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Of Linguistic and Regional Chauvinism

While framing our Constitution, our founding fathers had decided that we were two have two official languages - Hindi and English (Yes that is right, Hindi is not our national language). The latter was supposed to work as a temporary measure till 1965, when Hindi would take over as the only official language.


Predictably, a vast section of our populace rose up in disagreement. One can conclude how emotive this issue was by looking at the election results of 1967. In Tamil Nadu, where the Anti-Hindi agitation under the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham was rather strong, the Congress was demolished. Even its stalwarts like Kamraj bit the dust.The party relinquished the Vidhan Sabha and could never bag it again.

By issuing orders to use Hindi for all official communications and social media interactions, Modi has opened the Pandora's box of linguistic chauvinism. For many, it serves as a reaffirmation of the belief that the BJP is in essence a Hindi belt party. To the contrary, to many it also serves as an action which bolsters Modi's ultra-nationalist image.

English is regarded as a relic of colonial subjugation by such people. Such a view is fundamentally flawed. English has evolved into a language of national integration. In a nation of Biharis, Bengalis and Bodos, English can act as a common medium of communication which has the added advantage of being the language which is the mainstay of international commerce and trade.

English is spoken by an astonishingly large number of people in South India. I myself was surprised to hear rickshaw-wallahs and cab drivers in Chennai and Bangalore speak English. Even in the North-East, English has sufficiently deep roots.

Thus, when people remark that English is foreign to India, they forget that Hindi is foreign to 40-50% of India. In any case,Hindi by itself is a conglomeration of various dialects. The Hindi spoken in Rajasthan differs from the Hindi of Himachal and Chhattisgarh. Within UP and Bihar (the crux of the Hindi heartland) itself, there exist wide variation in the languages spoken. Hindi is therefore an Indian language but not the language of India.

USA, a nation of immigrants hailing from diverse racial groups including the Africans, Chinese, Indian, French, English, German, Irish etc adopted English as its own language. Isn't India also a country composed of people hailing from diverse groups like Bengalis, Biharis, Rajasthanis, Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Assamese etc? Why can we not adopt English and regard it to be as Indian as Hindi?

There is definitely no reason for any Indian to be ashamed of speaking Hindi. But the view that English is a leftover from the British Raj is ludicrous. Speaking English does not make a person less Indian. What the Prime Minister has done by restricting the use of Hindi to Hindi-speaking states is thus, a right move. Let us not monolith-ise our culture.

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