The President of India has approved the central government’s plan to make Hindi compulsory in CBSE and Central schools (Kendriya vidyalayas). This is the latest of many surreptitious attempts made by the central government to impose Hindi on the entire country. Some of the recent such attempts are asking the MPs to use Hindi in the parliament, changing all highway signs in the country into Hindi, making Hindi as the official communication language for central government offices and use of Hindi by government officers even in social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Union minister Venkaiah Naidu does not even know that Hindi is not the national language of the country. Probably quite many Indians do not know that Hindi is not the national language. In fact, more than half of the country’s population have mother tongues which have little do with Hindi. There are millions of people in the country who cannot communicate in Hindi. How can Hindi be the common language of the country then?
English has become the world’s link language. Even countries like Japan and China which had spurned English earlier are now teaching English vigorously in their countries so that they won’t lag behind the world. India cannot afford to neglect English at all. Hindi may have national pride for many Indians, especially in the regions which support BJP, but English has the universal edge.
Even BJP’s erstwhile patrons knew it. V D Savarkar and Syama Prasad Mukherjee had British education. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was a student of St John’s College, Agra and did his masters in English literature. L K Advani has spoken proudly many times about his student days at St Patrick’s school, Karachi.
Today all the prominent spokespersons of BJP converse in fluent English and they know the importance of English in the media particularly because English news channels play a prominent role in the country in shaping public opinions. Arguably the children of all these leaders who uphold Hindi vociferously study or studied in English medium schools.
Quite a lot of India’s wealth comes from Indians working abroad especially in English speaking countries. There are millions of youth dreaming of going abroad to seek their fortune since India cannot materialise their dreams in spite of all its boasting about development.
We should learn the required lesson from Sri Lanka which suffered terrible agony because the majority wanted to impose its language on the minority. Our own Assam was broken up into many small states because Assamese was imposed on people who spoke various tribal languages.
Language cannot be imposed on people. Indians will learn Hindi if they find it useful in making their livelihood. There are a few million people from South India and the Northeast living in North India and they learn Hindi because it is necessary for survival. Even the Tamils who are bitterly opposed to Hindi when they are in Tamil Nadu learn Hindi when they choose to live in the North. That’s how life is: practical. And little else.
The government of India should not forget that practicality when it formulates its language policies. It is good to have our own national language. But it should also be practical. Using Hindi in all official communications will put a whole lot of people from Mizoram to Kerala at a clear disadvantage. The government will obviously deprive these people of their right to know the communications. That’s simply not fair.
We should also not forget that there are many languages in India such as Bengali and Tamil which have much richer history, culture and literature than Hindi. It’s not fair to suppress such languages in the name of a national language which was originally the language of the marketplace and nothing more.
It may now be argued by lovers of Hindi that propagating Hindi does not mean suppressing other languages. The simple practical truth is that when a language is given official ascendancy it inevitably marginalises other languages. English has done this to a great extent in many countries. Since English has already become the global language India cannot afford to ignore it. But what advantage is the non-Hindi speaker going to get by learning Hindi especially if he is going to live his entire life in Kohima or Kochi?
For BJP, Hindi may have nationalist associations. For quite a lot of other Indians, Hindi may turn out to be an unnecessary burden imposed on them. And people may not accept burdens beyond a point. Tolerance has its limits.