Recently Amit Shah, the home minister brought up the issue of Hindi to act as a link language among people speaking different languages in states. There was also a discussion in social media between Kannada actor Sudeep and Bollywood actor Ajay Devgan. The point made by Ajay Devgan was that Hindi is a national language implying (though un-stated) that it has a higher status over all other languages in India. While the statement of national language may be out of ignorance the fact remains that this is believed by many Hindi speaking population. The desire to see Hindi as the dominant language of communication by Hindi enthusiasts in a country where there are equally larger number of non-Hindi speakers comes with a desire to establish hegemony of Hindi language over all others.
The comparison often made is with that of Europe where Italian in Italy, German in Germany, French in France, Spanish in Spain and Japanese in Japan are given preference over English. Hence the need to give preference to Hindi in the context of India. This logic comes with its fallacies and fails to consider the different context of India with that of the European nation-states.
India is different with that of Europe. Unlike most European countries, which have a single spoken language, India has multiple languages each with its own richness, history, culture, arts & literature associated with it. Linguistic identity associated with that as a Tamil, Telugu, Kanndadiga, Malayalee, Odia, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarathi, Kashmiri, Assamese etc. has its own importance.
Different languages in India are associated with Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto Burman and Austro-asiatic family. It is important to recognize this linguistic diversity. Hence constitution rightly does not recognize one language but 22 languages as scheduled languages. There is no national language but only official languages. There are also over 800 dialects in India. Many of the languages are still evolving and should also find a place as scheduled languages. It is in line with broader linguistic diversity, India adopted the path of having linguistic states, where each state is associated with a particular language.
Without considering the reality, the agenda to push one single language over all others can create more conflicts. History is replete with examples where attempt to push Urdu spoken in East Pakistan resulted in creation of Bangladesh from West Pakistan. Attempt to push Sinhala domination created conflict in Sri Lanka, where language was also an important factor. A multi-lingual country needs to be respectful of its linguistic diversity rather than attempt at bringing uniformity or establishing dominance of one. Push towards uniformity do not create situation of unity but that of conflict.
The logic of Hindi as a link language also comes with its flaws. Each region can have its own set of link language. In Nagaland, each tribe has its own language, but Nagamese acts as a link language among multiple Naga tribal groups. Hindi could be the link language in Hindi states where it is not one single Hindi but languages such as Maithili, Bhojpuri, Malvi, Nimadi, Marvari, Mewati, Awadhi, Bundeli etc. is spoken. Census categorises many of these languages under the common category of ‘Hindi’ which may not necessarily depict the fact that many of these are not necessarily ‘Hindi’ as is being pointed out. Each region can come out with its own set and pattern of a link language, which does not necessarily be Hindi. It is not surprising to see the people in bordering areas of states using languages of both the states. E.g., people staying in Karnataka and Maharashtra border may be using both the languages to communicate with each other rather than Hindi and similarly with other border states.
Language learning also happens out of compulsion of staying in locations and carrying out professions or business in states where the state language may not necessarily be one spoken by the settled resident. The need to communicate with local population creates a need to learn a language. The language to be learnt thus varies as per the situation.
Hindu enthusiasts may see resistance to ‘Hindi’ as coming out of anti-Hindi feelings prevalent among non-Hindi speakers. The situation need to be looked in a different way. Hindi enthusiasts need to recognize that non-Hindi speakers have their own language which is near and dear to them, loved by them and form part of their identity. Hence pushing a language in the name of ‘national language’ or ‘most spoken language’ or ‘link language’ fails to recognize that the non-Hindi speakers have their own rich language, culture and an identity associated with it and need to respect the same.
The issue is between forced learning and voluntary learning of a language. Many non-Hindi speakers may not resist attempt to learn a language when it is not forced but happens out of choice and is voluntary. Where linguistic domination emerges, conflicts arise. Integrative tendencies can arise when ‘Hindi enthusiasts’ also display a similar interest in learning a ‘non-Hindi’ Indian language.
It is time that ‘linguistic diversity’ is respected rather than an attempt made in creating ‘linguistic uniformity’ or ‘language dominance’.
T Navin is an independent writer