By Rakshith Ponnathpur
Hindi was falsely claimed as a national language of the Indian Union and time and efforts of considerable scale was spent by the Union government in its propagation. For decades there was hardly any resistance to this undemocratic and anti-federal move by the Union. Things started to change in the last decade with Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi voices coming together to demand an end to Hindi hegemony and seek equal status to all scheduled languages of the Union. Access to social media has given a platform for people to rally around and demand language equality. Quite naturally this has upset the Hindi lobby in Delhi and efforts to impose Hindi have multiplied in the last few years only to see a bigger resistance from the Non Hindi speaking citizens.
Hindi Divas, a day when the Union government doles out prizes, awards and promotions to its employees who use and promote Hindi in its administration is a black day for the democracy in India. Union government runs hundreds of offices across the country offering various citizen services to different peoples of India. It’s nothing but common sense that for effective delivery of these services, the government should speak the language of the governed. An overzealous government that sees Hindi as the only true identity of India thinks otherwise and hence spends crores of taxpayers’ money in mindless and dumb celebrations like Hindi Divas causing much heartburn and anger among non-Hindi speakers.
This year’s Hindi Divas was protested on social media with a huge twitter campaign carrying the hash tag #GoIMakeMyLanguageOfficial. More than a thousand twitter users speaking various Indian languages came together and expressed their anger against the continued neglect of their languages by the Union and demanded official status to their languages too. This raised the hackles of those in power and we saw two statements coming from Delhi. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a Hindi speaker himself, said “Some people are trying to create a rift in different parts of the country in the name of language,” in his address at the Hindi Divas function. It is apparent that he was referring to these linguistic equality groups in general and the Twitter hashtag which was trending nationally throughout the day in specific. Minister of State, Home Ministry, Kiren Rijiju also entered into damage control mode quickly after, giving a clarification that Centre was against imposition of Hindi but would continue to promote Hindi as envisaged in the Constitution.
He was referring to Article 351 which has made it “the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language and to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India”. It is this very article which has allowed successive Central Governments to impose Hindi on non Hindi speaking peoples of India in the name of its promotion. The linguistic equality groups therefore want the article to be gone for good as it is against the very fundamental spirit of equality of both status and opportunity for the non Hindi speakers who form the majority of India. While the Hindi lobby aggressively pushed for a monolingual policy, strong resistance by leaders from non Hindi regions ensured that India would at least remain officially bilingual.
However, the constraints which restricted India to be officially bilingual no longer hold. The unprecedented recent technological progress can smoothly facilitate India’s transition from a bilingual to a multilingual democracy. The Union Government which is betting on schemes like Digital India to reach India’s masses should voluntarily be looking to push for amendments and update the outdated language articles to make it reflect the changed realities of today. It is unfortunate that it is instead going the other way and denying the majority of India services and opportunities in their languages even though they have become both possible and feasible.
The Centre being a collective Union and a representative of all of India should either promote all languages or make the promotion of all languages including Hindi the responsibility of states where they are native. Spending all taxpayers money on promoting just one region’s language is grossly unjust and must stop immediately.
Kiren Rijiju also reminded the states of their responsibility to promote India’s other languages. The million dollar question though is why the Centre doesn’t entrust the promotion of Hindi with the ten Hindi speaking states, while it entrusts the promotion of other Indian languages with states even though most such languages have official status in at most one or two states. The Centre being a collective Union and a representative of all of India should either promote all languages or make the promotion of all languages including Hindi the responsibility of states where they are native. Spending all taxpayers money on promoting just one region’s language is grossly unjust and must stop immediately.
Rajnath Singh talked of how Prakrit was the common language in ancient India and justified its descendant Hindi being modern India’s common national language. His statement makes sense if one considers only some of its northern and western parts as India, but is grossly incorrect if one considers the whole of India. Northern and western India speaking Prakrit/Hindi as a common language is no reason for the Indian Union to proclaim Hindi as its lingua franca and spread it from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Agartala to Vadodara and even to the secluded islands on both sides of India’s peninsula.