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Hindi Hain Hum?

Is Hindi powerful? I do not think so. Coming from a Hindi speaking state, I, along with many others, had to learn English to see growth in my career.

Is Politics of Hindi powerful? Most definitely!

There has already been enough debate on India’s new education policy and how south India is fearful of Hindi encroachment. I will avoid dwelling more on this. I would rather focus on façade of Hindi being projected as ‘mother tongue’ of every north Indian.

Hailing from a remote village named Asadhia in Chatra district of Jharkhand, I grew up speaking khortha.

When I first moved to Hazaribagh (for my higher secondary), I was often laughed at for trying to speak in Hindi.

My khorta laced Hindi was mocked and I was made a subject of joke by my classmates and teachers.

I am certain that every Indian boy/girl coming from a village have had similar experiences with regards to Hindi, when speaking in urban spaces, at various levels of social, cultural and political life. Yet, we are told that Hindi is our ‘mother tongue’.

I am yet to find a north Indian village where a mother talks to her child in Hindi. In Jharkhand our mothers speak in Khortha, Nagpuri, Ho, Santhali and Mundari – one of the ancient languages of human civilization.

Similarly, in Bihar our mothers speak in Bhojpuri, Angika and Maithali. In Uttar Pradesh, they talk to their children in Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Bundeli, Brajbhasa and Kannauji.

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhatishgarh, it is Bagheli, Bundeli and Chhatishgarhi. In Rajasthan, our mothers converse in Marwari, Mewari, Mewati and Harauti. In Haryana, our mothers prefer Haryanvi and in Punjab – Punjabi.

And yet, we are told that Hindi is our ‘mother tongue’.

The next ludicrous argument generally comes – ‘All the above languages are a dialect of Hindi’.

I consider this argument a pure nonsense. All these languages existed for many centuries before Hindi came in picture. There is absolutely no work of literature done in Hindi before the 19th century. ‘Chandrakanta’ written by Devki Nandan Khatri in 1888 is the first authentic work of prose in Hindi.

Even the most revered Hindu religious book of the 16th century Ramcharitmanas’ is written in Awadhi. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Hindi was popularly known as a khichadi (mixture) language. Scholars of that time generally avoided its use. And yet, we are told that Hindi is our ‘mother tongue’.

There is no doubt that plenty of vocabularies of Hindi came from these languages. Same is true for Urdu, Persian and Arabic too. Exchange of vocabularies happen when people travel.

Having similarities in vocabulary does not make Urdu or Persian a dialect of Hindi. Awadhi and Brajbhasa are as different from Hindi as Malyalam is from Tamil or Telugu. If Malayalam is not a dialect of Tamil or Telugu, then how come Awadhi, Brajbhasa, Bhojpuri, Khortha, Nagpuri, Chhatishgarhi and other north Indian languages are a dialect of Hindi?

Hindi, in the name of religion and caste, has occupied the shared history of north Indian languages. Thanks to Hindi, many of them are on the verge of extinction. And yet, we are told that Hindi is our ‘mother tongue’.

I must admit that, in the beginning, there were good reasons for north India’s pro-Hindi stance.

Similar to how Kannada-speaking areas came together under the umbrella of a unified Karnataka in 1956, north India, that lay scattered in more than 126 parts with different languages, accepted Hindi as their common link language during the Indian freedom movement.

The contribution of north Indian presses to this development was immense. Newspapers like Banaras Akhbar, Sudhakar Tatwa Bhodini, Saraswati, and writers and editors like Mahaveer Prasad Dwivedi, Balamukund Gupta, Ambika Prasad Bajpai, Chote Ram Shukla pushed aside their language differences to develop a ‘common’ Hindi ‘acceptable to all’.

This was done to unify everyone under one umbrella for the purpose of freedom movement. At no point, it was intended to let Hindi occupy the space of north Indian regional languages.

However, this exercise steadily emaciated above mentioned pre-Hindi languages of north India. Simultaneously, Persian, the language that was in ascendance during Mughal rule and Urdu, which had made great contributions to the freedom movement, also lost their prime position.

The communal void that surfaced during the Partition added to the chasm between Hindi and Urdu in twentieth century India. Communal forces of the time successfully established Urdu, a language spoken by a majority of North Indians, as the “language of Muslims”. We conveniently forget the non-Muslim Urdu writers like B S Jain Jawahar, Ameer Chand, Bhagwan Das Ejaz, Sohan Rahi, Indra Mohan Deepak Kumar, Asha Prabhat, Kamini Devi, Rajendar Nath, Jayanth Paramar, Premchand and others. And yet, we are told that Hindi is our ‘mother tongue’.

I live in Qatar and travel to all the middle eastern countries very frequently. Almost every gulf country has accorded Hindi as their 3rd official language status. All the circulars are issued in three languages – Arabic, English and Hindi.

Same goes for the street names and announcements in public places. How did this happen? No one needed to impose Hindi here. It happened gradually. South Asians learnt Arabic. In return, Arab masters learnt Hindi and promoted it as a language to converse with south Asians.

Similarly, north Indian kids must learn a couple of south Indian languages in school if we expect south to send their children for Hindi lessons. South Indians are not against Hindi.

They oppose the imposition of Hindi. They want to safeguard their million-year-old language and culture. They do not want their states meet the fate of Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh who lost their unique identity in the process of adopting and promoting Hindi as their main language.

Credit for more Hindi speaker in India today goes to Bollywood than any nutty politician.

‘One Nation, One Language’ is an idea that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) goes by. It looks as though RSS aims to declare Hindi as the “national language” by 2025 – its centenary year.

If Hindi is declared the national language of India, the 19,569 languages listed in the People’s Linguistic Survey of India will suffer a slow death.

The Survey lists about 40 languages with more than 10 lakh speakers, 60 languages with more than 1 lakh speakers and 122 languages with more than 10 thousand speakers. Moreover, there are 99 more languages waiting to be recognized by the Constitution for an entry into the VIII Schedule.

A party that boasts of taking the country back to the glory of its ancient past harks on one language in a multilingual country! Academicians would know that this idea of a single national language is borrowed from the West.

Ancient India approached languages differently. The colonial impact on our thought process is nowhere more visible than in our government’s approach towards language. 

(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.)

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