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From the Archives: ‘No place for English in free India’, declares Gandhiji

Sep 29, 2023 10:47 PM IST

The proper and unrivalled place of English was as an international medium, Mahatma Gandhi added.

With the end of British rule must disappear English speech, said Mahatma Gandhi in his post-prayer speech last evening: The proper and unrivalled place of English was as an international medium, he added. The following is the authorised version of Gandhiji's speech:

Gandhiji dealt with a letter in which the correspondent had said that he was painfully surprised to hear from Gandhiji's lips that it hurt him to continue to receive letters in English PREMIUM
Gandhiji dealt with a letter in which the correspondent had said that he was painfully surprised to hear from Gandhiji's lips that it hurt him to continue to receive letters in English

In his post-prayer speech last evening, Gandhiji dealt with a letter in which the correspondent had said that he was painfully surprised to hear from Gandhiji's lips that it hurt him to continue to receive letters in English. Gandhiji had said that India was friends with all. If he had equally friendly feelings towards Muslims and Englishmen, how was it that he was working for preserving Urdu and displacing English?

Gandhiji was amazed at the question. It displayed gross ignorance of facts. English was the international language, but it could never become the national language of India. English was a foreign language, not so Urdu. He was proud of the fact that Urdu was a language which had evolved in India and was an Indian language.

It was originally the language spoken in the military camps during Muslim rule and the military largely consisted of Indians, whether Hindus or Muslims. Muslim rulers had become domiciled in India. When Gandhiji returned to India as a barrister, he was a youngster. After two years' stay in India, he went away to South Africa where he had stayed for 20 years.

Ever since his return to India from South Africa, he had been crying from the house-tops that the national language of India could be nothing but the one that was spoken in the north by Hindus and Muslims and written in Nagari or Urdu script. It was the language of Tulsidas. The poet-saint had not disdained to use Arabic and Persian words even in his time. That language which had undergone evolution was the inter-provincial speech written in two scripts. The provincial languages must be helped to develop and become richer.

The all-India speech or national language must displace English which blocked the progress of all the Indian languages. With the disappearance of English rule must dis- appear English speech. Its proper and unrivalled place was as an international medium. Urdu was a language replete with Arabic and Persian words including some of the grammar. Hindi tended to exclude Arabic and Persian words. Hindustani was a happy blend of the two with the grammatical structure unaffected by Arabic or Persian.

The Problem in Madras

The correspondent then reminded Gandhiji that if it was difficult for Dr T. B. Sapru to forget Urdu, was it not equally difficult for the South Indians to forget English? This question again betrayed ignorance. He had been to Madras often enough. When he went there before he had become a Mahatma, he could not make himself understood by the jhatkawalla in English, but he could do so in his broken Hindustani. English was not the mother-tongue of Tamilians as Urdu was of Dr Sapru.

Lala Lajpat Rai was a friend of his. Gandhiji used to twit (SIC) him by asking him when he would learn to speak and write in pure Hindi. Lalaji said he could not do that. And yet Lalaji was a staunch Arya Samajist. He said his mother-tongue was Urdu in which he could hold audiences spell-bound. Gandhiji had twice been the President of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. They had then welcomed his drive for the national language as defined by him. Why did they now resent it? Was he any the less Hindu or Indian for his desire for a blend between Hindi and Urdu?

Gandhiji then referred to the riot at Ajmer with sorrow. Did they think they could protect Hinduism by killing the Muslims in the Union or driving them out? Did they hope to serve all-India speech by excluding Urdu script or language? He would not be with them for ever. They would remember his words when he was gone. All religions taught men to be good and peace- ful. Intolerance was the negation of religion.

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