Script imperialism is usually an outcome of conquering and lordship. Is that what is happening?

Devanagari numerals in new notes no shocker Hindi imposition thrives all around us
Voices Opinion Saturday, November 12, 2016 - 11:53

As if the serpentine queues outside banks and ATMs, several days of financial chaos and frustration of those not linked to the e-economy were not enough criticism for the Union government’s new currency scheme, the NDA has allowed itself to be hauled over the coals over yet another blunder: introducing Devanagari script numerals in the new Rs. 500 and Rs. 2000 notes, for the first time ever in India.

It was first called to attention in the media by The Wire. Several other such critical pieces have followed since.

While it is seemingly evident that this is a government that is asserting cultural dominance instead of promoting the grace of plurality, and that the Devanagari blunder is not an oversight but a deliberate measure, the surprise being expressed at this is, well, surprising.

Look around, Hindi imposition is all around us – and it costs us money.

In today’s India, a passenger flying from Bangalore to Bagdogra gets safety instructions neither in Kannada nor Bengali. The Oriya senior citizen has no idea if her train ticket matches her destination. The small-town aspirant from Tamil Nadu cannot fill out the application forms for the Indian Army while the educated Manipuri finds the safety instructions on her LPG gas cylinder incomprehensible. Ditto for forms, applications and instructions in banks, public service examinations, railway signs, income tax forms and more.

55% of India speaks no Hindi as per the last census. While astute politicians electioneering across states have had simultaneous translation of their campaign speeches to local tongues since time immemorial, the Prime Minister's Mann Ki Baat tweets are in Hindi and Onam wishes from Amit Shah were sent out to Keralites in Hindi first even now.

Earlier this year, Kashmir’s literary circles rose up in protest against the Union HRD Ministry’s plan to promote Devanagari as an alternative script for the Kashmiri language. The saffronization of our public spaces, like buses, continues to happen unabated.  The RSS has repeatedly promoted the Devanagari has a universal script for Indian languages, and openly stated that English should be chased away.

The government takes a lot of effort to promote Hindi. All Union government departments and Public Sector Units across India are made to hold Hindi Diwas, forcing employees, say in Tirunelveli, to spend a day trying to make sense of a language they have no use for, stripping them of their linguistic rights. Hindi competitions are held on these occasions, and some random bloke who can put together a sentence in Hindi is feted with cash prize and poster announcements.

There is even a Raj Bhasha Samiti, a parliamentary committee, which ‘promotes’ Hindi and is paid for from our tax money. The irony of using our money to shove down our throats what we don’t want.

Last year, the home ministry proposed a payout as “encouragement” for employees taking the government's toughest Hindi proficiency course. The ministry proposed that the employees scoring 60-69% marks be paid Rs 8,000 and those securing 55-59% marks be paid Rs 6,000, a report in ET said. Toppers would get Rs. 10,000.

As it has been stated earlier on The News Minute, India's language policy must evolve in keeping with people's views, aspirations and global realities. Article 351 and others that enshrine disproportionate promotion of Hindi by the centre have been abused time and again by successive governments to the detriment of non-Hindi speakers. They no longer have any practical benefits for India in a globalised technological era and are in fact dragging citizens back. They must go.

Non-Hindi states across India must band together towards three clear objectives. Repeal articles that encourage the central government to promote Hindi anywhere. Usher in constitutional amendments to cancel the privilege of Hindi and render it on par with all other official languages while enhancing that list to cover other languages. Declare English as the sole link language across India.

These solutions may not be perfect and certainly need to be reviewed and revised over time but make huge strides towards an egalitarian India with better equity of opportunities. These measures will help equalise citizens in a future friendly manner and privilege choice. Language is culture and identity and embracing that diversity with use of technology and accommodative policy will take India further than Hindustan can ever go. Hindi belt politicians must march with India. It will make us more liberal, tolerant and truly honour diversity beyond platitudes and legalese.

Script imperialism is usually an outcome of conquering and lordship. Is that what is happening?

Note: Views of the author are her own. 

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