I must begin with an anecdote. When I moved to Singapore as the inaugural Indian Council for Cultural Relations Chair in Indian studies at the National University, I had a most fascinating brush with language attitudes and politics. A junior library assistant was helping me to get into the university library system. She was a Tamil of Indian extraction. Tamil, as we know, is one of the four official languages of Singapore. She asked me, “Sir, What is your position and department?”
She needed a lot of such information before I was given a password and library access.
When I told her, she replied “Don’t mind my asking, Sir, but how can you be the Chair in Indian studies?”
Taken aback, I said, “I beg your pardon?”
She replied, “Clearly you are not Tamil.”
And then she added: Only Tamils are pure Indians and the pure Aryaras (the Tamil word for Aryans).
I let it drop but, in a sense, she was right.
Tamils were the best Indians and Hindus for three millennia, with the best temples, schools, and maths for the propagation of Hindu scriptures.
In the entire history of Tamil literature and culture, there is scarcely a word against Vedic Gods, ‘Aryaras,’ ‘North Indians,’ or, for that matter, Brahmins.
Hindu scriptures, going to the temples — even varnasharama dharma — were fervently practised.
Till the 19th century, by most accounts, Tamils did not see themselves in conflict with the so-called North Indian Aryans.
When they defeated Northern and Eastern kings, as Rajaraja and his son Rajendra did, they even shifted their capital and named it in Sanskrit: Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
The Cholas also were Suryavanshis, tracing their mythological descent from the Sun.
Chola, as we know, may also be pronounced ‘Shola,’ a word still current in Hindi.
Cholas, in other words, would be the ‘Sholas,’ or the flaming ones. ‘Sol,’ incidentally, is also the Latin word for Sun, from which we get the English word, ‘solar.’
For centuries, Tamil and Sanskrit developed such a close relationship, both culturally and textually, that they developed a new language, Manipravalam, a combination of rubies and corals.
But all that changed with the colonial incursion.
Bishop Caldwell and other missionary orientalists in his wake planted the seeds of Dravidian separatism combined with an anti-North Indian, anti-Sanskrit, and anti-Brahmin prejudice.
EV Ramasamy Naicker, popularly known as Periyar, started the ‘Self-Respect Movement’ and Dravidar Kazhagam. He started campaigns again North Indians, Brahmins, Sanskrit, and Hindi. In a famous, if vile protest, he garlanded Hindu Gods with footwear, taking them out in a procession in Kanchipuram.
If you learn Tamil, it does not mean you can't learn Hindi. And vice versa.
The hateful Molotov cocktail he brewed, combined with the charisma and populist reach of Tamil cinema, catapulted a series of Dravidian leaders to the helm of affairs in Tamil Nadu.
The first of these was CN Annadurai, a scriptwriter and a fiery orator who dislodged the Congress chief minister, M Bhaktavatsalam, in the state election in 1967.
The Congress, or indeed any ‘non-Dravidian’ party, has never come to power in the state after that.
I go to Tamil Nadu every year; my Guru’s ashram is there.
Indeed, the greatest Hindu mass leaders in India right now are arguably two Tamilians, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.
The former usually speaks to large audiences in Hindi, even in his Ashram headquarters in Bengaluru, while the latter is known to trump many an interlocutor in his own brand of English.
In Tamil Nadu, I scrupulously restrain myself from speaking in Hindi, but many people spontaneously talk to me in that language.
I am repeatedly told that Tamil people have nothing against Hindi.
Indeed, the third-widest spoken language in the world after Mandarin and English is usually seen as an avenue to employment and business opportunities outside the state. The anti-Hindi agitation has hurt Tamil youth in this sense.
Even in Singapore, where we started, the Tamil cook of our cafeteria told me, “Because Brahmins were hounded out of Tamil Nadu, they had to prove themselves under adverse circumstances. Today, they are all well-placed in the Central government services. Not just that,” he bitterly added, “right here in the lucrative financial sector of Singapore it is the professionally trained children of these pushed-out Tamils who rule the roost. Our children continue to be in menial and manual jobs.”
Singapore, after all, is a meritocratic society.
The upshot of all this — regardless of the now-modified recommendations of the Draft National Education Policy, chaired by Dr K Kasturirangan (who, incidentally, is a Tamil) — is this: it is time to state as clearly as possible where language-chauvinists, of any colour or stripe, need to step off. No language should be imposed; no language, including Hindi or English, should be demeaned or demonised; linguistic as well as ethnic bigotry, especially of the politically motivated sort, should be opposed legally and ideologically; there is absolutely no conflict between Tamil and Hindi: learning the former does not mean you cannot learn the latter — and vice versa; finally, anti-Hindi (without or without the added rancour of anti-Brahminism) are morally indefensible and politically corrupt.
Right-thinking Indians, whether in Tamil Nadu or the so-called ‘Hindi heartland,’ must expose and oppose them.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)