for 48 different languages in the 1971 Census report.

It is also to be noted that only nine out of 28 states have Hindi as first official language. Therefore, thrusting Hindi upon would have serious ramifications.

The Hindi imposition attempt led to the collapse of the Congress government in Tamil Nadu in 1967 and the rise of the DMK. In other cases, states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala have voiced similar viewpoints. The majority of State governments does not recognise Hindi as an official language or include it in their three-language formula.

Policies that impose Hindi are an overt attempt to homogenise Indian culture and disregard the states’ individual language and cultural identities. Because of this policy, the biggest victim of Hindi’s imposition was Urdu, which had previously served as both the country’s official language and its primary means of communication. The major cradle of Urdu in Northern India, particularly Uttar Pradesh, saw the abrupt abolition of the language as a medium of instruction not long after the country’s independence. This was most likely brought about by Hindi’s fictitious existence. This is the rationale behind the annual September fortnightly campaign for the advancement of Hindi, which would be hindered by the presence of Urdu. Today, Urdu is all but extinct in Uttar Pradesh, and a major contributing factor to this is the indifference of the Urdu-speaking community.

In addition to being a sneaky way of gaining cultural hegemony over states that do not speak Hindi, the imposition of Hindi also undermines the federal structure of the Indian state.

The anti-Hindi movement gathered more traction in Madras (now Chennai) as the day of switching over to Hindi as the only official language (26 January 1965) drew near. A major riot started on January 25 in the southern city of Madurai after a small incident between protesting students and Congress party members resulted in the deaths of about 70 (by official estimates) including two policemen. To calm the situation, then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long as the non-Hindi speaking states wanted. For those killed during the anti-Hindi imposition protests in Chennai, a memorial was built.

Major political shifts occurred in Tamil Nadu as a result of the agitations of 1965. Since the DMK won the 1967 assembly election, the Congress Party has been unable to retake the state’s government.

Speaking with Radiance, Subramani Arumugam, National General Secretary of Welfare Party of India, who hails from Tamil Nadu, underscored that India is a multi-linguistic society and has the world’s fourth highest number of languages, and linguistic diversity forms the bedrock of India’s identity and imposition of any language will be an onslaught on the unity and integrity of the nation.

He said, “One nation, one religion, one language and one culture policy of the BJP government is against the Constitution, as India does not have a national language and all the 22 languages listed in the eighth schedule of the Constitution should be made official languages and given equal importance.”

The government should uphold the assurance given by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Parliament that there would be no imposition of Hindi and English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it, the Welfare party leader said.

Attempts are also being made to impose Hindi through NEP and signage in National Highways.

Another leader from the state, Prof. M.H. Jawahirullah, who is TMMK president and MLA, said putting one language on a higher pedestal is unconstitutional and goes against federalism and the principle of multi-linguistic equality. This goes against Article 14. All 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution should be treated equally.

“The BJP and Parivar wanted to impose its ideology of One Nation and One Language. Non-Hindi speaking states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka have better development than Hindi speaking states including Gujarat. Hindi is not needed for development. Imposing Hindi would only impair development,” he underlined.

Further, because of their proven proficiency in English, Indians are being invited to Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and even to African countries, in addition to the west and America. The English language is always assisting ‘Indians with necessary working skills’ to get selected either to work or study abroad after clearing the exams namely TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, and GRE. People working in academic and scientific research are well aware of this fact. In terms of language skills, it is because of English that Indians are getting priority, where Hindi doesn’t have any role in it. Countries like Japan and Korea are spending too much on hiring English teachers from the United Kingdom and the United States of America in order to improve the English proficiency of their citizens, he concluded.