'A threat to unity': Anger over push to make Hindi India's national language (2023)

Tensions mountIfon Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts to make Hindi the country's dominant language.

Modi's Bharatiya Janaya Party (BJP) government has been accused of an agenda of "Hindi imposition" and "Hindi imperialism," and non-Hindi speaking states in southern and eastern India have struggled.

On a November morning, MV Thangavel, an 85-year-old farmer from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, stood outside the office of a local political party and held up a banner addressing Modi. "Modi government, central government, we don't want to abolish Hindi...Hindi," it read. Then he soaked it in paraffin and lit it. Thangavel did not survive.

"The BJP is trying to destroy other languages ​​by trying to impose Hindi and make it a language based on its 'one nation, one for all' policy," MK Stalin, Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu, said recently in a speech.

(Video) ‘A threat to unity’ anger over push to make Hindi national language of India

In India, one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, language has been a contentious issue. But under Modi there was a tangible push to make Hindi the dominant language in the country, whether by attempting to make Hindi compulsory in schools across the country or by conducting government affairs entirely in the language. Modi's speeches are delivered exclusively in Hindi and over 70% of cabinet documents are now prepared in Hindi. "If there is one language that can unite the nation in unity, it is the Hindi language," said Amit Shah, the powerful interior minister and Modi's closest ally, in 2019.

According to Ganesh Narayan Devy, one of India's most renowned linguists, who has dedicated his life to chronicling India's more than 700 languages ​​and thousands of dialects, recent attempts to impose Hindi have been "both ridiculous and dangerous".

“It is not a language but the diversity of languages ​​that has united India throughout history. India cannot be India if it is not home to all native languages,” said Devy.

According to the latest 2011 census, 44% of Indians speak Hindi. However, 53 native languages, some of which are completely different from Hindi and have millions of speakers, are also classified under the Hindi banner. Removing all other languages ​​would reduce the number of Hindi speakers to around 27%, meaning almost three quarters of the country is not fluent in Hindi.

Devy said multilingualism is the essence of being Indian. "You will find that people use Sanskrit for their prayers, Hindi for films and matters of the heart, their mother tongue for their families and private thoughts, and English for their careers," he said. “It's hard to find a monolingual Indian. That should be celebrated, not threatened.”

(Video) Hindi Push: "Linguistic Imperialism" Or "National Unifier"? | Left, Right & Centre

"Our language is who we are"

The debate about the meaning of Hindi dates back to before India's independence. Although there are more Hindi speakers than any other native language in India, they are mainly concentrated in the populous and politically powerful northern states known as the Hindi belt. Hindi has traditionally had very little presence in southern states like Tamil-speaking Tamil Nadu and Malayalam-speaking Kerala, as well as eastern states like West Bengal, home to 78 million Bengali speakers.

When the constitution was drafted in 1949, it was decided that India should not have a national language. Instead, 14 languages ​​- a list that eventually grew to 22 - were officially recognized in the constitution, although Hindi and English were declared the "official languages" in which matters of national government and administration would be communicated.

Attempts have been made to establish Hindi as the sole dominant language, but all have met with protests, particularly from the south. In the 1960s, after the government declared Hindi the sole “official language” and phased out English, Tamil Nadu erupted in a violent uprising, with scores setting themselves on fire and dozens dead in the brutal crackdown on protests. The government backtracked. To date, only Tamil and English are taught in government schools in Tamil Nadu.

But it was only after the election of the BJP government in 2014, whose Hindu nationalist agenda included a concrete push to promote Hindi, that the issue came to the fore and the government was accused of imposing cultural hegemony over non-Hindi speakers Conditions. .

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"Language has become a highly politicized issue under Modi," said Papia Sen Gupta, a professor at the Center for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “The narrative being projected is that India needs to be re-imagined as a Hindu state and that one needs to speak Hindi to be a true Hindu and a true Indian. They implement it more and more successfully.”

The idea of ​​Hindi as India's national language has its roots in the writings of VD Savarkar, the father of radical Hindu nationalism and a BJP icon, who was the first to articulate the slogan 'Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan', confusing nationalism with religion and language, an expression still used by the right today.

The BJP's attempts to introduce compulsory Hindi in schools nationwide were met with such backlash that they were subsequently withdrawn. In October, Shah put non-Hindu states back on the warpath, this time recommending that central universities and institutes of national importance should holdTeaching and exams only in Hindi instead of English. The rule only applies to institutions in Hindi-speaking countries. But, as many have pointed out, students from all over the country attend these schools, including from the south and east where Hindi is not part of the curriculum.

In response to Shah's recommendation, MK Stalin introduced a state parliament resolution in Tamil Nadu against any "imposition of a dominant language", claiming that the BJP was trying to "make Hindi the language symbolizing power". He also urges Tamil to become an official language on a par with Hindi. Political groups and parties in Kerala and Karnataka have also expressed concern about the "Hindi imposition".

Some have warned of the bloody history that prompted the language's adoption in the region. Sri Lanka was plunged into a 26-year civil war after Sinhala nationalists attempted to impose their language on the island's Tamil minority, and it was the repression of the Bengali language in East Pakistan that led to the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh.

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The BJP government says it doesn't use Hindi to replace other native languages, only English, the western language of Indian settlers. But with English being so ingrained in the Indian system, used everywhere from the courts to the labor market, and the spread of English seen as an asset to India in a globalized world, there is little evidence that it will realistically be phased out. in favor of Hindi.

Various nationalist language movements have sprung up across India from Rajasthan to West Bengal in response to the policy of promoting Hindi. In West Bengal, where the Bengali language is seen as a fundamental part of people's cultural identity, there has been a growing Bengali nationalist movement in recent years.

"It's Hindi imperialism," said Garga Chatterjee, general secretary of Bangla Pokkho, a Bengali nationalist group founded in 2018. "They want to transform India from a multi-state union into a nation-state where Hindi speakers are first-class citizens, while we non-Hindus, including Bengalis, are second-class citizens."

Chatterjee said that although Bengali is the second most spoken language in India, he has not been able to obtain a copy of the Indian Constitution, open a bank account, book a train ticket or fill out a tax return in his native language.

"They are making Hindi the face of India and that is a direct threat to India's unity," he said. “We Bengalis are being humiliated in Hindi but now we are backing down. Our language is who we are and we will die for it.”

(Video) Language debate: Does Tamil Nadu want Hindi?


Do India should adopt Hindi over inter state communication or not? ›

Yes – Hindi should be the official language.

1. Indian Constitution – The Indian Constitution states that Hindi should be the official language of India.

Why is Hindi the official language of India? ›

Hindi was the language that was adopted by Indian leaders as a symbol of national identity during the struggle for freedom. Hindi has been used as a literary language since the twelfth century.

Who invented Hindi language in India? ›

Modern standard Hindi evolved from the interaction of early speakers of Khari Boli with Muslim invaders from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, and elsewhere. As the new immigrants settled and began to adjust to the Indian social environment, their languages—which were ultimately lost—enriched Khari Boli.


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