[lg policy] India: Towards true language federalism

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 6 16:56:26 UTC 2014

 Towards true language federalism — By *Garga Chatterjee*
<http://freepressjournal.in/towards-true-language-federalism/>,  August 05,
2014 12:05 am

The new Union government seems hellbent on Hindi-fying the regime and its
activities. The original party of the upper Gangetic plain bazaar class is
back at doing what Hindiwallahs used to do regularly before Tamils showed
them some serious spine. The Union government’s insistence on Hindi
promotion by any means necessary and other unnecessary means. At this
juncture, one must again question the relationship between people, power
and language in a multi-national state like the Indian Union. And if that
state wants to be humane and representative, what should its language
policy look like?

How does one fight this ‘rajbhasha’ language monster that haunts the
majority? On the question of certain myths of ‘full Indianness’ and how to
go about dealing with it, we need to turn to Gujarat. This first requires
finding out the truth and then asserting one’s rights in the face of
marginalisation. In 2010, the Gujarat High Court let people know the
obvious – Hindi is not the national language of the Indian Union. Hindi is
the mother-tongue of only a quarter of the population, while the staggering
majority speak Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Konkani,
Santhali, etc. as well as languages like Maithili, Marwari, Mewari, etc.
which ‘census Hindi’ enumerators cunningly classify as ‘Hindi’, to give a
false impression of Hindi’s numerical might.

Certain rootless urban classes of people born in non-Hindi/English homes
earn cosmopolitan brownie points by their ‘inclusiveness’, which basically
means shunning their mother-tongues and birth-culture. The Union government
is only too happy to promote this brand of ‘Indianness’, where
Hindi/English is the ‘mainstream’ and the rest is pejoratively ‘regional’
(that Tamil is not a ‘national’ language is an artifact of the
British-forged administrative unity of the subcontinent). This is why it
increasingly has the gall to communicate to non-Hindi people in Hindi.
Fortunately, there are still many such people in the subcontinent who do
not think that their primary goal in life is to make Hindi and English
speakers feel ‘at home’ everywhere by switching from their mother tongue.

They also assert the right of being spoken to in their home state in the
language of the state. Again in 2010, villagers in the Junagadh area of
Gujarat challenged the land acquisition made by the National Highways
Authority of India (NHAI). The NHAI had issued a notification for
acquisition in Hindi. The villagers did not understand Hindi and hence they
were not notified. The Gujarat High Court termed the notification and the
land acquisition as null and void. While doing so, it also observed that
for the villagers, ‘Hindi language used in the notification is a foreign

Guess what, Junagadh is not Delhi, Coimbatore is not NOIDA and the
subcontinent has many linguistic nations (Punjab, Tamil Nadu, etc.), as
foreign to each other as Nepal is to Tamil Nadu, cohabiting within a common
administrative framework called the Indian Union. This term ‘foreign’ is
particularly painful for the Hindiwallahs, who never tire asserting
English’s foreignness vis-à-vis Hindi indigenousness.

By creating a Hindi versus English divide, they seek to obfuscate the
greater divide of power verses powerlessness, in which English and Hindi
are languages of power. The villagers of Junagadh have shown the way to
challenge the language of the powerful at every step – every notification,
every advertisement, every tele-caller, every public signage, every central
policy that accords special status to Hindi and English.

There is no majority language, but many minority languages. This false
majoritarianism, fuelled by public money, Bollywood and a Hindi-nationalist
yardstick of ‘broadness’ and ’parochialism’ that has been brainwashed into
the affluent classes who live or migrate to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
For peoples and languages to be treated equally, the first step is to break
the pedestal that the Indian Union has accorded to Hindi and English. Only
then can we talk and live as equals.

The language question is not merely a question of ethno-linguistic pride
and autonomy, but fundamentally a question of livelihood, democracy,
justice, dignity and equal stakeholdership in a federal republic. The
Indian Union has no heart near Delhi nor is its soul near Varanasi. The
sooner some people snap out of such self-important delusions, the better.
Otherwise, they must be prepared to listen to an old Hindi song from
non-Hindi regions – “Mere angne mein tumhara kya kaam hai.”

Speak to us in our languages, devolve power to states, so that one doesn’t
need to speak to a centre insistent of an exclusionary language policy.
People with pasts much older than the Indian Union or the lifetime of Hindi
and English languages in the subcontinent, can manage their affairs
perfectly. In this Republic, we must never forget which region’s revenue,
minerals and resources subsidise which regions and who needs whom.

*Garga  Chatterjee*

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