Hindi is a language, in a country of 780 others. Despite many debates raging across the country, Hindi remains only a first among equals. It is the most widely spoken language in the country, and enjoys the status of the official (or Sarkari) language, as per the Constitution, along with English. Unfortunately, like every bit of Indian culture in the past, present, and foreseeable future, the language has become a political tool, polarizing the country, and threatening unity. On Hindi Diwas, we explore the current conundrum – a language that has become a weapon, instead of a joy!
The Origins of Hindi Diwas
Beohar Rajendra Simha, along with Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Kaka Kalelkar, Maithili Sharan Gupt and Seth Govind Das debated in the Parliament, fervently, to pass Hindi as the Official Language, at the time of the writing of the Constitution of India. As such, on the 50th birthday of Beohar Rajendra Simha on 14 September 1949, the efforts came to fruition following adoption of Hindi as the official language. This decision was ratified by the Constitution of India that came into effect on 26 January 1950.
Since then, the day is celebrated, in Government circles mostly, as the annual Hindi Diwas. The day serves to promote and propagate the Hindi language. Feasts, events, competitions and other services are held in many Government institutions, on this day. But, the celebration of this day, and the one language, often irks a large segment of the Indian populace, for what it implies.
Why the Hate?
Hindi Diwas is not a one-of-a-kind language celebration in the country. In West Bengal, for example, the 21st of February is celebrated, as the Language Movement Day, in commemoration of protests and sacrifices to protect Bengali as a national language (of Bangladesh) during Bengali Language Movement of 1952.
But, Hindi Diwas has become a little more than the celebration of a language, and its rich offerings. Especially with the rise of Right Wing politics in the country, there is an implication that the nation needs to be united by the propagation of the same religion and the same language. This is a dangerous idea, in a country full of people, who take pride in their mother tongues. We are not propagating the ‘link language’ as a matter of convenience, but as that of superiority. The RSS holds that a ‘true Hindustani’ is one that is prolific in the use of Hindi Bhasha. That is where the cookie crumbles.
The biggest qualm with Hindi is that it has gone to subsume languages, with a rich tradition of poetry and literature, such as Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magadhi, and Awadhi, under its unbrella, in the name of unity. The imposition of Hindi in the non-Hindi speaking belts in the country, especially the Dravidian states of South India, is being seen as the attack of the Hindi hegemony, at the cost of our diverse cultural, and linguistic richness.
Doing Things a Little Differently
A large part of India has accepted English as the link language in the country. This is slightly disappointing, given that our own heritage boasts of so many other languages, with rich literary history. So, there might be merit in using Hindi purely as a communication aid. However, there is a big caveat to this move.
If Hindi tries to replace local languages, and emerge as a lingua franca, then it is bound to receive strong resistance. We must remember what happened to Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, when they imposed uniformity, as a token of nationality.
If native Hindi speakers in the country are not forced to learn a second language of Indian origin, it is unfair to expect the same of non-Hindi speakers. The forced spread will further alienate people, leading more to emotionally detach them from the language. Allowing people to celebrate their own languages, while additionally providing Hindi subtitles as an aid, might be the only feasible approach in the situation.
The overnight replacement of English with Hindi in Tamil Nadu highway milestones, earlier this year, speaks to a malicious intent. This ‘backdoor imposition’ has been seen with hostility, as was expected. Last year, Amit Shah used Onam as a platform to promote Hindi Diwas, and even went on to distort mythology, to congratulate residents of Kerala on ‘Vamana Jayanti’, instead of a celebration of Mahabali!
It seems that the polarization helps the political climate, by rousing right wing extremists further, in dissension against liberals. It is time that the educated Indian understands this political manipulation, and stands behind the Syncretism that makes India, rather than this bullied uniformity, that serves no purpose at all. Happy Hindi Diwas, ya’all!
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