[lg policy] The perilous march of Hindistan

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Jan 24 10:47:47 EST 2018


 The perilous march of Hindistan
<http://www.thehindu.com/profile/author/D.-Shyam-Babu-8005/> D. Shyam Babu
<http://www.thehindu.com/profile/author/D.-Shyam-Babu-8005/>
January 23, 2018 00:00 IST
Updated: January 23, 2018 03:38 IST

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SATWIK GADE
The project to replace English with Hindi and other Indian languages is
reaching an inflection point

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor recently questioned in Lok Sabha the purpose
of making Hindi an official language at the United Nations. He said: “I
understand the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister can speak in
Hindi, but what if a future External Affairs Minister comes from Tamil Nadu
or West Bengal, who couldn’t speak in the language?”

Last year, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah termed the three-language
policy as “not reasonable.” He was pleading with the Centre to remove Hindi
signage in Bengaluru’s Namma Metro in response to popular sentiment against
Hindi in his State. In effect, he sought exemption for Karnataka from the
three-language policy (like Tamil Nadu) but stopped short of demanding a
policy change.

Both leaders raised relevant questions on our language policy, but they
should have asked their own party, the Congress, how it created a situation
where Hindi is feared to be subsuming many subnational identities in the
country.

*The three-language policy*

In the sixties, when the language policy ran into rough weather, the
three-language formula was conceptualised as a modus vivendi (an acceptable
solution). Parliament passed the Official Language Resolution in 1968,
stipulating that a “modern Indian language, preferably one of the southern
languages”, be studied in Hindi-speaking areas (along with Hindi and
English) and that Hindi be studied in areas where it is not spoken (along
with the regional languages and English).

The three-language policy was meant for the entire country. However, the
policy took a whole different shape as if it was a prescription for
non-Hindi-speaking States alone. While non-Hindi-speaking States (except
Tamil Nadu) adhered to the three-language policy, Hindi-speaking States
took a U-turn: they not only gave up on teaching a non-Hindi language in
their schools but effectively delegitimised English.

The mischief of using the three-language policy to spread only Hindi took
place when Congress enjoyed power at the Centre and in most States. Even
the move to make Hindi an official language at the UN was a recommendation
that the Committee of Parliament on Official Language (CPOL) made in 2011.
So, the issues that Mr. Tharoor and Mr. Siddaramaiah have raised are the
handiwork of their own party.

*Recommendations*

Though the CPOL was created in 1976 “to review the progress made in the use
of Hindi for the official purposes... of the Union” and make
recommendations on the same, its current mandate is much more. In fact, the
Committee operates not only to promote Hindi everywhere but also banish
English from the land. It appears to believe that Hindi cannot thrive as
long as English survives.

In 2011, in its ninth report, the panel made 117 recommendations and the
President approved more than 95% of them. Of the handful of recommendations
that the President did not accept, two merit attention to understand the
wrong direction that the panel is showing to the nation. The first
recommendation pertains to adding a column on Hindi fluency in the annual
confidential report of all employees/officers. This obviously targets
Central government employees in non-Hindi States. The second is to have
only Hindi or one’s mother tongue as the language to be used in Parliament.
In fact, the panel is more magnanimous than Article 120(2) of the
Constitution. While the Article (in abeyance since 1965) seeks to make
Hindi the sole language in Parliament, allowing any other language as an
exception when a member cannot speak in Hindi, the panel recommendation
gives equal space to Hindi and other Indian languages. It is not clear what
the Committee meant by mother tongue. Even if it meant languages in the
Eighth Schedule (22 and counting), and if this recommendation is accepted
in future, Parliament would become an assembly of tongues.

What of those recommendations has the Centre accepted?

The Committee’s fervour is palpable in every recommendation, throwing
rationality, pragmatism and national interest under the truck. It says that
students in colleges and universities in non-Hindi-speaking States will
henceforth have the option of taking exams and interviews in Hindi. It asks
that government advertisements in Hindi newspapers be of “bigger size” and
“at starting pages”, while those in English newspapers be of “relatively
smaller size” and “in middle or ending pages”. It mandates the purchase of
more Hindi newspapers and magazines in all Central government offices,
public sector undertakings, institutions funded by the government, and
private companies engaged in public service. Recommendation No. 107 reads:
“In order to end the dominance of English (not its use), such schools
should not be given recognition by the government which do not impart
education in Hindi or mother tongue.” So on and so forth.

*Caught in between*

Broadly, two factors are relevant to our language policy. One, English has
become a global language and a certain fluency in it is taken as a given
for mobility as well as for access to global knowledge. Hindi possesses no
such advantages. Two, many non-Hindi Indian languages are older than Hindi
and their speakers are justly proud of their rich cultural and literary
heritage. They strive to make their respective languages prominent in
governance and education, while keeping English for what it is. These
States lack both the desire and the need to learn Hindi.

In any case, it is not apparent how not knowing Hindi renders one less of
an Indian, or even less of a Hindu. As the president of the Maharashtra
Navnirman Sena, Raj Thackeray, said in an interview toThe Hindulast year:
“There could be Marathi Hindu or Tamil Hindu and so on, but one cannot make
blanket imposition of Hindi on the entire country. All Hindus cannot be
Hindi.” He likened India to Europe — a mosaic of cultures, languages and
traditions. His stance seems to have found resonance even in a faraway
State like Assam.

Non-Hindi States are unlikely to accept the ‘imposition’ of Hindi, even if
it comes in a friendly garb and with a smile. Only time will tell if they
make a common cause on the issue.

India finds itself sandwiched between a relentlessness that assumes
semi-religious overtones to banish English and a vehemence with latent
subnationalism to reject Hindi. Ironically, any impassioned deliberation on
India’s language policy highlights the centrality of English not only as a
link-language but as a glue that binds India together.
D. Shyam Babu is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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