War Over Hindi
There are better ways to foster national unity than a single national language
Union home minister Amit Shah’s controversial pitch for Hindi as a national language has drawn sharp reactions from both the opposition and regional BJP leaders. BJP’s Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa has declared that all official languages are equal and there will be no compromise on the importance of Kannada. Similarly, BJP ally AIADMK has asserted that Tamil Nadu will stick to Tamil and English. The language issue has an old, emotive history in the country. The Constitution already treats Hindi as the official language of the Union and gives states the freedom to legislate their own official languages. Additionally 22 languages – including Hindi – are recognised in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
The concept of a one-language nation to foster unity among the people is a construct of 19th century European nationalism, which became outmoded in the 20th century itself. And in the 21st century, technology is bringing down language barriers in any case. Recent history also offers many instances of the pitfalls of imposing a language on people with a different mother tongue. We have already witnessed strong anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu in 1965, which stymied the imposition of Hindi. And in neighbouring Bangladesh – then East Pakistan – the language movement against the imposition of Urdu on Bengali speakers was a key driver of Pakistan splitting into two nations.
Moreover, there are better ways to foster national unity than imposing a language. Having a single, simplified tax structure creating a common market for the country, or fostering a single labour market are far better ways of practically integrating the country as well as boosting the economy. Nativist onslaughts on English too are counterproductive, given that the language is linked to India’s successes in modern sectors such as IT. Restarting language wars won’t help the nation in any way.