Outlook India reports that an editorial published recently, to coincide with the Hindi Diwas celebrations, in the RSS organ Panchajanya says "Hindi has the potential to unite the country". The organization’s strong position to have Hindi, especially Sanskritized Hindi, as a single linguistic unifying factor for the whole of the Indian Union is quite well known. Ofcourse not everyone approves of the organization’s stance. Often, there are questions raised asking if Hindi is really the right choice for a link language or a ‘unifying language’ for India. As someone, who also disagrees with RSS’s stance I would want to address a more fundamental question here: does India really need a single language to unite?
What makes people think that India is not united now and that there is a need of a monotony to bind this vast landmass of one plus billion people together? Obviously, there is a ton of linguistic diversity, and one may argue that such linguistic and cultural differences may lead to eventual disintegration unless there is a single bond that ties them all together. But it is not as simple as it appears on the surface. Inducing a common language, and promoting its use extensively through education, administration, employment, financial services etc., will lead to that language acquiring a superior status over native languages. As this language becomes more powerful and begins occupying the registers of the native languages, those native languages will be severely restricted in use, especially in the public domain. Native language speakers will certainly raise objections to their language being gradually side-lined and this will inevitably lead to frictions.
The editorial talks of how ‘efforts’ were made by some to create a rift between Hindi and ‘regional’ languages thus affecting the growth of Hindi. But when native language speakers face the loss of several registers to Hindi and realize their mother tongue being gradually pushed to a second grade status, resistance is expected. In fact it is the imposition of Hindi that has created an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust leading to opposition. It is not a deliberate attempt to manufacture dissent, not an impression created by pro-English language elements, nor is it a myth that is being perpetuated, as claimed by the editorial.
I am reminded of a statement in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights that talks about the factors affecting or leading to the violation of linguistic rights of peoples across the globe. The document first mentions the following as one of very critical factors from which linguistic communities need to be protected.
The age-old unifying tendency of the majority of states to reduce diversity and foster attitudes opposed to cultural plurality and linguistic pluralism.
States that perceive linguistic plurality or diversity as divisiveness will try to introduce a common linguistic factor so that it serves as an icon that all peoples of the entire state can associate with. Presumably, this induced common feature should help them transgress the pettiness of associating with ‘divisive’ factors. But as we have learnt from history such moves have only backfired. Pushing an alien tongue down the throats of an unsuspecting or unwilling people will lead to ill will and confrontations. On the other hand, promoting mutual respect towards one another’s languages and helping each language community use and develop their language without any sort of external meddling or interferences offer more opportunities to foster an environment of harmony and unity among language communities.
So, promoting Hindi as “"the symbol of Bharat” is a bad idea with respect to the integrity of the Indian Union. One language can never be the linguistic emblem of India. If there is one then it is linguistic diversity. More it is respected and fostered, stronger and more integrated will the Indian Union be.
With regards to the use of English still being prevalent in India the editorial says “English is not a language of our preference. It was imposed on us by British.” It is true that excepting a fraction of English educated people, most of India cannot speak or communicate in English effectively. Truly, it is not a language of India’s preference. But Hindi is not a language of India’s preference either. Except in states and regions where the language is spoken it is alien to most of India. The British imposed English. And now the Indian Union has been imposing Hindi for over six decades. To a non-Hindi speaker, both are imperialist in nature and not much different. Only that English is found to be a lesser evil owing to its usage in administration by the British for a few centuries in the past, its continued use today in India, and the emergence of English as a business language with the promise of better employment opportunities globally. In any case, given the options, a non-Hindi speaker would neither prefer English nor Hindi but would rather prefer his own mother tongue.
Strengthening Hindi will strengthen the Hindi speaking community. It does not necessarily strengthen the whole of India. One needs to strengthen each language equally, so that each strengthened language community will collectively lead to a strong India. And strengthening Hindi alone will inevitably tilt the balance of power in favour of Hindi speakers. This will have its repercussions too. Many native language communities have expressed opposition to the state of Hindi hegemony resulting from this tilt of balance of power. Unfortunately, their voices have always been suppressed calling them ‘parochial’, ‘chauvinistic’, ‘hate-mongering’, ‘fringe’ and what not.
Talking about the overall authority of English in the domain of law the editorial says “English is entrenched deeply in the Supreme Court functioning, file notings of bureaucracy and conduct of policy discussions, which is very dangerous”. True, this is not just a cause of inconvenience to Indians but in many cases may even result in denial of justice to common people who have poor or no knowledge of English. But imagine English being replaced with Hindi. What will this mean to a Kannadiga or a Tamilian or a Bengali? Needless to say, it is a worse off situation to non-Hindi speakers. It also raises the fundamental question of who the Indian Union really represents. The Indian Union should represent a Kannada speaker equally as it does a Hindi speaker. So, as a representative of Kannada speakers it is duty-bound to get the Supreme Court or any other public institution function in Kannada. And not just in Kannada, in all the widely spoken languages. That would be a fair representation.
Also, the editorial’s support to make Hindi as one of the official languages of the United Nations smacks of hypocrisy. When it wants Hindi to have an upper hand in the whole of India and makes no mention of granting official status to any of the other scheduled languages, how does it justify itself to support the official status to Hindi in the United Nations? Doesn’t this expose major fallacies in the organization’s idea of India, in which all of linguistic identities, except one, find themselves in a subordinated position? Why should non-Hindi speakers support such a hypocritical stance of the RSS? Why should they accept a lower-ranking position for themselves?
In the past, many freedom fighters, considered the founding fathers of India, did back Hindi to be accorded the status of the national language, which would serve as a common link across India’s diverse linguistic landscape. Though India has time and again faced opposition from a few linguistic groups with respect to having Hindi as a common link language, it has been able to maintain a popular narrative that such a common language is indeed necessary for the purposes of ‘national integration’. But as observed by UNESCO itself, such attitudes not just undermine diversity but will also be counter-productive in achieving the desired result of integration. It is time the Indian Union, and outfits like the RSS, stop considering linguistic diversity as a bane to Indian unity. They should understand and appreciate linguistic diversity, and endorse provision of equal status and rights to all languages and its speakers, regardless of their numbers, territory, or influence.