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24 June, 2014

Encounter with diversity

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Bharatiya Janata Party claims that its Hindutva ideology is based on cultural nationalism and not connected with the Hindu religion. However, its concept of culture is closely related to Hindu values, more particularly values promoted by sections of the community that dominated the society for long.

Consequently, in the Hindutva discourse, religious minorities constitute the “other”. The BJP and other Hindutva entities have criticised measures by previous governments to safeguard their interests as appeasement.

However, religious pluralism is only one aspect of the wide variety in Indian society which has given rise to the concept of unity in diversity.

The Narendra Modi government, which was swept into office by a pro-Hindutva upsurge, encountered another aspect of India’s diversity when it instructed officials of the central government who have official social network accounts to post messages in the Hindi language.

According to the census report, Hindi, which belongs to the Indo-European group of languages, is the mother tongue of about 45 per cent of the people. The figure has been arrived at on the basis of information provided by householders to the enumerators.

Both the BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, are known to have campaigned among people speaking various allied dialects like Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Haryanvi, Magadhi and Maithili at census time to declare Hindi as their mother tongue to boost its claim for recognition as the national language.

According to the findings of a recent survey, Indians use more than 780 languages and 66 different scripts. During the freedom struggle the Congress party, under Gandhi’s leadership, sought to promote Hindi as the national language. However, when the Congress government in the Madras presidency, provided for study of Hindi in schools, the anti-Brahmin Justice Party’s protests forced it to drop the move.

Vigorous opposition by non-Hindi speaking people, especially the Tamil-speaking people, foiled the efforts of Hindi enthusiasts to get the Congress-dominated body which framed India’s Constitution to grant Hindi the status of national language. It, however, provided for replacement of English with Hindi as the official language of the central government by 1965.

Tamil belongs to the Dravidian group of languages spoken mainly in the south. Tamil speakers are intensely proud of their language and many of them are against exclusive use of Hindi by the Centre.

Protests broke out in Tamil Nadu in the early 1960s when the Centre announced certain steps to promote the use of Hindi on the basis of the recommendations of the Official Languages Commission. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru assured the protesters that Hindi would not be made the sole official language without the concurrence of the non-Hindi states.

In 1963, parliament enacted a law to give effect to Nehru’s assurance. It provided for continued use of English by the Central government, in addition to Hindi, after 1965.

Even so, the Centre took certain steps to promote the use of Hindi in 1965. Protests in Tamil Nadu, spearheaded by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, took a toll of more than 60 lives. The agitation subsided only after prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri went on air and declared that the government would honour Nehru’s pledge to retain English as alternative official language.

The anti-Hindi agitation played a big part in the DMK’s phenomenal growth and its replacement of the Congress as Tamil Nadu’s ruling party in 1967. Since then the state has been continuously under the rule of the DMK or its offshoot, the All India Anna DMK.

The intense feelings of Tamil speakers on the language issue stem from their pride in its antiquity. While Hindi is only five or six centuries old, Tamil boasts of a history of more than two millennia

The BJP-led government’s directive to officials to use Hindi in social networks was ill-timed and imprudent inasmuch as a campaign on these platforms, conducted primarily in English, had made a significant contribution to the party’s electoral triumph.

Both DMK supremo M Karunanidhi and AIADMK leader and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa opposed the government’s action. So did the BJP’s allies in the state.

The BJP’s first prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had addressed the UN General Assembly in Hindi. Media reports have indicated that Modi plans to talk to world leaders in Hindi, with the help of interpreters. Such steps can be justified in terms of patriotism.

Promotion of Hindi at home in a manner unacceptable to speakers of other languages cannot be viewed in the same light since it betrays unwillingness to respect India’s diversity.

Modi has not cared to speak on the language controversy. One hopes the lesson that the government has to be sensitive to the sentiments of all sections of the people has not been lost on him.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 24, 2014.

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