Stop Hindi chauvinism

By Prof K Nageshwar

The BJP apologists might have dismissed the controversy over Tarun Vijay’s racist remarks on South Indians as media distortion or at the most personal aberration with which the party has no association.

But, the recent moves of the union government led by the BJP, accused of its Hindi chauvinist credentials in the present form and in the earlier incarnation, give credence to the apprehensions of the return of Hindi hegemony.

Such measures that kicked off the fresh row include the central government decision to have milestones on national highways in Tamil Nadu written in Hindi, the advice to all the union ministers to make their speeches in Hindi and making Hindi compulsory in CBSE schools.

The criticism of BJP is not without substance as the party, barring Karnataka, could not ensure any worthwhile presence in South Indian polity. This political deficit in a party that governs the nation is essentially due to its Hindi hegemonistic character.

Therefore, any attempt to reimpose Hindi dominance is detrimental to the party and the nation alike. Not just South India, even parts of North are also aggrieved by Hindi expansionism. For instance, languages with a rich tradition of poetry and literature such as Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magadhi and Awadhi have all been subsumed under the umbrella of Hindi.

The fresh attempts to resurrect Hindi have already triggered sporadic political protests and social media outcry. Indian society is known for its diversity and plurality. Imposing the supremacy of any language, religion or the region is in fact challenging the very idea of India that nurtured this great civilisation for millennia.

The South Asian neighborhood has important lessons to offer for India. The imposition of Urdu by brutally suppressing Bengali linguistic nationalism has led to the secession of East Pakistan to form the present day Bangladesh. No patriotic Indian can tolerate any act that can sow the seeds of disillusionment in South India.

This is not to undermine Hindi as a language. But, the fact remains that it cannot be a national language as millions across the nation cannot speak or even understand it. In fact, the recent past has seen greater acceptance of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking parts of the country.

The Hindi films and television serials act as their ambassadors. This generation does not even remember the language riots of yesteryears. But, as the Newton law states, any act of imposition of Hindi would certainly have an equal and opposite reaction.

At times, the reaction may be even much stronger, given the populist character of Indian polity that thrives on people’s sentiments. The BJP by its very nature is averse to linguistic sub-nationalism as it believes that language diversity is antithesis to its political project of religious homogeneity.

Therefore, recent actions of central government are not impulsive, but orchestrated manifestations of its ideological predilections. The Constitution of India lists 22 languages in its Eighth Schedule. Hindi is one among them. It may even be the principal one. But, one cannot ascribe to Hindi the queenly position. If so, it would only be a travesty of Constitution.

(The Editorial originally published by The Hans India By its Editor Prof K Nageshwar on Saturday)