The issue of imposing Hindi in the Bengaluru Metro, is not a question of mere signage. It is a question of rights, dignity and sovereignty of all the non-Hindi people of India.
This is in response to an article published in Swarajya that called the campaign against the use of Hindi in Bengaluru Metro as a campaign of humbug.
Firstly, we shall look at the arguments that are in favour of using Hindi in Bengaluru Metro. The arguments are by many, including politicians and journalists. As we examine the arguments favour of using Hindi, we shall also present our point of view as to why such arguments hold no water.
It is repeated that Hindi language instruction is a matter of commuter convenience, and Bengaluru being a ‘cosmopolitan’ city there are speakers of various languages and that having Hindi will be of great help to many.
But if you look at the composition of the city population, regarding numbers, Kannada speakers are followed by speakers of Telugu and Tamil. Hindi speaking population in Bengaluru is quite minuscule, so to speak. Hence, the convenience argument falls flat.
The other argument is based on the three-language formula. The argument goes that, Karnataka has accepted the three language formula a long time ago. The same has been put to use in the Metro. So, what is the problem?
The three language formula applies to the subject of education only and does not apply to the matters of general administration.
It cannot be randomly applied to any other system like an intra-city mass transport. As per the three language formula, 'Hindi, English and a modern Indian language (preferably one of the southern languages) in the Hindi speaking states and Hindi, English and the regional language in the non-Hindi speaking States' are to be taught in schools.
It was formulated and adopted as a policy for education by the Indian Parliament. It is to be noted that even on the subject of education there is no constitutional obligation on the states to follow it. So, the argument of the three-language formula is completely irrelevant in the case of Bengaluru Metro.
Another oft-heard argument is, “Bengaluru metro is partly funded by the Union Government, hence the usage of Hindi.”
In this argument, there is an underlying assumption that the Union Government means Hindi. This assumption has to be questioned. While the Union Government is an elected representative of all the language communities of India, it need not and should not be attributed to Hindi alone.
Moreover, funding by the Union Government does not make Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) a Central Government institution. Hence, there is no need for BMRCL to follow the language policy adopted by central government institutions.
Another question that is being asked is, “Why this is being questioned only now if Hindi is in use since the time Metro started its operations?”
Metro's language policy is being questioned right from its early days. Way back in 2011, BMRCL was questioned about the unnecessary usage of Hindi in metro signages and announcements through a Right To Information (RTI) query.
After several delays, escalations and flip-flops the BMRCL, all the while maintaining that there were no specific directions from the state or the union governments to use Hindi, came up with an explanation that it was an internal board's decision to use the Hindi language. And board decisions do not come under the purview of the RTI. Of late, there is information that the use of Hindi in the newly inaugurated green-line was owing to a directive issued by a Hindi advisory committee! Hence, it is far from the truth to assume that the opposition to the usage of Hindi is only recent.
So, what language policy should the Bengaluru Metro follow?
Bengaluru Metro, though a joint venture between the state and the union government is a city transport system and falls clearly under the jurisdiction of the state. Metro is a state subject, and hence it is the state's language policy that becomes applicable to the Metro and the Union should not meddle with it. Legally speaking, Hindi use is not necessary or binding on the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL). Usage of the official language Kannada along with English should be good enough.
Let us now look at the allegations made by Goblipura Subbaramiah (author of the article mentioned above) on the people opposing Hindi imposition in Bengaluru Metro.
Subbaramiah questions the intent of the campaigners in taking up this issue when there are more serious issues plaguing the state. But, let me point out that it is a mistake to look at this campaign in isolation. It is important to see it in the larger perspective of the hegemonic language policy of the Union of India.
A train ticket for a journey between Bengaluru and Mysuru is printed in only Hindi and English. There is no Kannada in the reservation chart pasted on the train bogeys. None of the information, including safety information, is printed in Kannada. Many nationalised banks now hardly have any Kannada in them. Challans, cheques and other printed information are all mostly made available only in Hindi and English.
Ironically, many of these nationalised banks were founded in Karnataka and until nationalisation they offered their services predominantly in Kannada. Today, while Kannada is almost extinct from their day-to-day activities and transactions, they have fierce competition among themselves as to who better implements the usage of Hindi every year. And needless to say, there are awards and incentives for it.
There is a definite pattern. In any undertaking in which the Union Government is admitted or takes over from the state, Hindi first appears as an additional option - a third option of 'convenience'. Gradually it takes the position of Kannada (or any State language) pushing the latter to third position. In a few more years Kannada usage either becomes insignificant or disappears completely. The policy is that of language substitution constitutionally backed by the Official Language Rules.
That the use of Hindi in the metro is to further this hegemonic language policy is not a baseless fear. The perversity is glaringly evident.
It appears that while the state government has been indifferent and ignorant, the bureaucracy with the subtle backing of the Union Government, rolled out the scheme to introduce Hindi. This is why the whole issue needs to be looked into from the larger perspective of India's hegemonic and isolationist language policy.
Apart from trivialisation of the issue and accusing the campaigners of not taking up more serious and pertinent issues, Subbaramiah comes up with some irrelevant questions and accusations like 'How many of them send their kids to schools where Kannada is taught in a non-careless manner? How many of them buy their kids Kannada books to read?'.
Personal questions such as these are clear deviations from the issue at hand and indicate that the author has done little homework.
The article is full of factual errors and vacuous assumptions.
Firstly, the Twitter campaign was organised by Banavasi Balaga and not by Munnota. The people who have been involved in the campaign have been working for the Kannada cause for over a decade. While their kids study in Kannada medium schools they have been actively involved in popularising the mother tongue medium of education.
They have not only worked with the schools to come up with a good list of options to parents looking for top quality Kannada medium schools for their wards but have also worked with teachers and students to understand and assess the perils plaguing the education in the mother tongue. Interested readers can look at this portal run by Banavasi Balaga – dedicated to spreading awareness about the importance of mother tongue-based education.
Subbaramiah questions, if the campaigners lobbied to get science and technology textbooks translated into Kannada. Certainly, there is a pressing need for science and technology literature in Kannada. One of the main reasons for the lack of such literature in Kannada is the absence of a corpus of words.
The campaigners have long been articulating the need to build the corpus of science and technology words, in Kannada as well as all the other modern Indian languages. The campaigners have created a Facebook group that is in active existence for the past five years and engages the general public to coin new words in Kannada. Several workshops have been conducted to explore the art of coining new words in the language. Every year, thousands of newly coined such words are being released to the public domain. Also, the campaigners are running a science portal called arime.org, that publishes write-ups around science and technology in Kannada.
The campaigners have also built a consumer forum that works with Kannada customers to ensure the language gets its primacy in consumer services and general trade and commerce in the state. The forum is playing a key role in the ‘status planning’ for the Kannada language. It is to be added that all these efforts are a language planning exercise for Kannada, and such language planning exercises are something that all the modern Indian languages need.
Coming back to the question of the Bengaluru Metro, I want to reiterate that it is not a question of mere signage. It is a question of rights, dignity and sovereignty of all the non-Hindi people of India.