Why has the language debate been revoked? We need closure
The three language formula that had been advocated should be put to practice.
Voices Friday, June 20, 2014 - 05:30
By Siddharth Mohan Nair The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's taking oath in Hindi, and many of his ministers following suit had sparked a minor speculation about the re-emergence of the most dangerous, yet, for long subsided, language debate in our country. It was being said that there was a possibility that Hindi would be made the official language of the Union of India. The speculation received further mileage when the Prime Minister spoke in Hindi to the SAARC heads and also in the Bhutanese Parliament. His speaking in Hindi shouldn't have been given such a dimension given the simple fact that he is more comfortable and at ease in communicating in Hindi than English. However, the development that has later taken place needs to be given some serious thinking. The central government has ordered its officials to use Hindi on social media accounts. Political reaction came immediately from the DMK head Shri Karunanidhi. "No one can deny it's (the central government) beginning to impose Hindi against one's wish. This would be seen as an attempt to treat non-Hindi speakers as second-class citizens," said the former Tamil screen play writer turned politician. To understand the language issue in perspective, one must turn back into the pages of history. The first opposition to Hindi came even before independence in 1937 when Madras was under the Congress ministry headed by Shri. C. Rajagopalachari. In order to equip the people of Madras to be 'employable all over India' he had made learning Hindi compulsory in government run schools. However, understanding the difficulty that would be faced by some to learn a 'foreign' language, he said that failing in the Hindi examination would not block the students' promotion to the higher class. He likened Hindi to 'chutney on the leaf,' asking people to 'taste it or leave it alone.'¬† The issue was as simple as that but the opposition parties in general and the Justice Party (which would later become the Dravidar Kazhagham under Periyar E.V.R. and even later split to form the DMK under Shri Annadurai) in particular politicized the issue and saw it as an act of undermining the Tamil language. Hindi was viewed as Aryan and incorporating it in Dravidian Madras was something that the parties could not brook. Protests in large scale were organized under the leadership of Shri E.V.R. Naicker. Arrests, by the beginning of 1939, had reached a figure of 683. The policy was later dropped by the British when the Congress ministry resigned following the second world war. The protests took a toll on the popularity of the Congress party in Madras and strengthened the position of EVR (he was since then referred with reverence as Periyar, the Elder One) and his protege Shri Annadurai, fondly called Anna.¬† The next major opposition came in 1965. Republic Day of that year was pregnant for it celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of our cherished Constitution and it was this date that was set by its makers to make Hindi the official language. Fifteen years 'grace period' had been given for all regions to learn Hindi. The makers of our Constitution had chosen Hindi as the official language, but not without opposition. The fact is that the motion was passed with a majority of just one single vote. However, when there were unending misgivings about Hindi being given such a status, the Official Languages Act of 1963, on the insistence of the then Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal Nehru included a clause that English 'may' still be used along with Hindi in all official communications.¬† But, sadly, Jawaharlalji would not live till 1965, the deadline. After his death, the Hindi zealots had tried their best to enforce what the Constitution had laid. Their main argument remained that Hindi was the most spoken language in India. Strongest reactions came from Madras. The ever articulate Anna, who was then the leader of DMK, replied with a ridicule. 'If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow.' The centre did not relent.¬† On the Republic Day two men in Madras self immolated in protest. I sacrifice my life at the altar of Tamil, one wrote before committing the act. Madras was in a fury. There was rioting, a police station was set on fire, boards displaying names in Hindi were blackened, arrests crossed thousands and two central ministers from Madras resigned. The centre then bowed. Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri announced that Jawaharlalji's promise would be kept, notwithstanding what the Constitution had laid.¬† Since 1965, there hasn't been much of the language debate. But, the issue remains far from being fully settled. It is like a sleeping volcano, the lava of which has gained more heat and vigour because of Modiji and his government's order.¬† Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav of the SP has demanded a ban on use of English in Parliament. "We are ready to speak in Hindi if Mulayam Singh is ready to talk in Tamil. Let him learn Tamil, and we will learn Hindi," Shri T.K.S. Elangovan of the DMK is reported to have said some days back in response. More recently, yesterday, he said that if the 'government respects the Parliament it will respect Nehru's words.' The ruling party in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK had issued an order that only Tamil shall be taught upto class tenth. It says that the students, if interested, can learn other languages later. It would be detrimental if politicians and political parties make such demands and issues such orders. They should be more accommodative and act as statesmen than politicians. 'The bane of India,' said Shri Nani Palkhiwala 'is the plethora of politicians and the paucity of statesmen.' Imposition will never help the language cause. Debates and consensus alone will prove fruitful and lasting.¬† The three language formula that had been advocated should be put to practice. What Robin Sharma said is true that 'what makes relationships, communities and countries great are not the things that we have in common but the differences that make us unique.' Of course as a sub continent, we are diverse, but, it is good to have as an official language one that has its origin in our own land, than having√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘforeign√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘ English. Whether it should be Hindi, or Tamil, or some other language can be debated. Hindi may be numerically superior but the concerns of every language should be taken into account. Politicians issuing statements that are contradictory to each other from every corner of the country can affect the existence of our country.¬† The government at the centre should put an end to this debate once and for all. It has a clear mandate to take a decision. It should immediately convene a conference of states and find a concrete solution for the problem lest it pave way for riots and unnecessary animus between people speaking different languages. For the sake of its existence, the central government should not sink responsibility and yet again leave the issue hanging. It is a difficult decision to be made, but, imperative.¬† 'Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything,' Mr George Bernard Shaw had said. May those who take part in the language debate do so with ideas in their minds that can accommodate change. Siddharth Mohan Nair is a Gandhian, author and a political activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org