How can we make politicians and people from the Hindi-belt understand that many states in India are subjected to Hindi imposition, and that it is wrong?
At the ongoing India Today Conclave South 2018 in Hyderabad, former Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju, Congress Spokesperson Brijesh Kalappa, actor Prakash Belawadi and Kerala-based writer NS Madhavan, tried their hand at explaining why the south is peeved with the Centre’s push for Hindi.
Titled 'The Language Divide: Whose Hindi is it?’, the panel discussion was moderated by senior India Today journalist Rahul Kanwal.
Why must promoting Hindi be equated with nationalism?
Promoting Hindi as ‘rashtra bhasha’ or as the main Indian language is often justified in the garb of nationalism. But Prakash Belawadi called that out and said that those two did not necessarily go hand in hand.
“The idea of Hindi imposition and to conflate it with nationalism is entirely bogus. It’s not correct,” he said.
NS Madhavan also pointed out how attempts to impose Hindi were being made subtly. "After demonetisation, when the new currencies were printed, Hindi numerals were used. This is against the official language policy of Government of India. A person from Tamil Nadu went to the High Court on this issue. We can understand speaking Hindi or even the letters but placing Hindi numerals on national currency is imposition," said the writer.
Prakash also questioned why a country should have just one dominant language. "The idea is an archaic one,” he said, “It is not about being anti-Hindi, it is about equity. It is about common sense. In Karnataka, if bank forms don’t have Kannada, and people who have studied till class 10 go to a bank, they feel illiterate. Their primary education has been in Kannada medium. Why do you impose a situation, where you make people feel inadequate in their own place?”
Critiquing justifications to promote Hindi
Moderator Rahul brought up the example of China, and how it is used by people to further justify the promotion of Hindi. “Even though many dialects are spoken in China, they push for one language, and that becomes a global showcase. People in the world then learn Mandarin in hopes that they can do better business with China,” he said.
MM Pallam Raju replied that it is not a fair comparison as "China works in an autocratic manner". "I think India’s greatest strength has been its soft power – it has arisen from its heritage, culture. Those are the strengths we should encourage. Every language has its subtle nuances which relate to its unique identity and I think that’s what makes India great,” he said.
Raju however refused to draw a political correlation to the imposition of Hindi and said that any attempts to thrust Hindi upon Indians will be met by resistance.
Why Hindi, why not another language?
Rahul asked Madhavan why there wasn’t a strong anti-Hindi sentiment in Kerala as there had been witnessed in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Madhavan explained that people in Kerala had had to learn Hindi in the past decade or so because there were over 30 lakh Hindi-speakers in the state, who were mostly employed in manual labour. “So to communicate with them, we need to learn Hindi. But this doesn’t mean that the feeling of Hindi being imposed on other parts of the country is not there,” he said.
He argued that the three-language formula was not implemented in the right spirit 1968 onwards. “The three-language formula said that in Hindi speaking states, Hindi, English and any language other than Hindi but preferably a south Indian one should be used. And in other parts of the country (non-Hindi speaking states), Hindi, English and a regional language (should be there). But in implementation, the CBSE has promoted Hindi, English and any other language. As a result, you can pass out from Kerala without studying Malayalam. This way of indirectly promoting Hindi, and of pumping a lot of money into (promoting) Hindi, has affected the Malayalee also,” Madhavan argued.
Rahul asked then why there a problem learning Hindi as well, apart from the regional languages. “Why not learn both? Make Malayalam your first language and also learn Hindi?” he asked Madhavan.
Madhavan replied, “I say why Hindi? Why not French? I come from a state where everyone who can speak Malayalam can read Malayalam also. You can’t say that about Hindi-speaking people. 40% of them can’t read Hindi… So why Hindi? It can be French, or another language which has resources.”
On the state flag debate
Brijesh Kalappa stressed on the need for validating regional identity to help make India’s federal structure stronger.
Addressing the debate surrounding Karnataka's demand for a state flag, he said, "For federalism to take a deep root, it is essential that each regional identity be given a voice of its own. And if Australia, Germany, America have states with their own flags, what’s the difficulty for Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu? In any case, these states have their own flag, so why not make it official?" asked Kalappa.
Meanwhile, Prakash Belawadi held a different view. “Getting government support – what does that mean? That they want to hoist the flag on buildings? We are already doing that, the government support doesn’t mean anything really.”