Yes, this is how many Indians, especially Hindi speakers, will look at it. But to all the non-Hindi peoples, it is business as usual. After all, we are used to the linguistic imperialism of the Indian Union on a daily basis. It has been happening for decades now. A conference held somewhere in the Hindi heartland is not a big deal and does not surprise us. We very well understand that many topics of discussion in the conference will have scant respect for our linguistic rights. Infact they are aimed at impinging on our rights, consciously or otherwise. The imperialists and their apologists will cheer at how this will help increase India's influence abroad and re-inforce 'national integration'. While we will continue to silently suffer the humiliation of losing our self-respect and identities.
'What is wrong with a Hindi conference?', one may ask. After all, don't the other languages too have their own literature 'sammelanas'? Yes, it is true. There is nothing wrong in organizing a conference for Hindi. But the question is, how justified is the Government of India in organizing an event like this for Hindi alone? External Affairs Ministry or any arm of the Indian Union does not organize such an event for Kannada or Marathi or Assamese. Are these languages any less Indian? The Union Government is a representative of all linguistic peoples, not Hindi speakers alone. If the Ministry of External Affairs promotes Hindi globally, to be fair and just, should it not promote all the other languages of India, at least the widely spoken ones, with equal zeal? Why is public money that belongs to peoples of all linguistic groups being used to promote the interests of a single language community? To be fair the Union Government should promote all languages equally or none.
Let us also take a look at the topics of discussion at the conference, and see how they do not comply with the conventions for linguistic rights that are internationally accepted. One of the main topics is the use of Hindi in external affairs. Again, it is the same question that arises. Why this preferential treatment to Hindi alone? Does Hindi represent all of India? One may argue that it is better to have one of 'our' languages represent India globally. To the non-Hindi peoples, Hindi may fall within the Indian border but that does not mean they can call it 'ours'. In fact, Hindi and English are equally foreign to us, and Hindi does not in any way represent us better than does English. The Gujarat High Court verdict declaring Hindi as foreign to Gujaratis is to be noted here.
Also, it is ironic that India is seeking 129 votes from the United Nations' member states to recognize Hindi as one of official languages there. While the Indian Union itself aims to have only Hindi as its official language (as per the Constitution Hindi should be the sole official language, and English to continue on a temporary basis till the time Hindi becomes acceptable everywhere), and refuses to grant official status to any other for the fear of 'repercussions'. How hypocritical can it get?
Promotion of Hindi among the Indian diaspora is also a subject of discussion. There is also a proposal to engage educational institutes in foreign countries through the Indian missions to encourage and promote teaching of Hindi. Does Indian diaspora only mean Hindi speaking people? If you take the example of Gulf countries, there is a large number of Indians from Kerala and other states of southern India. Why should Hindi be promoted among those non-Hindi speaking peoples? People of different linguistic communities of India have settled in various parts of the world. Is it fair to make use of their presence to promote Hindi there in the name of Indianness? A Malayalee settled in the Gulf, for example, would want his kids to learn Malayalam and not Hindi. In all fairness, the Indian Government should provide for facilities to learn and promote Malayalam there. Promoting Hindi alone is not fair to non-Hindi Indians.
Hindi in Administration is another topic in the theme. It surely benefits the people in the Hindi speaking areas, but as mentioned earlier, we non-Hindis have suffered the imposition of Hindi through administration for several decades now. Though this topic has been covered in depth in Karnatique, and elsewhere, I will take one example to highlight the daily plight of the non-Hindis. In many nationalized banks, most printed material are made available in Hindi and English. While the RBI rules do state that such forms should also be made available in 'regional' languages, they are usually not found or are very small in number. When you question the bank officials, they usually cite the lack of supply from the head office/ branch. With a common bank examination offered only in Hindi and English, many people with no knowledge of the local languages are posted as bank officers. Imagine the plight of a non-Hindi native, who has to not only deal with an alien language on printed material but also in the mouths of unhelpful bank officials and executives. While a Hindi speaker can conduct all his transactions with ease even in non-Hindi regions.
Banks, insurance, national highways, railways, various citizen services - the list is endless. Name the subject that falls under the jurisdiction of the Union Government, Hindi is imposed unabated there. It comes as no surprise that spreading of Hindi in north-eastern and southern states will also be considered in the conference. Has any other Indian language community discussed or debated about spreading their language in a state where that language is not native, with the objective of coaxing the natives to adopt it for daily use?
It is true that India is seeking to expand its influence globally as a powerful state that is also democratic and honourable. As the state grows and matures, not just economically but also in human values, it is important that it re-evaluate some of its founding principles from the perspective of linguistic equality. In the past, states sought to artificially introduce uniformity owing to concerns of balkanization. Abuse of ethnic and linguistic rights, covertly or overtly, became necessary. But as we have seen, such states have eventually disintegrated. Respect for each language is more likely to help achieve integration than promoting a single language. Also, mature democracies have evolved to respect linguistic rights as a matter of principle. If India is to emerge as a mature and honourable state, it should reconsider its official language law.