One of the issues that was brought to the fore at the India Today South Conclave 2018 was the question of regional and linguistic identity.
The contentious issue of whether we need a national language or not comes up with regular intervals. Some political parties, especially the BJP, are proponents of having Hindi as the national language, which they believe will strengthen national unity.
The emotions and rhetoric aside, the idea that we need to have a "unifying" language suffers from many a logical fallacy as well. By advocating such a policy, it is implied that those who speak languages other than Hindi are somehow less Indian. Pursuing such policies will only sow seeds of division in a country that boasts of 1,652 languages and dialects.
Most people who subscribe to the idea of having Hindi as the national language do not realise that it puts those who don’t speak it at a disadvantage. To cite my own example, being a Telugu girl, I was educated in Tamil Nadu and it was only during my summer vacation in Class 10 that I was introduced to the alphabet of Telugu by my parents who were anxious that I will be unlettered in my mother tongue.
It’s quite the same story with most of my friends who have studied outside their home states. Most of them rue that the opportunity cost of learning Hindi was letting go of their own mother tongues.
While deliberating over the issue among friends and on social media, the argument that Hindi being the largest spoken language ought to be made the national language, keeping in view "democratic" principles is often made. Those who advocate this view are confusing democracy with majoritarianism.
In a democracy, equity (and not mere equality) ought to be practiced and minorities of all hues, including linguistic minorities, must be protected. Without mutual respect for each other's languages and cultures, we will be jeopardising national integrity.
It should be kept in mind that India is a federal country and it is indeed a matter of pride that in our Union of states, there is so much diversity. Misplaced aspirations of having uniformity will only destroy the unfathomable richness of our composite culture.
It is unwise to speak disparagingly of other cultures and will be a disservice to the cause of national integration. Despite south Indians being mocked at in popular culture there is little animosity. However, any rash decisions to impose Hindi onto us will only stoke the cinders of regionalism. Asserting our regional identities is a celebration of Indian culture, which if derided can morph into regionalism.
Very often, my fellow south Indians and I have had to explicitly state that we have nothing against Hindi when we take pride in our language and culture. In fact, we deeply respect it. What we are against and will resist, is chauvinism of any sort. Linguistic hegemony doesn’t augur well for a plural society like India and it is detrimental to our cultural progress.
Perhaps our ingrained binary thinking prompts us to glorify a monolithic society while the reality is that Indian society is a beautiful mosaic, with enough room to accommodate diverse (and sometimes even divergent) cultures to peacefully coexist.
Rather than wasting resources on imposing Hindi and fuelling regionalism, the government could consider resuscitating lost languages or those languages that are on the verge of extinction.
When languages are lost, our culture is lost. If we all speak the same language, our diversity of thought is lost, and it becomes an impediment to our cultural prowess. Diversity should not be mistaken to mean lack of unity. Endeavours to "create" unity have seldom come to fruition. For instance, Esperanto, the largest of the artificial languages created with the goal of promoting international communication, is rarely heard of, despite two million people claiming that they can speak it.
While the objective to artificially create a lingua franca by inculcating words from various languages is noble, it will eventually run into political storms with people being miffed over their native tongues not receiving enough representation.
Likewise, the aspiration to have a unifying language is absurd, especially when there are no serious fault lines on linguistic identities that threaten our unity. It will be a tragedy if the Indian identity is pinioned to a particular language, region or religion.