Can you be Indian if you don't speak Hindi? All FAQs answered

Resisting Hindi is against the unity of India, isn't it? Short answer: No.
Confused man arguing about Hindi being national language
Confused man arguing about Hindi being national language
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Is Hindi India's national language? Though India does not have a ‘rashtrabasha’, a number of people believe that Hindi occupies this status over other regional languages. From schools teaching the line as a matter of fact to the political leadership in several states privileging Hindi, the 'national language' myth is frequently repeated.

On Sunday, DMK MP Kanimozhi tweeted that a CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) official had asked her if she was not Indian because she'd said that she did not know Hindi. While the BJP claims that Kanimozhi is highlighting the incident ahead of the state polls, other leaders from the south have spoken out in support.

Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has said that he, too, has experienced such instances. "I have experienced similar taunts from government officers and ordinary citizens who insisted that I speak in Hindi during telephone conversations and sometimes face to face," Chidambaram said. Former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has also tweeted about it, noting that political leaders from the south have not received the same opportunities as others because of their lack of knowledge or resistance to Hindi.

But despite all these periodic debates and discussions, most recently triggered by the National Education Policy (NEP), Hindi continues to remain India's 'national language' in popular imagination. Here are some frequently asked questions about the national language debate and the factual responses to them.

Firstly, Hindi is the national language, isn't it?

No, it most definitely is not. According to Article 343 of the Constitution and a later amendment, Hindi is recognised as an official language along with English. India does not have a national language.

Ok, fine. But official language means national language only, no?

No. Official language is the language used by the government. States can also designate a language as their official language. The official language of Tamil Nadu is Tamil, the official language of West Bengal is Bengali. Just as English, by virtue of being an official language is NOT the national language, neither is Hindi.

But Hindi is the mother tongue of most people in India, so why not call it the national language?

No, Hindi is not the mother tongue of most people in India (notice how all these answers begin with a no? This is why we need to go beyond assumptions). According to the 2011 Census of India, 43.63% of the population listed Hindi as their first language. While this is indeed the largest group of persons to speak a particular language as their first, with Bengali coming a distant second at 8.3%, it is not the majority.

All right. But what's so wrong about learning a language? Why so much resistance?

How many people whose mother tongue is Hindi have willingly learnt another Indian language? If they were doing so, the percentage of speakers of other languages should be going up. Instead, the Census found that while Hindi is the fastest growing language, there has been a drop in speakers of many other languages, particularly south Indian ones. This has been attributed to the falling population in these states. However, if people whose mother tongue is Hindi were learning other Indian languages, as they expect from people whose mother tongue is not Hindi, we should have had a different picture.

But still, it's a beautiful language!

It probably is a beautiful language like many other beautiful languages in India. However, imposing any language on someone is unnecessary and makes it ugly.

But don't we need a common language so people can understand each other across states?

This depends on which states we're talking about. For a Malayali traveling to Tamil Nadu or a Tamilian traveling to Andhra Pradesh, knowing Hindi probably won't help them get around much. In Assam, Bengali is the second most spoken language after Assamese. In Goa, Konkani is the most spoken language, followed by Marathi. In Kerala, the order is Malayalam, Tamil, Tulu, Kannada and Konkani, with Hindi not appearing in the top five languages spoken. However, it's not as if people never travel from one state to another just because they don't know the language.

Learning Hindi will improve job prospects, right?

If the government did not time and again try to impose Hindi on people, there would be no link between the two. Migrant populations - be it for white or blue collar jobs - learn a new language when they have practical use for it. In Kerala, for instance, several Bengali migrants have voluntarily learnt Malayalam through government programmes and otherwise. They did not have to learn Malayalam in West Bengal schools for them to be able to do so. Moreover, Tamil is spoken not only in India but also other parts of the world like Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Fiji etc. Should not Hindi speakers be learning Tamil to improve their international job prospects, going by this logic?

Resisting Hindi is against the unity of India, isn't it?

The fundamental idea of India is 'unity in diversity'. That we acknowledge our differences but have decided to co-exist. India, with its many kinds of people, cannot be treated as a homogeneous entity. There is no need for a 'common' language to preserve the idea of India.

Hindi is derived from Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world! Why can't you just learn it?

The which-is-older-Tamil-or-Sanskrit, debate has been going on for a long time. But according to PM Modi, Tamil is older than Sanskrit. It's a mystery why his party keeps pushing for Hindi nevertheless.

Aren't you just being unreasonable?

Read all the questions and answers again. Who is being unreasonable here?

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