The imposition of Hindi by the centre on the non-Hindi-speaking regions of India has always been a subject of discussion. It has recently been triggered by the extensive usage of Hindi on the Bangalore Metro. Multiple claims and arguments have been made for and against the cause. Here is a logical and balanced take on the issue. This was originally a post on Facebook by Mr. Sharath Bhat Seraje which I have translated to English with his permission.
There were and are hundreds of people who have voiced their opinions for and against Hindi imposition, and yet lot of misconceptions have remained. As the Kannada poet Da.Ra.Bendre said “a hundred trees will have a hundred voices”, opposing views are common and they should exist. However, this time it has just been a lot for noise for no real purpose. I am open to comments and corrections but please do not argue for the sake of it.
1. Why is there a hatred towards Hindi? People behind this are the lazy ones who are not capable of learning Hindi.
Neither is this a movement against the Hindi language, nor does it discourage or demean those who want to learn Hindi. Kannada poet Manjeshwara Govinda Pai had learnt fifteen languages, Shatavadhani Ganesh is known to have learnt eighteen languages. There is no one stopping you from learning more than that. Another Kannada poet B. M. Srikantaiah, an admirer and a scholar of both English and Sanskrit, spoke about how Kannada has been troubled by both the languages. Our intention is to make sure that Hindi does not get precedence over other languages. We do respect all the languages and we should maintain the same. Moreover, a lot of us love and admire Hindi. I personally have spent hours together reading Hindi shayaris, Hindi books in their original form, and I have also translated a story from Hindi to Kannada. But that is not the point here. When a child is instructed by the parents not to watch TV or to stop playing cricket and start studying, does it mean that the parents hate cricket or that they are against watching TV? No, no, not at all! They just want the child to give precedence to studying over other activities. Similarly, our discussion is about how much priority should be given to Hindi. Just like how a parent is expected to provide equal educational opportunities to all her children, the government should treat all languages equally (and not put just one of them on a pedestal). All Indian languages are equal in the sense that all languages are ‘regional’. Hindi alone should not resort to chest thumping with the false assumption it is the only ‘national language’. We are of the opinion that all of them are national languages. The government should not encourage this attitude of one language being superior to the others. We want to be friends with Hindi speakers, but at the same time we do not need to deem them superior. We want to just make it clear that Hindi and Hindi imposition are two entirely different things. It can be understood using this analogy which Ms. Aparna used in her article in “Kannada Prabha” newspaper: There is a difference between someone voluntarily buying a piece of chocolate at the store and having to buy one forcibly because the shopkeeper has no change. The same applies here as well.
2. Why don’t you talk about English (imposition)?
A counter question to answer this question: Where had you vanished when the discussion about English was happening? Along the same lines, in the past century or so, there have not been discussions about any other language as much as there have been about English. Kannada movement has a history of at least one hundred years. As mentioned earlier, poet B.M.Sri has talked about English, Sanskrit, as well as Hindi affecting Kannada. A number of Kannada literary giants including Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Sediyapu Krishna Bhat, Kuvempu and U R Anantamurthy among others, have voiced their opinions about English. Apart from writers and poets, many individuals and organisations have raised their voices against the forceful imposition of both English and Hindi. Those who allege that English imposition is not being discussed are just turning a blind eye, intentionally or unintentionally. To top it all, my first blog post is about English! None of the aforementioned persons have discouraged learning English and have clearly recognised the advantages of learning the English language. Their main concern was that one should not forget Kannada for the sake of English and consequently English should not become an enemy of Kannada.
3. Can’t we get rid of English instead of Hindi?
We are not like frogs in a well. We need contact with the outside world and we cannot live in a marooned island without a link language. We need a way to access the knowledge that is documented in other languages. The next question is which of the two languages under consideration is most suited to be the link language. A trip to Mangalore, Udupi or to smaller towns such as Balehonnur or to Badiyadka near the Kerala border should provide an answer. If you survey a few display boards, you will observe that most of them are written only in Kannada, or in Kannada and English but never in Hindi. Another case is of the wedding invitations. You will find only Kannada and English there as well and never Hindi. In what language do our people sign? Is there anyone in Karnataka who has a signature in Hindi? Among the numerous private schools we have, try to count the number people who have gone to Hindi medium schools. Among those who have studied science, engineering, medicine and law, how many have studied their subjects/courses in Hindi? The people themselves have shown preference to English over Hindi as the link language by making such choices every day. We read the instructions of how to link our Aadhar with PAN in English and not in Hindi. During the golden age of Islam, Muslim intellectuals translated many Sanskrit books to Persian. This was not imposed on them by anyone, instead they were attracted by the treasure cove of knowledge that was in Sanskrit and voluntarily translated into Persian in order to spread the same to their part of the world. Newton wrote his works in Latin and not in English, which was his mother tongue. The status that Latin and Sanskrit enjoyed in those days has now been taken over by English. Everyone needs the advantages that English offers today. We can regulate the status and the extent of usage of English in our society such that it does not pose a threat to our own languages. When such is the case, comparing English with Hindi is like asking why Tendulkar gets to open and not Kumble, though both Kumble and Tendulkar are capable of holding the bat. Link language exists for the sake of utility. It is obvious that the first choice of a link language by the people would be the one that has more utility. As mentioned before, there is no opposition to learning English or Hindi by anyone. The concern here is that the learning of other languages should not be a threat to Kannada.
