Linguistic Chauvinism: The True Face of the Language of National Integration

Hindi academics and writers, a hundred and thirteen of them, from different parts of India have reportedly written a letter to the Prime Minister Narendara Modi and the Home Minister Rajnath Singh urging them not to entertain any requests to add 'Hindi dialects' into the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

A professor who teaches in the Hindi department of the Calcutta University says
Eighth schedule means independent identity of a language. What will remain of Hindi if its key dialects are recognized as separate languages? The only reason Hindi has its status as official language is that it has the highest number of speakers
Well, what can you say of such a statement? Cunningness, lies, falsehoods and falsifications...

Dialects of Hindi?

Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi, Rajasthani, and several more are termed as dialects of Hindi. They are spoken across a vast stretch of landmass across the northern plains and together account for a little more than 40% of all of India's population. But the fundamental question - are they really dialects of Hindi?

To answer this question let us understand what Hindi is. Hindi or Standard Hindi is the modern literary form of Khariboli, which is spoken in the western parts of today's Uttar Pradesh. It was standardized in the 19th century with a heavy borrowing of vocabulary, especially technical and administrative, from Sanskrit. In its spoken form, essentially it is nothing but Khariboli.

Awadhi, which neighbors Khariboli, has been in parallel existence for ages. The famous Ramacharitamanas of Tulsidas, that is now appropriated as ancient Hindi work, is in fact written in Awadhi. Linguists group Awadhi in the Eastern subdivision of Indo-Aryan languages, while Khariboli, is grouped in the Western. How can a language be considered a dialect of another language that belongs to a different linguistic division?

Like Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi, which are often termed as dialects all belong to the Eastern division. In comparison with Khariboli, Rajasthani languages fall under a completely different zone of Indo-European languages, and linguistically are much farther away. Their linguistic proximacy leans more towards Gujarati and Khandeshi - a language spoken in parts of Northern Maharashtra - than towards Hindi.

So, in reality, a large number of northern Indian languages wrongly deemed dialects of Hindi, are distinct languages belonging to different linguistic zones and divisions under the Indo-Aryan language family.

Cooked-up Numbers

We often hear that Hindi is the largest spoken language in India, and that its native speakers number more than 40% of India's population. This huge number becomes possible when many such independent languages are brought under the Hindi hood as its dialects. As per this GoI's website, more than 49 languages were considered as dialects of Hindi in the 2001 census.

Movements in Bihar and Rajasthan, over the past several years, have been demanding their languages, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani respectively, be recognized as independent ones and be included under Schedule Eight. Their demand is well-grounded and it is their right to get their due. So if it is so fair, why are Hindi academics crying foul?

Hindi Fanaticism

The answer lies in Hindi fanaticism. It is this fanaticism that has ensured the declaration of Hindi as the sole official language of the Union, with constitutional sanction to impose the language on all of India's peoples, even if they are unwilling. Constitutional sanction does not only imply that a few academics or a section of people believe in Hindi fanaticism. It also clearly exposes the imperialist attitude of the Delhi establishment. 

Fanaticism has also slyly made sure to build a false association of Hindi with Indian nationalism. Such a false association was built on the myth that most of India (read it northern India) speaks Hindi as its native language. As large as 40%. And to add to it, it was propagated that another large portion of the population understands Hindi and it makes all the more sense for the remaining 'minuscule' population to learn and use the language. This way all Indians could communicate freely, and achieve 'national integration'. Sounds Utopian, but reality is far different.

Now that the speakers of Hindi 'dialects' are increasingly becoming aware of their rights the threat to this utopia, built on myths, appear imminent. This is so plainly evident in the professor's statement in which he questions what will be left of Hindi now? Clearly they are threatened by the developments in Bihar and Rajasthan, two prominent states of the Hindi belt.

Language Rights Vital for the Union

To a Hindi fanatic, it is fine to deny the right to identity and recognition to language communities. It is all fine if speakers of these languages are denied their right to education in their language. Denying their right to administrative use of their language is not a serious issue. After all, it is a small sacrifice in return. It is the same logic that is applied on language communities of the South and elsewhere too. Hindi in administration is imposed on them. What else justifies the official language status to Hindi alone in a union where hundreds of languages are spoken?

It is good to see an increased linguistic awareness in people. It is good for the Union of India, as a whole as well. For, we cannot have a stable union with a vast section of the population being denied their basic linguistic human rights for long. It will shatter us some day. So, in the interest of the union and in acceptance of people's linguistic rights, the union should accord them the due recognition.  In a democracy people's rights are far more important than Hindi-chauvinistic intentions of the Delhi establishment and people with similar beliefs in the academia.


Joga Virk said...

If Garhwali is a dialect of Hindi, then why Dogri is not a dialect of Punjabi? Dogri has a thousand times more nearness to standard Punjabi than the languages like Garhwali and Hindi have.

Ghataprabha said...

Thank you for writing this. Do you think, however, that the same sense of alienation exists among the smaller languages of the Hindustan belt as exists amongst speakers of Dravidian languages? Its also been a curiosity of mine as an outsider to their culture how the bhojpuri or bundeli speaker regards the dissipation of their language and identity. My assumption has been that the common descent from Shauraseni prakrit perhaps 15 centuries ago has allowed some residual affinity to persist. Interestingly, although this family includes Gujarati and Punjabi, and those linguistic groups have maintained their identities, it is towards the Magadhi prakrit regions of Bihar that Hindi has assimilated new 'native' speakers. The long arc of history has seen gangetic civilization's center of gravity slowly migrate from east to west. The cultural prestige of Bihar has receded to point that they don't dignify their languages as anything more than dialects (I generalize, but i have yet to meet these resistors to hindi hegemony outside of activist circles, whereas in dravidian regions linguistic honor is a fairly common sentiment)
Karnataka's cultural distance from hindustan, and the fundamental dissimilarity of Kannada to Hindi, is so obvious that a complete capitulation to Hindi supremacy is unlikely in the near term. My concern is the longer horizon , of sleepwalking into an irreversible union where our language and heritage have been so uncultivated for generations and knowledge of our people's history so obscured, that we look for meaning in the colonist's culture and not our own. I think this process is well underway. Unfortunately, and at our own peril, this issue is dismissed as alarmism.

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