Devolution Should Begin from New Delhi

In a recent article in Business Standard, columnist Mihir Sharma has expressed concerns over growing ‘parochial attitudes’ in major Indian cities like Mumbai. What is surprising in the article is, the author considering India’s diversity as a barrier, and the author’s definition of parochialism in this regard. The author questions -
Why is it that so many of India’s cities, which could be locations for the dissolution of the many barriers that divide us, instead replicate and strengthen them?
What are these barriers that the author is talking about? It is evident that he is referring to linguistic, cultural, ethnic, religious, regional, and many other differences. But are they really barriers?
The world is naturally pluralistic and several diverse peoples, have co-existed for several millennia. So, when does diversity become a barrier or even appear as one? When one wants to force juxtaposition of different peoples, does diversity appear like a barrier. But then, diversity is only natural. The topic of forced juxtaposition has been discussed previously in Karnatique. There is no “natural antipathy” between any two given culturally or linguistically different groups, and when there is need for interfacing between the two they organically evolve methods of mutual cooperation. But forced juxtaposition is what creates unease and friction.
Major cities of today’s India are laboratories of forced juxtaposition. In the past when people moved to a region that was culturally or linguistically different they would integrate into the host society, first by picking up the language of the land. In fact, even to this day, many developed nations, such as those of the European Union encourage migrants to learn the local language as a policy. Unfortunately, independent India has dumped this policy of multilingualism. With English available as a language of administration and official communication across all states of India, and with the gradual promotion of Hindi as a pan-India language, the natives and migrants are expected to use these two languages for mutual interfacing, with special emphasis on Hindi. Any talk of encouraging the native languages is immediately condemned as chauvinistic or parochial.
Massive migration to major cities has resulted in forced juxtaposition, and a policy of mono-lingualism and the attitude of condemning anything native as parochial have been detrimental to any possibility of integration.
While calling Mumbai as parochial, Mihir Sharma also adds that Delhi is free of the ‘poisonous’ natives-vs-migrants politics. But this is not a coincidence or not an unusually tolerant character of the city.
The promotion of Hindi use through administration and legislation by the Union Government of India, as a pan-India language, coupled with little encouragement to multilingualism, has worked in favour of Delhi, which is part of the Hindi heartland. Migrants, whether they are from UP and Bihar, or from the non-Hindi states eventually learn the vehicular language of Delhi and integrate.
The same kind of integration is absent in Mumbai or Bengaluru. State patronage to Hindi means that the natives are expected to speak to migrants in Hindi, and the migrants shall never be expected to learn the native tongue. This attitude is considered liberal, and any attempts to protect the linguistic rights of the natives are immediately condemned as parochial or chauvinistic by voices of the Delhi establishment.
Referring to the ‘parochial politics’ of Mumbai, Mihir Sharma says that this model if replicated across the Indian Union, “would doom the emergence of more liberal, inclusive and prosperous India”. But the chauvinistic and patronizing attitude of the Union is the root of all language chauvinism, which the Delhi establishment has hardly acknowledged.
The columnist also accuses the state and its politicians for the lack of improvement or development in Mumbai. He says:
It has become ever more subservient to the state that it nominally rules. No state government or politician can afford to let Mumbai improve; as it stands, it is too powerful a source of funds and power. Mantralaya’s restrictions and regulations strangle the city and its amenities, but are exactly what the state’s politicians need.
The state of Maharashtra is the top contributor to the Union Government’s revenues, with direct taxes from Maharashtra alone amounting to a whopping Rs. 40 lac crore a year. The city of Mumbai contributes a major chunk of this revenue but only a fraction of this revenue makes its way back to Maharashtra, let alone Mumbai. Much of these funds are used to fund the special packages for other states and the centrally sponsored schemes. Why not return a major chunk of the revenue to the state or even let the state collect and manage the revenue all by itself? It is not the state of Maharashtra and its politicians that are holding back development in Mumbai, but it is the Union Government by taking away the city’s and the state’s major chunk of revenue.
The author advocates decentralization to the urban bodies, but keeps mum on the much bigger need to decentralize from the Union to the states.
Consider the subjects that the states and the Union have jurisdiction over. There are about sixty six subjects on the state list, whereas the concurrent and the union list together number a hundred and forty seven. The states do share the concurrent list with the Union but the ruling of the Union can override the legislation or orders of the state in those subjects. So, in effect, the Union holds jurisdiction over more than twice the number of subjects that the states do.
Frequent meddling with the state subjects by the Union Government through centrally sponsored schemes further impinges on the powers of the states. Considering the many diverse linguistic and ethnic groups across India, such over-centralization of power at New Delhi robs them off democratic empowerment. Hence the Union Government should be a much thinner entity retaining only the portfolios of common interests like external affairs and defence, and devolve the rest to the states. Why is the columnist who calls Aam Admi Party’s “idea of radical decentralization” as a “real political innovation” silent on the devolution of powers to the states?
The Union should devolve as many subjects as possible to the states, and should retain the ones like foreign affairs and defence. The states shall decide on devolution of powers to municipal bodies. As each state is different, the devolution model shall be different. There cannot be a single model of devolution of power from states to municipal bodies across India.  

