Languages should unite, in India they only divide

This obsession with imposing Hindi on the rest of us is another attempt to divide the country. From being just a language issue, it it's been mixed into the hate agenda of RSS

Languages should unite, in India they only divide

Sujata Anandan

I know the editor of a Marathi newspaper who doesn't speak a word of Marathi. Yet his paper does very well. I also know the editor of an English-language newspaper who can’t speak - or even write – English to save his life. His paper too thrives in the marketplace.

When I noticed these oddities, I was reminded of what my political science professor had said at university – languages are meant to unite people. But in our country they only end up dividing.

Which is what is happening again today as the BJP and RSS attempt to impose Hindi unilaterally on all states and those like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka , Maharashtra and West Bengal with languages far older and more steeped in ancient history than Hindi fight back.

Now what is Hindi? It is only one of the two official languages of India, the other being English. Even Mohan Bhagwat does not speak Hindi like it should be spoken in its purest form, there are too many Marathi colloquialisms to his Hindi and it has an overall Mahakaushal influence as he hails from Vidarbha which was originally a part of the Central Provinces and Berrar that had included what we know as Madhya Pradesh today.

I grew up speaking the Madhya Pradeshi kind of Hindi and was completely at sea in places like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan with their Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Brajbhasha, Bagri and Mewari influences on Hindi – no that is wrong. These were independent languages sounding similar to Hindi but not quite Hindi.

Not the Hindi of Bollywood films and not the Hindi of textbooks. Which is why so many school children in Uttar Pradesh – of all places – fail in Hindi every year. Because clearly Hindi is not their mother tongue - it is just the official language of the state, just as it is in other so-called Hindi belt states of India.

So this obsession with imposing Hindi on the rest of us is pure and simple another attempt to divide the country, as my professor had sadly observed all those years ago. But then at the time it was just a language issue. Now it is mixed into the hate agenda of the RSS which, despite its best efforts, is unable to dominate the non-Hindi belt states of India, barring a couple of exceptions.

I wonder if Narendra Modi and Amit Shah – who one must admit do speak good Hindi - know the history of the language? That it is intertwined with Urdu and Persian which was the official language of many rulers in the north before the arrival of the British and the complete secularisation of the learning of languages.

For those who lament the disappearance of Sanskrit and clamour for its revival, history has a good lesson for why it became a dead language. It was monopolized by Brahmins and all other classes, barring the ancient ayurved practitioners, were denied its use. This meant that no other Indians could seek any knowledge because without the access to the language there was no way they could read the texts and learn for themselves.

It was only in the 18th century when Sir William Jones, posted as a judge in Calcutta, and basically a philologist at heart, tried to study the relationship between Indo-Aryan and European languages that Sanskrit broke through this barrier to become known to the world. But by that time it was virtually dead - the Vaidya (ayurvedic doctor) who taught him the language did so in utter secrecy because he knew he would be severely punished , even put to death, for breaking the taboo on teaching the language to anyone who was not an upper caste Hindu.

However, by then Persian, Urdu and the various dialects of Hindi-sounding languages had gained great ground and when the British system of education was introduced in India, English became the lingua franca of all the educated classes as well as masses – and very few can not understand it today.

In fact a dialogue from the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Lage Raho Munna Bhai reflects this takeover by the only language of this country - Indian English – that can unite and not divide. When Munnabhai is told to talk with ‘vinamrata' to someone and he asks what vinanrata means his friend replies, ‘ ‘‘Vinamrata Hindi mein bole toh polite hota haim bhaj!”

That was brought home to me again recently when a school pass-out domestic help, proud of her ability to read English, was seeking to explain to her mother-in-law how to secure a senior citizens' pension and came to me to ask if I knew what an affidavit was called in the village – because neither her mother-in-law nor anyone else in the village could understand what that meant.

One might say these are the unfavourable fallouts of not having a pure standardised language in the country. But my argument is that no language but English can be that standardised in India and Hindi as we know it will only go as far as Bollywood films take them.

I recall when there was a great resistance to set top boxes in India, the only states affected were the cow belt states because they would then end up missing all the SaaS-bahu aerials without the boxes. Bengal, Maharadhtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and some other states were more tranquil because their favourite soap operas were free to air and they did not care for the Hindi serials.

With parents belonging to two different states, I never felt any ownership to ine particular language. Both my parents spoke English fluently, my father spoke Nalayalam and broken Hindi, my mother spoke broken Tamil and her thesis was a comparison between Khadi Boli and Brijbhasha.

I speak or understand several Indian and Ruropean languages to varying degrees of fluency. I love them all, even if I mix up the tenses in some of them and genders in others. I think our politicians should leave us to our own means of communication and stop this obsession with their version of Hindi.

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines