Friday, June 20, 2014

What India is Not

A lot of noise has been generated by a Government of India circular, asking all Ministries to use Hindi in the social media space. Indeed, there is news of English-speaking bureaucrats in Delhi being forced to find a Hindi dictionary in order to keep working. But a serious consequence of this is in all the non-Hindi speaking states of India (which make up a majority) and in particular, Tamil Nadu, which has historically opposed the imposition of Hindi to the point of threatening secession.

The problem lies directly with the Hindi-speaking chauvinists who believe that Hindi is the "national language." In fact, Constitutionally, there are 22 national languages and Hindi, along with English, is the official language of the Union Government while different state government have their own official languages (and most have more than one, not counting English). The Union Government is representative of all of India and not just the Hindi-speaking majority (a majority of about 41%, in fact) - it is not a tool for the majority to use against the minority. There are many millions in India who cannot speak Hindi and do not need it and they are in no way anti-national: they are as patriotic as anyone from Bihar or UP.

This entire controversy is pointless because it opens up what was a settled compromise. The three-language formula (English+Hindi+local language), however cumbersome and still favoring those whose mother tongue is Hindi, was an acceptable solution that has kept the nation together. English might be a foreign language but for India, it is the only language that does not come with the baggage of region or community and therefore, the only language that does not generate hate. The nation-state itself is highly unsuited to India because India, though one country, is made of many nations. The idea of a homogeneous nation-state where everyone speaks one language came from the European colonizers and is not worthy of emulation by their ruling successors.

It is important that the Modi sarkaar realizes that, despite most of its votes and seats having come from North India, it is the government of all of India. That is simply how democracy works and doing anything to the contrary will lead to situations like Iraq. The status quo of using both Hindi and English in its official communications, despite being set in favor of Hindi-speaking states, is acceptable from an administrative perspective. There is no need to turn a government into an agent of cultural hegemony by asking bureaucrats to promote either language. 

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