India Does Not Need a Single Language to Unite

Outlook India reports that an editorial published recently, to coincide with the Hindi Diwas celebrations, in the RSS organ Panchajanya says "Hindi has the potential to unite the country". The organization’s strong position to have Hindi, especially Sanskritized Hindi, as a single linguistic unifying factor for the whole of the Indian Union is quite well known. Ofcourse not everyone approves of the organization’s stance. Often, there are questions raised asking if Hindi is really the right choice for a link language or a ‘unifying language’ for India. As someone, who also disagrees with RSS’s stance I would want to address a more fundamental question here: does India really need a single language to unite?

What makes people think that India is not united now and that there is a need of a monotony to bind this vast landmass of one plus billion people together? Obviously, there is a ton of linguistic diversity, and one may argue that such linguistic and cultural differences may lead to eventual disintegration unless there is a single bond that ties them all together. But it is not as simple as it appears on the surface. Inducing a common language, and promoting its use extensively through education, administration, employment, financial services etc., will lead to that language acquiring a superior status over native languages. As this language becomes more powerful and begins occupying the registers of the native languages, those native languages will be severely restricted in use, especially in the public domain. Native language speakers will certainly raise objections to their language being gradually side-lined and this will inevitably lead to frictions. 

The editorial talks of how ‘efforts’ were made by some to create a rift between Hindi and ‘regional’ languages thus affecting the growth of Hindi. But when native language speakers face the loss of several registers to Hindi and realize their mother tongue being gradually pushed to a second grade status, resistance is expected. In fact it is the imposition of Hindi that has created an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust leading to opposition. It is not a deliberate attempt to manufacture dissent, not an impression created by pro-English language elements, nor is it a myth that is being perpetuated, as claimed by the editorial.

I am reminded of a statement in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights that talks about the factors affecting or leading to the violation of linguistic rights of peoples across the globe. The document first mentions the following as one of very critical factors from which linguistic communities need to be protected.

The age-old unifying tendency of the majority of states to reduce diversity and foster attitudes opposed to cultural plurality and linguistic pluralism.

States that perceive linguistic plurality or diversity as divisiveness will try to introduce a common linguistic factor so that it serves as an icon that all peoples of the entire state can associate with. Presumably, this induced common feature should help them transgress the pettiness of associating with ‘divisive’ factors. But as we have learnt from history such moves have only backfired. Pushing an alien tongue down the throats of an unsuspecting or unwilling people will lead to ill will and confrontations. On the other hand, promoting mutual respect towards one another’s languages and helping each language community use and develop their language without any sort of external meddling or interferences offer more opportunities to foster an environment of harmony and unity among language communities.

So, promoting Hindi as “"the symbol of Bharat” is a bad idea with respect to the integrity of the Indian Union. One language can never be the linguistic emblem of India. If there is one then it is linguistic diversity. More it is respected and fostered, stronger and more integrated will the Indian Union be.

With regards to the use of English still being prevalent in India the editorial says “English is not a language of our preference. It was imposed on us by British.” It is true that excepting a fraction of English educated people, most of India cannot speak or communicate in English effectively. Truly, it is not a language of India’s preference. But Hindi is not a language of India’s preference either. Except in states and regions where the language is spoken it is alien to most of India. The British imposed English. And now the Indian Union has been imposing Hindi for over six decades. To a non-Hindi speaker, both are imperialist in nature and not much different. Only that English is found to be a lesser evil owing to its usage in administration by the British for a few centuries in the past, its continued use today in India, and the emergence of English as a business language with the promise of better employment opportunities globally. In any case, given the options, a non-Hindi speaker would neither prefer English nor Hindi but would rather prefer his own mother tongue.

