Bengaluru Metro row: Why coercive implementation of Hindi can’t work in India - Hindustan Times

Bengaluru Metro row: Why coercive implementation of Hindi can’t work in India

Hindustan Times | By
Jul 25, 2017 05:01 PM IST

Our policy makers should utilise their time better on constructive tasks rather than expend their energies propagating the virtues of Hindi hegemony or language chauvinism

The Namma Metro has become the latest battleground for tensions between Hindi chauvinists and those resisting the language’s imposition on non-Hindi speaking states down the Vindhyas. Members of a group called Karnataka Rakshana Vedike recently held a protest in front of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation office, demanding an end to the practice of trilingual announcements and signage (in English, Kannada and Hindi) in the newly-launched Metro. The explanation that the decision had been taken after a directive of the Union ministry of urban development didn’t cut much ice: on the contrary, it made matters worse with Kannadiga groups arguing that the Centre hasn’t similarly insisted on triple-language announcements and signage across Metro trains in Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu that have stuck to just English plus the regional language.

Kannada, English and Hindi signage at Bengaluru’s Mahatma Gandhi Road station.(Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times)
Kannada, English and Hindi signage at Bengaluru’s Mahatma Gandhi Road station.(Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times)

In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the hashtag #StopHindiChauvinism began trending on Twitter when DMK leader MK Stalin noticed that the milestones on highways were being written in Hindi replacing English signage. Of course, historically, Tamil Nadu has always come up with emotive responses to any attempt at the imposition of Hindi. It was the hub of anti-Hindi riots soon after Independence in the 1950s as well as widespread protests in 1965 when Hindi was meant to replace English as the language of the government. In 1967, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came to power in Tamil Nadu, riding on the anti-Hindi sentiment in the state.

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Clearly, the imposition of Hindi in a country as linguistically diverse as India has always been a subject of much friction. This goes back to a marathon discussion in the Constituent Assembly where those framing our Constitution debated on whether Hindi should become the official language of India. Ultimately, the proposal was accepted with a slender one-vote margin. It was supposed to replace English in 1965 as the language of government but the status quo had to prevail in light of violent protests and agitations in many states.

Recently Venkaiah Naidu, in his erstwhile avatar as information and broadcasting minister, said Hindi was India’s national language and that it “is our misfortune that we give too much importance to English.” The BJP’s vice presidential candidate could not be further off the mark. India is a melting pot where people speak 122 major and 1,652 other languages. The citizens of every state are free to decide on the language of communication and as a result, the country can boast 22 ‘official’ languages.

No culture can thrive if it seeks coercive implementation of one blanket language on its people. It might be prudent to remember that the imposition of Urdu on the Bengalis was the first trigger for the movement that ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh and that Mamata Banerjee’s announcement of making Bengali compulsory in schools in the state’s Nepali-speaking areas gave rise to fresh demands for Gorkhaland.

An urban legend about non-Hindi speaking politicians in the 1990s goes like this. When Mulayam Singh Yadav was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh he wrote to a long-serving chief minister of a Left-ruled state (there are two versions of this anecdote) in Hindi. Since the chief minister he wrote to, a political colossus, didn’t understand Hindi, he wrote back to Mulayam in his own tongue. As Mulayam didn’t know Malayalam or Bengali and similarly neither EK Nayanar nor Jyoti Basu had bothered to bone up on their Hindi, nothing was gained in translation. Language exclusivity can’t be the sole preserve of Hindi-heartland political leaders!

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