Hindi and Hindi Divas are not exclusively a BJP-RSS agenda, as many would have us believe.
The Constituent Assembly of India, on September 14, 1949, adopted the Hindi language — written in Devanagari script — as the Official Language of the Republic of India. Since 1949, September 14, has been commemorated as Hindi Divas (Hindi Day).
Hindi’s status, later on, was enshrined in the Constitution of India under Article 343. Additionally, several other languages were mentioned in Schedule 8 of the Indian Constitution. That number of the 8th Schedule languages currently stands at 22.
Despite Hindi’s Constitutional status in India, there is plenty of loathing towards Hindi and its speaker. Hardly a day goes by when one doesn’t encounter someone ranting and outraging against Hindi.
In the last few days, two eminent journalists used the might of their pens to decry Hindi “imperialism” and Hindi “imposition”. As if that was not enough, paeans were also sung in praise of English. The rise of the non-English speaking middle class in India was presented in a very contemptuous light.
Despite Hindi’s Constitutional status in India, there is plenty of loathing towards Hindi and its speaker. (Photo: Reuters)
Scepticism towards the propagation of one language over other in a vastly multilingual society such as India is understandable. India has hundreds — if not thousands, of recorded languages. The 1961 Census of India counted 1652 languages. Keeping this in mind, perhaps, the framers of the Constitution decided against a “National Language”.
On the other hand, the Constitutional status of Hindi has always been contested, especially in the southern states, where opposition towards it has been bitter and violent on many occasions. The false narratives of the “Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory” and the “Aryan-Dravidian conflict” story concocted by Marxist historians have vitiated the atmosphere to an almost irreconcilable level.
However, what gets overlooked in this controversy is the fact that what we consider as the Hindi speaking North India isn’t really a monolithic linguistic whole. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana may look like Hindi speaking states. But in reality they are not.
Bihar, for example has Maithili, Magahi, Bhojpuri, Angika, Vajjika, while Jharkhand additionally has Munda, Ho, Uraon, etc.
We also have Punjabi, Marwadi, Braj, Avadhi, Rajasthani, and many more.
All of these speakers, at some point of time, decided to identify themselves as native speakers of Hindi while still maintaining their regional mother tongue. Remember, all these so-called “regional” languages have pretty significant demography of native speakers. Yet these folks not only learn an additional language, but also identify themselves as Hindi speakers potentially at the cost of sidelining their own (or their forefathers’) language.
Now let’s come to English.
It is true that English in India has allowed its citizens to compete on a global level and helped improve their economic standing significantly. But access to English has made a very few selected elites get to the top tier universities and colleges. This in turn has allowed these English language trained professionals to grab a few top-notch jobs as well. However, a majority of English-medium school-walas have been slugging it out in fairly low-paying jobs.
Language and its relationship with thought, culture, and the world-view has always intrigued scholars. In fact, the Vedic scholars, grammarians, and philosophers believed that a universe of objective reality exists solely because human beings can express it through language.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Shatpath Brahman and the 5th century BCE grammarian Bhartrihari delved deep in the topics of language and thought, relationship between the words and the objects, etc.
Similarly, linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf (Sapir and Whorf Hypothesis) claimed that language determines thought to a very great extent and it does so in many ways.
All human languages are sufficiently capable of representing objective realities around them. Languages also adopt the changes in the environment around them and respond to such changes by creating new modes and terminology to describe them. Languages use their existing resources to unpack the meaning expressed. Any suggestion that one language is better than some other language in one aspect or the other is problematic to say the least.
Additionally, any number of researches would suggest that having a strong mother tongue foundation is fundamental in the understanding of school material and curriculum. They also point towards positive attitude and self-confidence both in schools as well as in social circle.
Mother tongue-based curriculum is important in critical and original thinking as well as in developing literary skills. In many US schools, immigrant children are not only provided instructions in their non-English mother tongue, they are also allowed to continue mother tongue instructions even when they have acquired adequate proficiency in English.
In India, it is not necessary to banish English language from curriculum. But at the same time, it is very important to develop mother tongue curriculum.
India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu was recently criticised by several commentators for allegedly fostering “Hindi imperialism” during Hindi Day celebrations. What got neglected in these commentaries is the fact that he also talked about the importance of mother tongue and other Indian languages.
Taking a cue from his World Hindu Congress speech which was a mix of impromptu Telugu, Hindi and English, it may be time for India to start celebrating Hindi Diwas as Bharatiya Bhasha Diwas (Indian Language Day).