Ideas

Counter The Bogey Of Hindi Imposition By Imposing Tamil

Representative image of a student in a Hindi class in Mumbai (Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The aim of the Indian political leadership should be a united people.

    For that, it’s time we moved from the hegemonic idea of “language imposition” to “language promotion”. That’s not just positive, but all-embracing as well.

The way in which the “Chowkidar Chor Hai” campaign was defeated by the brilliant counter-campaign of “Main Bhi Chowkidar” is exactly the way in which the bogey of “Hindi Imposition” can be defeated – by ‘imposing’ Tamil, Telugu or other native languages instead of Hindi.

Before readers jump to any conclusions on my sanity for proposing the above, let me explain what I mean by it.

In an effort towards financial inclusion and empowerment of all, nearly 30 crore Jan Dhan accounts are said to have been opened in the last five years. After the opening of these accounts, however, neither the government nor anyone else seems to have checked how the new account holders are operating these accounts. While the balance in these accounts is routinely checked, none has deemed it important to check the language of transaction and communication for these accounts. All the communication that the banks send, the welcome sms, welcome letter, transaction alert, statements – are in a foreign language – English.

Has anyone ever tried to check how many of these 30 crore Jan Dhan Account holders understand English? If they don’t understand English, as indeed most, if not all of them, do not - then how do you think would they be carrying out their daily interactions / transactions with the bank?

Our urban elite may be surprised at some of the reactions of the rural folks to this unnecessary “English Imposition.” Read this account of a factory worker who panicked and went running to his employer, every time he received an SMS alert form the bank wondering what his bank wanted from him. Imagine the difficulty that other such workers might be facing in carrying out their routine transactions with the bank. Imagine how incompetent and inferior they may be feeling each time their bank sends them a message in English.

To correct this situation, the government should urgently start ‘imposing’ the language of each state, as the default language of business for all banks and public service utilities operating out of that particular state. Tamil should be imposed as the default language of communication for all banks in Tamil Nadu and similarly, Malayalam in Kerala, Hindi in UP, Bengali in Bengal, Assamese in Assam and so on. This is not to propose the discontinuation of English but the mere addition of the native language of each state, at least as an option, if not as the default.

Do also note that this problem of “English Imposition” is not restricted to banks alone, but is the same with all public service utilities, provided by the government or by corporates. I really wonder how and why no one gives a thought as to how our people who don’t know English, might be reacting and dealing with electricity bills, water bills, LPG bills, petrol/diesel bills, grocery bills - all in English. How helpless and miserable might they be feeling each time their own government and people make fun of them, for not knowing a foreign language in their native country, by sending communications to them in English. Is it any wonder then that even 72 years after India’s Independence, most Indians still see anything English or foreign as superior and anything Indian/native as inferior? Can’t the Indian state give unto its citizens the basic ‘right to carry out their livelihood’ and daily public service transactions in their own native Indian language?

Imagine the change, goodwill and confidence that our people will gain when they see their own language instead of an alien language, in their bank statements, bills and in all other major communication that they may receive from the government and other companies. If you note, such a change is already in place as far as voice transactions to call centres are concerned. When we can give the choice of language to the people in their voice interactions, why can’t we give them a similar choice of language in their written interactions/transactions as well?

Such a step would not only make life easy and respectable for each citizen of India but would also lead to an increase in employment and business opportunities across the board. The government and business establishments would need to upgrade their systems and software. Thus, creating more business opportunities for IT and software companies and also, perhaps, for the first time creating good demand for people proficient in languages other than English. Moreover, this demand would be generated for each language of India and in each state of India. Sometimes, I really wonder why all the language fanatics and activists of the world never think of aspects like this for promotion of their respective languages.

Another big advantage from such a policy of language ‘imposition’ would be the defeat of all the divisive forces playing up the language issue for their own narrow political ends and the forging of a new, united and confident India. It would also make a lot of political sense for the government to disarm the “Hindi Imposition” brigade by giving unto the regional languages a prominence that they may never, ever have enjoyed.

This one step also has the potential to, finally, open up the gates to the hitherto elusive voters of Tamil Nadu and Kerala that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is so keen on conquering.

The Naya Bharat (New India) that our Prime Minister dreams of making, can become neither a Saakshar Bharat (literate India) nor a Samruddha Bharat (prosperous India) by continuing to ram a foreign language down the throats of a vast majority of its population even for mundane, daily transactions. Hence, this “Native Language Imposition,” I very strongly believe, is one measure that our Prime Minister Modi should urgently initiate - not only in his own political interest but also in our larger national interest.

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