War Over Hindi

There are bet­ter ways to foster na­tional unity than a sin­gle na­tional lan­guage

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Ecstasy Of Ideas -

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.

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