Nation Current Affairs 09 Jun 2019 In the land of many ...

In the land of many tongues, Hindi can’t be lingua franca

Published Jun 9, 2019, 4:59 am IST
Updated Jun 9, 2019, 4:59 am IST
India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world.
A protest against imposition of Hindi
 A protest against imposition of Hindi

“India is a museum Of Tongues.” In a Linguistic state all languages are important and equal. There is no question- which is more equal!

Acceptance of Hindi should be organic. Draft of the new education policy has stirred a controversy with reference to making “learning Hindi mandatory”. The government has since revised its stand. Southern states and Tamil Nadu in particular are opposed to imposition of Hindi and think it as a brutal assault on them.


Modi government has hit the bullseye. The very first release of the national education policy has become controversial. Language is a major market of human identity – Urdu and Hindi  – have become proxies for Muslim and Hindu identity. India has managed till now its astonishing linguistic diversity.

The emotions and rhetoric aside, the idea of a “unifying” language suffers from many a logical fallacy.  By advocating such a policy, it is implied that non-Hindi speaking population are somewhat less Indian. Pursuing such policies will only sow seeds of division in a country that boasts of 1,652 languages and dialects.

Newly appointed Minister for HRD Ramesh Pokhriyal has gotten baptism by fire thanks to Mr Kasthurirangan’s report on educational policy which had made Hindi a must learn language. This report had made an uncalled for sweeping policy recommendation of imposing Hindi – clearly to be wanting to be on the right side of the ruling party. Three-language formula was formulated some 50 years ago and is being flogged till today without much success.

The BJP’s predecessor, the Jan Sangh, held that a nation could be united and strong only when its citizens adhered to the same religion and spoke the same language. Ironically, the best –  rather, worst – example of this out-dated model of nationalism is Pakistan, which the Jan Sangh hated and the BJP hates even more. The Jan Sangh’s slogan of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ is a direct adaptation to Indian conditions of Jinnah’s idea that only one who is a Muslim and speaks Urdu can be a true Pakistani.

Linguistic diversity is not lack of unity!  The idea of a unifying language is absurd. It will be a tragedy if the Indian identity is pinioned to a particular language, region or religion.

Intolerance and ideology are threatening the unity .The song – Mile sur thumhara hamara – promotes national integration! Hindi films have done more for Hindi propagation than the Centre’s ham handed efforts so far.

In fact, we Southies respect Hindi. What we are against and will resist is chauvinism of any sort. Linguistic hegemony doesn’t augur well for a plural society like India and it is detrimental to our cultural progress.

English is the mother tongue only for 0.21 million people in India, whereas 130 million speak and write English.  Hindi is spoken by 211 million Indians. India has no national language. Hindi in Devanagari script and English are only the official languages (K.M. Munshi and Gopalaswamy Ayyangar  formula!)

The government should not impose any language on anyone as ours is a nation formed on linguistic lines. There should be respect for diversity from everyone, more so from the government.

Hindi cannot unite the nation. It is perceived as a language of North India. There is a strong undercurrent of distrust and aversion in the minds of South Indians. North Indians look down upon “Madrasis”. Northies feel they are fair descendants of Aryans with a false sense of superiority.

 Hindi cannot wipe away this feeling of distrust. Seventy years after Independence, India has not been able to address the question of language satisfactorily one way or the other.

Our nationalism is an inclusive heterogeneous nationalism. There is a distinct history of formation of states based on the language. Once the linguistic states are formed, Hindi has very little chance of becoming the Lingua Franca.

India is a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. The beauty of India is unity in diversity – diversity of religions, languages, faiths, philosophies, cultures, habits etc. The unity behind all this diversity makes India one of its kind.

Hindus are by far the largest religious group – 85% of the population. But India is a secular republic and not a Hindu state. Hindi is spoken only by the 43% of the population and cannot be imposed. Children are blessed with ability to learn multiple languages. The multi-lingual children are better placed to tackle today’s complex global requirements. With an acute shortage of teachers, at an estimated 10 lakh, this centrally mandated three-language formula is a non-starter.

A sensible policy and a way forward would be

For primary education, the medium of instruction should be – mother tongue or local language with one hour of English every day!

For secondary and higher education, medium of instruction should be English with adequate allocation to learn and excel in the mother tongue or local language.

Additional languages – Optional, Hindi, Sanskrit, Spanish, Japanese, Mexican, Chinese etc. with ease of business in mind.

English rules!

Working knowledge of English has become a requirement in a number of fields, occupations and professions. English is nowadays the dominant or official language in over 60 countries.

India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world.

India is the third largest English-using population in the world, after the USA and the UK.

In education, English is the most common medium – 87% of all the situations.

It is the primary language used in international affairs. The English language has official status even in nations where it is not the primary spoken language.

English is indisputably the primary language of global trade and commerce. The primary language of the ubiquitous and all-influential World Wide Web is English. English is the language of internet. It is typically the language of latest-version applications and programs and new freeware, shareware, peer-to-peer, social media networks and websites.

In the ladder of upward mobility English is at the top. In North India there is a three-language system. Down South it appears there is only a two-language system – English and the local language. The central government, while using Hindi predominantly, has created structural imbalance between Hindi and non-Hindi languages.

Encroachment of Hindi in south is visible with Hindi speaking personnel in central establishments, immigration banks and radio broadcasts making us alien in our own land. A day when pushback happens like in 1965 or more recently like Jallikattu against Hindi colonisation should not be discounted.

Rather than wasting resources on imposing Hindi and fuelling regionalism, the government could consider resuscitating lost languages or those languages that are on the verge of extinction. Jai Hind!

— The Prof. Dr. N. Prabhudev is a former Director. Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology