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Hindi as the National language- advantages and disadvantages.

It's been quite a while since I had the drive or inspiration to write on a subject. A few weeks ago, after watching an episode of "We, the people" on NDTV, I had a long argument with my friend on the subject of Hindi imposition in India. The issue was again discussed in one of the articles in the Times of India today. Personally, I have always considered the ability to understand and speak in Hindi to be an advantage. However, I do not believe that imposing Hindi in schools and organizations throughout the country is the right way to move forward. India is a diverse country, where everyone is free to practice his/her own religion, speak his/her own language... I do not see the necessity of a national language to "unite" us all. When I made this point, my friend said that "you people" conceive this as an "imposition", instead of a duty or a privilege; "when the rest of India is ready to accept Hindi as the national language, why are a few southern states opposing it" - this "morally higher" ground is what got me riled up.

I want to make one point clear, right from the outset. I am proud to be Indian; I have no qualms about opposing the anti-Indian, pro-Tamil-state stance of a few extremist groups from Tamil Nadu; or criticizing the anti-Hindi protests by MNS in Maharashtra, or the pro-Kannada rallies taken out by a few groups in Bangalore. I am not a regionalist; I oppose replacing English with Kannada as the medium of instruction in the schools in Karnataka. All I am opposed to is the imposition of one single language on the entire country. I strongly believe that the people should be given the choice of the language they want to study. If they choose to learn and speak Hindi, then we have no issues. If not, no one should have the right to impose on them, nor should fingers be pointed, purporting a "lack of pride and patriotism". This is what I vehemently disagree with. Am I anti-Hindi? Nope - I am as pro-Hindi, as I am pro-Tamil, or pro-Bengali; or as anti-Hindi as I am anti-Gujarati or anti-Telugu. Most people are not against a particular language, unless someone enforces the language on them. Nothing unites people for a revolt, nothing antagonizes them, more than what one might envisage as an unfair mandate.

According to the 2001 census, 41% of the Indian population are native speakers of the Hindi dialect. By imposing Hindi as the national language, are we not providing an unfair advantage to this 41% of the population? Consider a kid in one of the rural areas of Karnataka, studying in the third grade. Most of the children work, as well as manage to go to school a few days a week. They may not have enough time to spend on learning a new language "Hindi". I believe their time would be spent better, learning English, and other subjects like Mathematics and the sciences. Contrast this kid with a kid from the rural areas in the Hindi speaking belt. He would not have to spend as much time learning "Hindi", as it is his mother tongue. Why should we place 59% of the population in a disadvantageous position?

People might ask - "what about the people in urban areas?" I still would say that the people should be provided with a choice, lest a portion of the population suffer from an unjust handicap. Consider the simple example of admission into a university, after high school. The total score, including the languages, is the criterion for admission in some premier institutions. A kid, studying in Bangalore would be at a disadvantage, as his Hindi would be of lower standard as compared to one from Delhi - leading to a lower score. Given a choice, he might have chosen a third language which neutralizes the playing field, so to say - maybe a classical language like Sanskrit. I took up English, Kannada and Sanskrit as my three languages at school. In spite of this, thanks to my exposure to television and movies, I can understand Hindi, and I am able to talk decently in Hindi. Now, I have an advantage of knowing a fourth language - not unmerited, but a fair leverage. Why leave someone bereft of such an opportunity?

Let everyone be on equal grounds. If the government is bent upon having the non-Hindi speaking states enforce Hindi as a language, by means of their support for the 3 language policy, they should strictly enforce the 3-language policy in the Hindi-speaking states as well. In that case, everyone is learning a foreign language "English", their own native language, which might be Kannada or Hindi, as the case may be, and a third non-native Indian language - all Indians are on equal grounds with no unfair advantage to a single group of people. The issue raised by a few people against this is that there is no single language other than Hindi, that can be universally taught in the Hindi speaking state, as the non-native Indian language. The solution I have for this concern, is to have the states choose from a quorum of official languages - they can always hire teachers from other states, and develop appropriate expertise over time. If they are not successful in implementing equality by means of the 3 language policy, then they should not try to enforce the "third" language on the southern states either.

What really ticks me off is when someone takes the stance that when the other states do not have a problem, why is the issue being raised by the "southern" states? Well, it is the southern states that have their language the most different from Hindi - other languages like Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali etc., all have some commonality with Hindi. To the people from the Southern states, Hindi is as different from their native language, as English is. Also, I would like to point out that in addition to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, West Bengal and Orissa have also traditionally opposed the imposition of Hindi. The North-eastern states, I believe, are always unfairly treated; like step-children, I would say - the voice of their people is not as loud as those from their Southern counterparts. When "we" are the most affected, of course, "we" are the ones who make the loudest opposition. It is not anti-nationalistic if we oppose Hindi; we are as "Indian" as any other citizen from any other state. Equating "Hindi" to "India" is prevarication.

The other issue raised by proponents of the Hindi imposition is that when we are ready to accept English, which is a foreign language, why are we not ready to learn one of our own languages - Hindi. The utility of learning Hindi is much lower, compared to learning English. A person would learn a language if it has utility. Whether one wants to accept it or not, English is the universally accepted as the international language today, and we have to learn this foreign language if we have to survive and compete in today's world. Also, Hindi, a form of Hindustani, which was majorly influenced by the Persians and Mughals, although derived from Sanskrit, could be considered "foreign". Why not make "Sanskrit", the most pure, indigenous language of India as its national language? Why choose one foreign language over another? I do not think anyone would have issue with having Sanskrit as the national language - though impractical, I am just trying to make a point.

Finally, I come back to the democratic idea of choice. Let the people have choice - let them choose to learn or speak in the language they choose. Imposition or enforcement only makes things worse, as has been demonstrated repeatedly in our history. If people are provided with choice, politicians like Raj Thackeray and Karunanidhi lose their ammunition against the establishment; they will no longer be able to use the ignorance of the illiterate masses for their own political mileage. Multilingualism is an integral part of our diversity - let us preserve it. Instead of fighting over unimportant issues like this, people would concentrate on more relevant issues, and we would move forward, as a nation.

Shashaank Singh