4. You realised all this only when Modi came to power.
These discussions were on when Manmohan Singh was in power as well. Even before that, that is even before independence, there have been protests, movements, discussions and demonstrations for the same cause. Some may have linked this to politics but that does not change the narrative. It is advisable that both parties, for and against, should keep politics out of this.
5. This is a ‘roll-call protest’ (You are getting paid by vested interests to do this).
Please let us know who pays roll-call for this. If we are indeed getting as much money as these Hindi-lovers claim, I will gladly quit my job and take this up full time. I have been working for this cause for the last eight years and have not received a single rupee from the Hindi speakers. Wonder who decides how much roll-call is paid. Perhaps the sons of Hindi-maata should decide.
6. Discussions about Kirik Keerthi (a new-age self-proclaimed pro-Kannada activist who went viral on YouTube and subsequently entered BigBoss).
More than half of those arguing against us have reserved more than half of their strength to take on Kirik Keerthi. They have ignored what the poets, writers and scholars have said and conveniently chosen to counter only what Kirik Keerthi has said. Even the articles recently written by Vasudhendra, Aparna in Kannada Prabha and the relevant content by teams such as Banavasi Balaga, Munnota and individuals like Vasant Shetty have been completely disregarded.
7. What is wrong in having Hindi on the Bangalore Metro display boards?
This discussion has a socio-political context. The display boards used in the Bangalore Metro only served as a trigger. The bigger question should be about the preferential treatment of Hindi over other languages. The status of Hindi in comparison with Kannada should be clearly discussed. Kannada has completely disappeared from banks, railway, milestones on highways, LIC and even from cooking gas cylinders. There are those who are pushing to get a union territory status to Bangalore. Companies like Flipkart that are based in Bangalore communicate only in English and Hindi with their customers. Bus conductors, auto-rickshaw drivers, cab drivers and shopkeepers who cannot speak Hindi are treated like barbarians by many. A cab company has made it mandatory for its drivers to know Hindi. One of the governors has propagated Hindi saying it is our duty to learn the language. Just yesterday a bunch of people protested in a shopping mall because a girl there did not/could not respond to them in Hindi. UPSC exams are available in Hindi and none of the other Indian languages. There is an endless list of such problems. It has also become common to see posts on Facebook which call for ‘banning this local language’ .
8. Why are you making such big issue out of this? What has happened to Kannada now?
I received a call from Axis bank yesterday. The person on the line straightaway spoke to me in Hindi. I do not understand why he thought Hindi would be the most preferred language in Bangalore. The same is reflected in areas such as Marathalli, Whitefield and MG road. Parents in big cities talk to their kids in English. Most parents are not aware of songs written for children in Kannada. Kids don’t read stories in Kannada. They learn Ramayana and Mahabharata in English.
The language gradually dies if this trend continues. At one point of time, Europe had over one thousand languages, out of which only about twenty-five are left today. Pakistan government imposed Urdu on everyone which troubled the languages of Punjabis and Sindhis, despite them being more in number. English has sidelined Irish in Ireland and completely wiped out numerous African languages. Sanskrit and Latin, which once enjoyed the same status as that of English today, are not being spoken as everyday languages. Prakrit and Pali languages of our country have completely died out. Around one hundred and ninety languages in India are currently at the verge of extinction. Languages do not die overnight, instead they undergo a gradual process of extinction. Though we cannot claim any near-to-death status for Kannada, it is true that has been severely infected. Instead of trying to fetch a doctor when the language is about to die, it is easier to treat it every time it falls sick.
9. We need a national language for the unity of the nation.
Has there been an instance where Karnataka has declared war on Madhya Pradesh in the last seventy years? Has there been a civil war between Kerala and Gujarat? We are living in unity to a great extent. We have had problems relating to corruption and poverty but never once because we do not have a national language. There are people protesting for food, water, employment, better transport conditions and electricity among others, but only a handful for a ‘national language’. Till date there are around sixty crore people who do not know Hindi who have never posed a threat to the unity of the country. Did the entire nation know Hindi during the freedom struggle? And yet the whole country fought for the cause in unison. When Gandhiji came to Mangalore, a local translated/interpreted his speech to either Kannada or Tulu. Where there is a will, there is a way. They say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Is it not breaking unity if one tries to find a cure for a non-existent disease?