#NoToHindiImposition is trending yet again in the country. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while speaking at an event on the occasion of Hindu Day, had recently said, “Diversity of languages and dialects is the strength of our nation. But there is a need for our nation to have one language, so that foreign languages don’t find a place. This is why our freedom fighters envisioned Hindi as Raj Bhasha”.
This statement by Shah has brought back the age-old debate in the country: Do we have and need a national language? The answer from the Southern, Eastern and Northeastern parts of the country to this question is “no.”
India is a congregation of different linguistic nationalities and not one language can be chosen to represent the country. Nonetheless, Hindi has been being pushed as a national language. Shah said that Hindi was the most widely spoken language in India with 44% people already speaking it. As senior journalist Subodh Varma writes: “If 44% speak Hindi, then obviously, the remaining 56% do not speak Hindi. Or, to be more precise, their mother tongue and their most used (primary) language is not Hindi. That being the case, how can Hindi become the thread of unity or the identity of India?”
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This declaration by Shah BJP-RSS government is part of a larger agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)— of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
However, one needs to understand why Hindi is chosen for this agenda of all languages.
RSS and Hindi Imposition
Many supporters of the BJP and of the Hindi imposition argue that in his speech, Shah acknowledges the linguistic diversity of the country. However, if diversity is strength, then why not nourish it? The BJP, just like their ideological parent RSS, believes in monolingualism. The ‘Akhanda Bharat (Undivided India)’ or the Hindu Rashtra that RSS talks about has one religion, Hinduism; one language, Hindi and one land, Hindustan.
The logic behind having Hindi as a common language is that it is a derivative of Sanskrit, which is the language of the scriptures of Hinduism. Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha of the RSS had said in 1958, “The RSS has looked at all the languages of Bharat as ‘national’… They have been equally sustained by Sanskrit—the Rashtra Bhasha par excellence. If now some difference has come to the forefront, it is due to the policy of deliberate neglect of Sanskrit that has been consistently followed. The Sabha considers the present situation detrimental to national unity and feels that the language policy be unequivocally restated and firmly implemented, thus dispelling all apprehensions of the people. Hindi, for some time past, has evolved as the common language of inter-provincial communication. It should be used as such for all official purposes. The regional languages should be used in their respective areas. As development of all languages is possible only on the basis of Sanskrit, instruction in it should be compulsorily imparted.”
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This approach to Hindi from the Sangh Parivar could be seen in Hitesh Shankar’s piece in Panchajanya. The editor of Panchajanya, the Hindi weekly of the RSS, wrote an editorial piece in September 2015, titled “Hindi is India’s strength”. Shankar here calls Hindi a ‘patriarch’ of all the Indian languages. Noting that English that was “introduced by the British in the country has resulted in the dismantling of the unity of the languages in the country”, the article goes on to argue that “strengthening Hindi means strengthening India”. He also says that a language policy “according the deserved status to Hindi will help the other languages to grow under the shadow of Hindi”. The idea of RSS to have Hindi as the national language is as illogical as this.
As Roshan Kishore writes in Livemint, this claim by Shankar is baseless. Kishore rightly points out that the popularity of Hindi has gone up only lately. Number of people who can speak Hindi in the non Hindi-speaking states has increased. This, according to Kishore, is mainly because of “the advent of cable television, increasing popularity of Hindi films, and large-scale migration of both white collar (such as information technology professionals) and blue collar workforce to southern states,” and this is not because everyone in the country wants Hindi to be a national language.
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As Ranganatha Kantanakunte, a poet and a writer from Karnataka points out, just having Hindi as an official language has done enough damage for the languages spoken in the seven states that speak Hindi, according to Shah. He writes, “Until the 1961 census, Maithili was referred to as a separate language. As early as 1965, the Sahitya Akademi regarded it as a language with an ancient literary heritage. An amendment in 2003 has now included Maithili in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. However, since the 1971-81 census, it was still referred to as a dialect of Hindi. Since the passing of the Official Language Act in 1963, the process of implementing Hindi in the administrative and other sectors intensified. Along with this process, homogenising of languages like Maithili, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani with Hindi also intensified.”
Why BJP Wants to Impose Hindi?
As a wellknown linguist, D P Pattnayak says, “A government would want to impose an influential language on all the regions. Minorities wish to be loyal to their tongues. If any community wants to organise themselves based on their language or wants to expand their geographical boundaries, it becomes a controversial question. The belief is that monolingualism creates a pure linguistic region. This would help in controlling mass media, print media and circulation of information. It conceals diversity under the illusion of unity. A good example for this is the assertion of the identities of Maithili, Bhojpuri and Pahadi in the Hindi region of India.”
If the RSS sees Hindi imposition as a way to achieve its goal of Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan agenda, for the BJP, it is a way to consolidate its strong vote base. The National Election Study 2014 conducted by Lokniti CSDS shows that the BJP’s support is the highest among people who watch/read news in Hindi. As Kishore writes, even during the “Modi wave” of 2014, the party fared poorly in non-Hindi speaking areas.
It is very clear that the BJP wants to consolidate this vote base. One way to do it is by creating an illusion of Hindi being nurtured by the government.
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