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Disowned Legacy of Languages

The month of September has been undoubtedly very significant for Hindi lovers in India as 15 long days have been designated to celebrate Hindi, the official language (the other being English) of the country.

A dedicated fortnight to Hindi language seems more like an annual ritual to be celebrated with festivity. It sparks off a series of events honouring Hindi literary writers to various competitions in government offices and colleges.

It appears that suddenly Hindi has surged on the surface after remaining underground for 350 days to grab all the attention. It’s a coincidence that the ‘Hindi Fortnight’ falls in a month when most of Hindus observe Pitrpaksh, a fortnight in which they invoke pitr, the departed souls of the forefathers to come down and visit them, watch their status and accept their offerings and bless them in return.

The Hindi language is sadly, meted out the same treatment. 

Incidentally, Hindi is not dead. It has survived despite multiple challenges. Therefore, it does not require tarpan but samarpan from its users to overcome such challenges. Of course, many steps have been taken but a lot has to be done.

Hindi has travelled a long way, seen many ups and downs and has survived with the formula of adaptability. As we all know Hindi is primarily existing amidst various dialects of the central states of the country.

It has already left behind its sanskrit-ized pure entity to embrace Hindustani to keep itself alive. Currently, Hindi is being challenged by the dominance and supremacy of English language. Hindi is being left with no other way to survive but to take resort to the idea of transformation. It is trying to fit in as Hinglish these days.

It is a matter of concern that despite all these efforts, Hindi has failed to earn the respect it deserves. Even the qualities like being accommodative and warm to the other languages, have failed to fetch due regard for Hindi. It appears as our colonial mind set is still at work. It is painful to see that when it comes to give respect, we bow down to master’s language and disdain our mother tongue. 

 According to Census 2011, 52 out of 121 Crore people identified Hindi as their language. This shows that 44% Indians accept Hindi as their mother tongue. This data does not include people who can read and write in Hindi despite having another language as their mother tongue.

This also not includes the people who can understand Hindi (courtesy Indian Film and Television Industry) but may not read or write. This number may seem sufficient to claim that Hindi is still a widely spoken language of the country. Comparative analysis of the successive census reports show that Hindi speakers are increasing steadily. Hindi supporters can be happy with the fact that Census 2001 had 41% population identifying with Hindi which has, later, increased to 44% in Census 2011.

The increasing number of speakers may make us feel good for a while but the fading respect for Hindi is causing a big concern and compels one to reflect on the situation again to dig deeper for the issue at hand.

The reason why Hindi is not getting its due can be looked from multiple perspectives. Is it happening because English is replacing Hindi? Well, we all know the answer.

The liberalization and globalization of 90s had opened the floodgate of opportunities to the millennials to the West where English enjoyed a global language status. It was important to be fluent in this language in order to fit in. 

Soon they identified that being conversant in English language can give them an edge over their counterparts even in the matters of their career and employability. So people rushed to learn English cornering and disregarding Hindi and other vernaculars both. In the era of commercialization where utility plays the most significant role, Hindi got left behind unattended, unlamented.

The education system of India also got carried away in the same current- acknowledging English language, more than any other language prevalent in India. English medium schools flourished like mushrooms in last two decades.

Even the lowest strata of urban society started sending their kids to English medium schools. It is a harsh reality that there are no takers of Hindi medium school today. Only government schools are instructing in Hindi where poor children go as they cannot afford English medium schools. This phenomenon has affected Hindi badly and is sure to create a lasting impact.

 The rise in regional and indigenous aspiration is also putting a threat before Hindi these days. Several dialects like Bhojpuri and Magahi are demanding a separate recognition. Many cultural shifts are taking place within the umbrella of Hindi.

The assertion for the identity of one’s language, literature and culture has increased manifold. As the result, those who used to identify with Hindi earlier, are looking for separate identity. All of this aids to the certain class divide leading to Hindi, non-English speakers being looked down upon as inferior.

Whatever may be the reason, the fact that the respect for Hindi speakers is decreasing, demands immediate attention. The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has been announced recently with many provisions to enhance quality education (which only time will assess) in the country.

In this new policy the 3-language policy has been adopted which suggests schools to keep the medium of instruction local/regional up till class 5 which can be exceeded to class 8. There are various other provisions also to boost the poor status of not just Hindi but of all Indian languages.

How shall we look at it? As an obstacle or as an opportunity?  An attempt to save native languages or as an agenda of retrieving past? What about English language and its hegemonic presence in the market? There can be many queries, arguments and counter arguments in the favour of English. But we must understand that it’s not about English Hatao but Hindi Bachao. There is no sense in choosing one over the other in the era of cultural hybridity.

Languages can co-exist and formulate ways to live together. It is us who need to acknowledge and enjoy being bi- or tri-lingual. The cognitive science has already established the fact that one can master many languages if exposed at early stages. So it is irrational to be apprehensive about it. Interestingly, India being polyglot society, it comes naturally to us. We just need to cultivate it. 

In fact, what we require today is to embrace the linguistic plurality as an asset rather than burden. Fortunately, we are living in the times when n-number of media are available which can multiply reach within seconds.

Moreover, oral culture is no more culture of illiterates, the usage of language can be enhanced and preserved through new media. Evidently, if we cannot preserve and promote our languages now, we will never be able to do it ever.

Our language is a legacy, a heritage which we are expected to handover to our next generation. It is not merely a black & white scribbling but has hues of experiences our forefathers have had over centuries. They have embellished our language with so many idioms and phrases carrying many histories and politics of their times.

There are so many culture markers and so much local knowledge hidden in it. Letting a language go into oblivion is like allowing our legacy to go away. Believe me, language is a precious inheritance given by ancestors’ to be kept with utmost love and care so that next time when we invoke our forefathers to visit us, we have language to communicate with them. Most of them don’t understand English, you know. 

P.S. If you are wondering why an article advocating local/native language is written in English, well, would you have read it if it were in Hindi?

(Articles and opinions reflect personal views, perspectives and arguments of the author. We believe in civil debate and discussion among all sides and we give space to a wide spectrum of opinions and diverse views within the limits of decency. Opinions expressed in columns and articles in no way represent views and opinions of Town Post, its editor or its editorial policies.)

Dr Neha Tiwari is an academic, writer, critic and filmmaker. She has been nominated as a member of the jury for best writing in cinema for the 65th National Film Awards. She has written 6 state-level radio features and 1 Serial for AIR. Her area of interest includes media, literature and life. She teaches in Karim City College Jamshedpur as an Assistant Professor of English. She is also nurturing Mass Communication as Professor In-Charge since 2005.

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