"Language was not a mere string of words. It had a suggestive power well beyond the immediate and lexical meaning," writes African writer Ngugi in his work, Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. He took it upon him to what he called 'decolonize the minds' of his people in post-colonial Africa. For they were torn between two cultures, their own and the Western and strove hard to reach the standards set by their colonizers. Later in his life, he chose to write in his mother-tongue rather than embracing a Western language, to reiterate that his language and culture are not in any way subservient to English or French. In India, the battle for supremacy between Hindi and English and between Hindi and regional languages has been ever growing for the past century. This kind of language chauvinism has been allegedly fired by the BJP party that appears to be bent on reshaping India as Hindia-a Hindi-speaking Hindu nation. Their unbridled support for the language is understandable because of the links that Hindi has with Hindus, particularly. In the colonial period, Khari-boli, a form of Hindi, was the language spoken by Hindus. British further polarized the communities of Hindus and Muslims by dividing them on language basis: Hindi for Hindus and Persian for Muslims.
It is disconcerting to see the indifference on the part of the Hindi zealots, who have been a victim of imposition themselves, who are now trying to impose Hindi in many non-Hindi speaking states. From changing the language of milestones on the highways in Tamil Nadu to Hindi to suggestions to make Hindi compulsory in CBSE schools till 10th to asking post-graduate students to write their names in Hindi on their certificates at IIM-Bangalore, the hindification is quite on the rise nowadays. The matter was escalated to a debate between Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj when the center was mooting the official inclusion of Hindi at the UN.
The push for making Hindi a language at the UN has given momentum to the never-seeming-to-end debate over the dogmatism of Hindi. Hindi is not just any language like its peers; it carries a spectrum of power dynamics that could re-establish a status quo in India. For BJP, Hindi is the one band that could bind the nation into a knot, while safely sidelining the suffocation caused to some parts of the nation under it. The claws of Hindi, if spread to the full extent under the current regime of the BJP, could easily overshadow the equally significant languages like Urdu, Tamil, Kannada, Assamese and many other constitutionally recognised languages. Interesting here is the association of the language with religion. A BJP leader, who has also petitioned at the apex court to herald a mandate that would make Hindi the national language, defends his actions with a set of questions: If Chinese is the language of China if Japanese is the language of Japan, then why not Hindi be made the language of India? The answer to these questions lies in the acceptance of the leverage that is accorded to the language among the people of the country.
Though Hindi is touted as the language of the masses, 2001 census results show that only 25 percent of the population has Hindi as its mother tongue and 45 percent knows and speaks the language. The battle for power between the Aryans and the Dravidians, in particular, is a long one, spanning more than six decades. It all started in 1937 when Rajagopalachari made it mandatory to have Hindi in schools. The Tamilians out-rightly rejected any such leverage to be accorded to any language other than their own. Their gesture, which though is indicative of cultural nationalism, was not uncalled for at a time when to them, their very identity appeared to fade. For language is not a mere connecting tool, though it might appear so. It is inseparable from the culture, the traditions, lifestyles and norms it carries. The popularization of Hindi threatened to invariably bring the dawn on other cultures, which are looked at as inferior to the culture propagated by the Hindi speakers. The onslaught of the popular cultures can be survived either by completely dodging it or by allowing it as an option in an open society that is not oblivious of one's cultural significance.
The non-Hindi speakers fear the imposition of a language on them would efface their own. In a country like India, there is indeed a need for a common language that can bridge the lacunae created by lack of an understanding due to varied dialects and languages. But Hindi is not solely hired for this job, it is, for the past few decades, used for cultural hegemony, a term used by Antonio Gramsci to explain the invisible power that one culture holds over another and which hegemonizes the minds of the people. The gradual yet perilous movement, from the tenets of their culture to imbibing the facets of what they believed as the superior one, was ensued. Soon, Hindi became a yardstick against which the other cultures were measured and which became the trend-setter in the last decade of 20th century. This is evident in the tawdry stereotypes of South Indians that emphasized the difference between Hindi and non-Hindi speakers or between the normal and the aberrant. Instead of embracing the uniqueness of their own culture, some people strived for reaching the standards of the superior culture.
The languages of India under Hindi suffer from the same predicament that Hindi suffers, under the weight of English, which threatens to override the importance of Hindi in the present times. The irony lies here. The South Indian states feel it easier to converse in English than in Hindi and prefer English as their second language to Hindi. Their animosity towards the latter stems from a shared conscience that English, being an outsider and a national enemy, would never pose a threat to their cultures, at least not until the dominance of Hindi subsides. As they say, enemy's enemy is a friend, the Tamilians and Kannadigas have successfully translated the saying into reality. Their concern is also not a futile one since when did our national identity derive from the Hindi language alone when our Constitution recognizes 22 official languages?
When there are languages and dialects galore, it is worth wondering or rather, questioning the validity that only one language amongst them, namely Hindi, gets to enjoy in our country. It is often wrongly understood that Hindi is the national language of India, when, to the contrary, the Constitution renders no such status to this language. Different languages and cultures can coexist if each is given its due importance and no hierarchies and politics are allowed amongst it. The process of imposing one's language on a certain section, hence, takes away the right of an individual to form an identity of one’s own will and also the right to one's culture. As Ngugi says, language never exists as a form of communication alone, it carries culture within it and when it is imposed on another community, it could efface the identity of the community.
image source: Scroll.in
Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Get all our posts, blogs and video content via e-mail.