Anti-Hindi Imposition: Why South India can never accept Hindi as the link language
As a govt proposal to introduce Hindi learning to the South stokes up decades-old resistance, it is clear the opposition to Hindi has gone nowhere. That's despite several Hindi-speakers working in the South.
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Hindi is just one of the several languages which many of us south Indians speak and use on a daily basis. It’s neither more, nor less important than the many other languages we use to communicate with each other.
Speaking Hindi to communicate is voluntary — an act of friendliness.
Having it imposed as a national language is a totally different thing. Allowing it to replace English as the language of governance is actually scary. That might be equivalent to handing over the right to rule our country to Hindi speakers.
Historically, many MPs from the south have fought vigorously against such a move. Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and Member of Parliament CN Annadurai was one of the early leaders who took a very strong anti-Hindi stand. He explained during a speech in Parliament how forcing Hindi on south Indians would prove to be disadvantageous to them and advantageous to native Hindi speakers. On the other hand, he said, by retaining English, the advantages and disadvantages would be ‘evenly’ spread among Hindi and non-Hindi speakers.
A Strong Stance: CN Annadurai was one of the early leaders who took a very clear anti-Hindi stand. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
While spearheading the protests against the move to introduce Hindi as the national language, he said, “It is claimed that Hindi should be the common language because it is spoken by the majority. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous? Or the peacock as our national bird when the crow is ubiquitous?”
Similarly, Congress leader, TT Krishnamachari, while arguing against the imposition of Hindi during a Constituent Assembly Debate in 1948, said that such language imperialism would lead to the enslavement of people who did not speak the language of the legislature and the Centre.
The people on the street may not have such well-reasoned arguments — they just have a gut feeling that if they allow Hindi, a language which is alien to them, to become the dominant language, they could be road-rollered by those to whom Hindi is the mother tongue.
And sadly, most native Hindi speakers, who live in their own bubble, do not do anything to alleviate these fears.
Bangalore is a melting pot, of people, industries and languages. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In cities like Bangalore, for instance, they often make no attempt to learn the local language. There have been many instances when a local person has been abused for not understanding what the Hindi speaker is saying.
“Let them learn Kannada first,” said Sunil Kumar, my auto driver, as we drove in and out of Bangalore traffic. “I can speak perfectly in Hindi even though I have lived all my life in Bangalore. I speak many languages including Telugu and Tamil and a bit of English. But these Hindiwalas when they get into my auto don’t even try to speak one word in Kannada or any other language, except their own — they are just not interested. Even out of curiosity, they won’t watch a regional channel or go for a local movie. They are stuck in their own world. I purposely pretend not to know Hindi — and take them by the longest route!”
Bangalore, the town where I live, is literally a melting pot of languages. On an average day, I could end up speaking at least three or four languages with friends, colleagues, relatives, shopkeepers and service providers — and Hindi is just one of them.
Bangalore has always been receptive to different languages. Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu-speaking migrants have settled here over generations. So have Marwadis and Maharashtrians. English came in through the British Cantonment. The IT boom brought young people from all over the country and the infrastructure boom brought blue collar workers from Bihar and Odisha. There has also been a big influx of students and working professionals from the Northeast.
Some of them are linguistically challenged; others pick up Kannada with ease. Some, especially the young ones, even become multilingual. And some stubbornly refuse to learn.
It is this refusal to learn which antagonises most locals.
But even the once-accommodating Bangalorean is becoming resistant to Hindi now — a couple of months ago Hindi sign boards at Metro stations were vandalised because they carried names in that language. Unlike Tamil Nadu, where anti-Hindi agitations have been going on for several decades, Karnataka has never really taken a strong stand. But things are changing now as they sense another wave of Hindi imposition in the offing.
It won't wash anymore: The once-accommodating Bangalorean is increasingly becoming resistant to Hindi. (Photo: India Today)
Today, south Indians also want to throw out the baggage which goes with attempted Hindi dominance — for example, those cringe-worthy Bollywood stereotypes of short, dark-skinned 'South Indians' who provided comic relief, spoke bad English and Hindi and interjected their sentences with 'Ayyo' are now becoming history.
“I refuse to be referred to as a Madrasi even in casual conversation,” says Sowmya, an IT professional, who is a Malayali. “I am proud of my skin colour and my curly hair and my accent too. Ask those fellows if they even know there is a language called Malayalam.”
Language imposition in the name of unification has spelt the death of linguistic nuance in many countries and communities. But it’s not just the linguistic richness of South India that is at stake. The general feeling is that many other remarkable facets of South India also stand endangered.
More than the language, south Indians fear the imbalance of power Hindi imposition could create.