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Celebrate Hindi, Let it Grow Organically

As per the latest Census in 2011, 43. 6 per cent of the people speak Hindi, and the figure was 41 per cent in 2001, while it was 36.9 per cent in 1971.

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Is India in for linguistic turbulence? If this sounds  alarmist, let me rephrase it — given the threats emanating from the south of the Vindhyas, with entities as diverse as DMK’s M.K. Stalin, new politico on the block Kamal Haasan, Kerala Chief Minister P. Vijayan, and even BJP’s Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa asserting that they won’t accept the primacy now being accorded to Hindi over other regional languages, is the Narendra Modi government facing its first serious federal challenge?

It all began with Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s Hindi Diwas tweets, wherein he said, “India is a land of diverse languages, all important, but it’s imperative that we have one common language for the country, which is India’s identity in the comity of nations. Hindi, the largest-spoken language in India, can unite India.” He further exhorted fellow Indians in another tweet: “Encourage to use mother tongue, and Hindi. Help us realise Gandhi’s and Patel’s vision.”

The tweets immediately gave the opposition with a pathological dislike for the BJP to raise the “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan” bogey, which they said, has been a pet theme of the RSS.

Shah, however, would like us to believe that he is only furthering Gandhi’s vision. His groundwork in the Home Ministry bears testimony to this. A report in The  Hindu says that after Shah took over, “sixty per cent of the files are in the Hindi language, as against 10 per cent earlier”.

Shah’s Hindi push, and the threats by the southern parties reminds one of the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s.

In 1965, the Centre’s stance of communicating with the states in Hindi, which was to be accompanied by an English translation while communicating with non-Hindi states, was met with violent protests by the DMK in Madras — with slogans “Hindi never; English ever” seeing a spate of self-immolations as well.

With the spate of threats now emanating from the south, this could rekindle an anti-north, anti-BJP, anti-Hindi fire, which surely the BJP government at the Centre has not bargained for.

Whether one likes it or not, Hindi is the de facto “sampark bhasha” (contact language) of the country. True, the southern states, as also the states in the east and the north-east, don’t converse in Hindi, but large-scale migration from the Hindi heartland to these regions has led to the spread of Hindi.

The prime reason why Hindi is growing, however, must be Bollywood, and it’s the Hindi films that have done more to widen the reach of the language than the combined might of all governmental initiatives. Census figures bear testimony to the fact that Hindi has been growing even without any official patronage.

As per the latest Census in 2011, 43. 6 per cent of the people speak Hindi, and the figure was 41 per cent in 2001, while it was 36.9 per cent in 1971. In 2011, the second-largest linguistic group was that of the Bengalis, with 8 per cent of the population speaking the language. While India has a total of 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, the land has 122 languages, and over 19,000 dialects. So, the best way forward would be to let Hindi grow organically.

At the same time, it’s incumbent upon the Hindi-speaking population to learn local languages when they migrate for better opportunities. 

While we must celebrate the spread of Hindi, we must not lose sight of English — a language that connects us with a globalised world. It is instructive to note that new-age Dalits regard English as a “Goddess of empowerment, and a tool of mobility”. It’s not a bad idea, then, to have the mother tongue, Hindi and English on an equal footing.

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