Strengthening Hindi will strengthen the Hindi speaking community. It does not necessarily strengthen the whole of India. One needs to strengthen each language equally, so that each strengthened language community will collectively lead to a strong India. And strengthening Hindi alone will inevitably tilt the balance of power in favour of Hindi speakers. This will have its repercussions too. Many native language communities have expressed opposition to the state of Hindi hegemony resulting from this tilt of balance of power. Unfortunately, their voices have always been suppressed calling them ‘parochial’, ‘chauvinistic’, ‘hate-mongering’, ‘fringe’ and what not.

Talking about the overall authority of English in the domain of law the editorial says “English is entrenched deeply in the Supreme Court functioning, file notings of bureaucracy and conduct of policy discussions, which is very dangerous”. True, this is not just a cause of inconvenience to Indians but in many cases may even result in denial of justice to common people who have poor or no knowledge of English. But imagine English being replaced with Hindi. What will this mean to a Kannadiga or a Tamilian or a Bengali? Needless to say, it is a worse off situation to non-Hindi speakers. It also raises the fundamental question of who the Indian Union really represents. The Indian Union should represent a Kannada speaker equally as it does a Hindi speaker. So, as a representative of Kannada speakers it is duty-bound to get the Supreme Court or any other public institution function in Kannada. And not just in Kannada, in all the widely spoken languages. That would be a fair representation.

Also, the editorial’s support to make Hindi as one of the official languages of the United Nations smacks of hypocrisy. When it wants Hindi to have an upper hand in the whole of India and makes no mention of granting official status to any of the other scheduled languages, how does it justify itself to support the official status to Hindi in the United Nations? Doesn’t this expose major fallacies in the organization’s idea of India, in which all of linguistic identities, except one, find themselves in a subordinated position? Why should non-Hindi speakers support such a hypocritical stance of the RSS? Why should they accept a lower-ranking position for themselves? 

In the past, many freedom fighters, considered the founding fathers of India, did back Hindi to be accorded the status of the national language, which would serve as a common link across India’s diverse linguistic landscape. Though India has time and again faced opposition from a few linguistic groups with respect to having Hindi as a common link language, it has been able to maintain a popular narrative that such a common language is indeed necessary for the purposes of ‘national integration’. But as observed by UNESCO itself, such attitudes not just undermine diversity but will also be counter-productive in achieving the desired result of integration. It is time the Indian Union, and outfits like the RSS, stop considering linguistic diversity as a bane to Indian unity. They should understand and appreciate linguistic diversity, and endorse provision of equal status and rights to all languages and its speakers, regardless of their numbers, territory, or influence.

World Hindi Conference: The Tyranny of Linguistic Imperialism Continues

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the tenth World Hindi Conference today, in Bhopal. The three-day event themed 'Hindi Jagat: Vistar evam sambhavnai' (World of Hindi: Expansion and Scope) is organized by the Ministry of External Affairs in partnership with the Government of Madhya Pradesh. So, what does it mean to an average Indian? At a time when India has begun to assert itself internationally, it is certainly quite exciting to witness the country come together to discuss the promotion and the possibilities of its own language at the global level, isn't it? Sign of a nation that is on the path to shrug off things colonial or non-native, and rediscover and strengthen its true identity!

Yes, this is how many Indians, especially Hindi speakers, will look at it. But to all the non-Hindi peoples, it is business as usual. After all, we are used to the linguistic imperialism of the Indian Union on a daily basis. It has been happening for decades now. A conference held somewhere in the Hindi heartland is not a big deal and does not surprise us. We very well understand that many topics of discussion in the conference will have scant respect for our linguistic rights. Infact they are aimed at impinging on our rights, consciously or otherwise. The imperialists and their apologists will cheer at how this will help increase India's influence abroad and re-inforce 'national integration'. While we will continue to silently suffer the humiliation of losing our self-respect and identities.

