The bogey of Hindi imposition

N Ramakrishnan Chennai | Updated on September 17, 2019 Published on September 17, 2019


Union Home Minister and BJP strongman Amit Shah has stirred a hornets’ nest by his speech on Hindi Day. There may be variance between what he actually said at the function and what was reported in the media, but it was enough for politicians of all hues to come out strongly against Shah’s speech and the perceived attempt of the RSS-BJP to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking States and to see India through the prism of a single language.

Loudest and most vehement in their protests were politicians from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, yet again proving that these two States will be the final two frontiers that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may never well capture.

Amit Shah may not have said anything more objectionable than what P Chidambaram, who as Union Home Minister, spoke on the same occasion in 2010, a video of which is now being circulated on social media. Why are the protests now and not then, especially when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which built itself as a political alternative to the Congress in the 1950s and 1960s and stormed to power in the Assembly elections in 1967, was part of the UPA. It all boils down to pure politics. Hindi bashing and Tamil chauvinism still sell in the State; just look at the number of parties that talk of protecting Tamil language, pride and culture as their main planks.

Also read: Hindi as sole national language is an idea which militates against India’s pluralist unity in diversity

For the DMK and the other parties that share the same ideology, when all else fails, there is always the bogey of Hindi imposition to raise and mobilise the cadre. Some political leaders from Tamil Nadu, in a bid to stay relevant, even talked of balkanisation of the country if Hindi were to be imposed. Have they ever gone beyond the rhetoric to figure out how Tamil Nadu will live in isolation when it has no natural resources of its own or the jobs required to keep its large number of engineering and other graduates gainfully employed within the State?

Given the distinct identity that the South has, even Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa came out against any attempts to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking States and asserted that Kannada was the main language in his State.

DMK President MK Stalin has called for an agitation to protest attempts to impose Hindi, while actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan said that India was an amalgam of languages and cultures and any attempt to impose one over the other will be met with stiff resistance. The struggle would be several times larger than when people in Tamil Nadu agitated against the ban on the bull-taming sport Jallikattu, he warned.

You go to any restaurant in the State, and you will find at least a couple of employees from either Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or the North-East. You are forced to converse with them in Hindi. Quite often, these workers learn Tamil quickly; after all, for them, it is a livelihood issue. The same may hold true of Kerala.

It is another matter that there has been a phenomenal growth in the number of schools following the CBSE stream — where Hindi is taught as a language — in Tamil Nadu, a State that is vehemently opposed to the language. Many of these schools are run by family members of politicians who are opposed to learning Hindi.

Given that opposition to Hindi will continue for some time, it may be a good idea to change the school education curriculum by teaching the students many languages from a young age — their mother tongue, English, Hindi and one other language of the child’s choice. This way, there will not be any shouts of imposition and the children will be better placed to look for jobs in other States.

It is true that Hindi is gaining ground, but what people in Tamil Nadu and Kerala detest is the attempt by politicians from the Hindi belt, especially those from the BJP, to make it out that knowing Hindi is a must. This is one of the reasons why the BJP will take a long time to make any headway in Tamil Nadu.

The Dravidian parties have been in power here since 1967. The DMK captured popular imagination by its anti-Hindi agitation and campaign against the forward castes and in support for the backward classes. The enemy in those days was the Congress, which was in power at the Centre and in most of the States.

The enemy now is the BJP, with the Dravidian parties convincing its followers that the BJP, backed by the RSS, is a party of the forward castes. It will take long for the BJP to dismantle this perception. One is not sure if the saffron party has the right strategy to counter this propaganda.

If the BJP is to make any headway in Tamil Nadu, it has first to understand that Tamils have enormous pride in their language and culture. They may yet learn Hindi, but that will be out of their own free will and not because someone else believes it is the national language or the link language.

Published on September 17, 2019
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