Politics

Memo To Shah: Language Tensions Will Ease When Hindi States Promote Tamil, Kannada, Et Al

Home Minister Amit Shah. (Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Hindi will anyway grow through the sheer weight of the demographics supporting it.

    Its designation as the sole national language does nothing to help its cause; it only encourages anti-Hindi activism.

Home Minister Amit Shah’s clarification on Hindi, that he was not in favour of its imposition on non-Hindi states but only its promotion as a second language after the mother tongue, has probably come a bit too late to satisfy regional language warriors.

He was right to point out that the mother tongue is the primary language in which a child should be taught, and Hindi can (not should) be the second language taught to her. He emphasised: “I come from Gujarat, which is (in) the non-Hindi belt and Gujarati is the mother tongue. I have repeatedly said that mother tongue (matri bhashas) should always be strengthened. With this I didn’t mean Hindi. It is not our matri bhasha. But I feel there should be a common language in the country.”

The most significant thing Shah said, however, went unnoticed. The Times of India quotes Shah as saying: “I think we will have to build a mass movement (andolan) sooner or later to save and strengthen local languages. Otherwise we will become like New Zealand or Australia (or) those in Africa, which do not have their own languages.”

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If we leave the “Hindi-as-second-language” bit out of Shah’s statement, he and M K Stalin (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief) are on the same page when it comes to promoting local languages. Stalin threatened to launch a movement to keep Hindi out, thus mistaking opposition to Hindi as some kind of support for Tamil. What he really needs to do is help promote Tamil with state support.

Tamil is more likely to be wiped out by mass adoption of English in the state than learning Hindi as a second language. Tamil and Hindi, even though derived from different language systems, are still sisters who grew together within India’s geography. Tamil and English are not siblings who shared the same cultural and physical geography.

If Shah really wants to take the sting out of his pro-Hindi remarks, there are two few simple ways to do it.

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First, he should ask Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Hindi and non-Hindi states, including Gujarat, to actively promote the learning of the four southern languages in their states.

Yogi Adityanath has said in a recent interview that Hindi can be a unifying force for India. Yes, it could be, but only if Hindi-speakers show equal concern for non-Hindi languages. A memorandum of understanding between Yogi Adityanath and Edappadi K Palaniswami, Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, to import 100 Tamil teachers to teach the language in UP will do more to erase north-south tension and reduce anti-Hindi sentiment than all the clarifications Shah can provide about his actual views on Hindi and local languages. No Tamil chief minister can oppose the idea of a large number of Hindi-speakers learning Tamil.

Second, Shah should offer central funding to all non-Hindi states to translate their regional literature and other works into Hindi and other languages. He can also offer subsidies for Hindi speakers seeking jobs in the south to learn the local language. And vice-versa. Hindi literature should also be translated into other Indian languages.

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The truth is that English is essential for progress, but protecting our cultural and linguistic heritage needs significant investment in local languages.

All Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil or Marathi, will lose if we don’t do that. It thus makes sense to designate all Indian languages as national, so that all get the same status and financial support. And instead of just celebrating Hindi Diwas, we should have a week every year to celebrate all Indian languages.

An ounce of action on this front will do more to send language warriors back into their shells than all of Shah’s clarifications.

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Hindi will anyway grow through the sheer weight of the demographics supporting it. Its designation as the sole national language does nothing to help its cause; it only encourages anti-Hindi activism.

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