'What is wrong with a Hindi conference?', one may ask. After all, don't the other languages too have their own literature 'sammelanas'? Yes, it is true. There is nothing wrong in organizing a conference for Hindi. But the question is, how justified is the Government of India in organizing an event like this for Hindi alone? External Affairs Ministry or any arm of the Indian Union does not organize such an event for Kannada or Marathi or Assamese. Are these languages any less Indian? The Union Government is a representative of all linguistic peoples, not Hindi speakers alone. If the Ministry of External Affairs promotes Hindi globally, to be fair and just, should it not promote all the other languages of India, at least the widely spoken ones, with equal zeal? Why is public money that belongs to peoples of all linguistic groups being used to promote the interests of a single language community? To be fair the Union Government should promote all languages equally or none.

Let us also take a look at the topics of discussion at the conference, and see how they do not comply with the conventions for linguistic rights that are internationally accepted. One of the main topics is the use of Hindi in external affairs. Again, it is the same question that arises. Why this preferential treatment to Hindi alone? Does Hindi represent all of India? One may argue that it is better to have one of 'our' languages represent India globally. To the non-Hindi peoples, Hindi may fall within the Indian border but that does not mean they can call it 'ours'. In fact, Hindi and English are equally foreign to us, and Hindi does not in any way represent us better than does English. The Gujarat High Court verdict declaring Hindi as foreign to Gujaratis is to be noted here.

Also, it is ironic that India is seeking 129 votes from the United Nations' member states to recognize Hindi as one of official languages there. While the Indian Union itself aims to have only Hindi as its official language (as per the Constitution Hindi should be the sole official language, and English to continue on a temporary basis till the time Hindi becomes acceptable everywhere), and refuses to grant official status to any other for the fear of 'repercussions'. How hypocritical can it get?

Promotion of Hindi among the Indian diaspora is also a subject of discussion. There is also a proposal to engage educational institutes in foreign countries through the Indian missions to encourage and promote teaching of Hindi. Does Indian diaspora only mean Hindi speaking people? If you take the example of Gulf countries, there is a large number of Indians from Kerala and other states of southern India. Why should Hindi be promoted among those non-Hindi speaking peoples? People of different linguistic communities of India have settled in various parts of the world. Is it fair to make use of their presence to promote Hindi there in the name of Indianness? A Malayalee settled in the Gulf, for example, would want his kids to learn Malayalam and not Hindi. In all fairness, the Indian Government should provide for facilities to learn and promote Malayalam there. Promoting Hindi alone is not fair to non-Hindi Indians.

Hindi in Administration is another topic in the theme. It surely benefits the people in the Hindi speaking areas, but as mentioned earlier, we non-Hindis have suffered the imposition of Hindi through administration for several decades now. Though this topic has been covered in depth in Karnatique, and elsewhere, I will take one example to highlight the daily plight of the non-Hindis. In many nationalized banks, most printed material are made available in Hindi and English. While the RBI rules do state that such forms should also be made available in 'regional' languages, they are usually not found or are very small in number. When you question the bank officials, they usually cite the lack of supply from the head office/ branch. With a common bank examination offered only in Hindi and English, many people with no knowledge of the local languages are posted as bank officers. Imagine the plight of a non-Hindi native, who has to not only deal with an alien language on printed material but also in the mouths of unhelpful bank officials and executives. While a Hindi speaker can conduct all his transactions with ease even in non-Hindi regions.

Banks, insurance, national highways, railways, various citizen services - the list is endless. Name the subject that falls under the jurisdiction of the Union Government, Hindi is imposed unabated there. It comes as no surprise that spreading of Hindi in north-eastern and southern states will also be considered in the conference. Has any other Indian language community discussed or debated about spreading their language in a state where that language is not native, with the objective of coaxing the natives to adopt it for daily use?

It is true that India is seeking to expand its influence globally as a powerful state that is also democratic and honourable. As the state grows and matures, not just economically but also in human values, it is important that it re-evaluate some of its founding principles from the perspective of linguistic equality. In the past, states sought to artificially introduce uniformity owing to concerns of balkanization. Abuse of ethnic and linguistic rights, covertly or overtly, became necessary. But as we have seen, such states have eventually disintegrated. Respect for each language is more likely to help achieve integration than promoting a single language. Also, mature democracies have evolved to respect linguistic rights as a matter of principle. If India is to emerge as a mature and honourable state, it should reconsider its official language law.