By Loveleena Sharma

Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist

In a multi-linguistic country like India, language is one of the those issues, whose volcanoes fires lies beneath the surface. Any minuscule fracas unleash the eons old debate over the official language of India. Of lately, when the centre proposed the government departments to use Hindi on social media platforms, raised a few eyebrows in Southern India. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suitably modify the instructions to ensure that English was the language of communication on social media. The other prominent leaders did not keep their lips sealed over the matter, rather they undeniably supported the Chief Minister in her stand.Karunanidhi, whose party had successfully led the anti-Hindi agitation in the 1960s, had dubbed the move as a beginning of “imposition of Hindi”. Chidambaram on the other hand slammed the decision by stating that ‘there will be a backlash in non-Hindi speaking states specially Tamil Nadu.’

With an immediate effect, Mr. Modi explained his stance before the camel could enter into the tent. He mentioned that the order was meant for the ‘A Category Region ’ states, which includesUttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Punjab. And, Tamilnadu belongs to ‘C Category Region’, thus It is not bound to follow the order. In addition to, the preposition to include Hindi as a medium as well and not as the only medium for the social websites. 

Linguistic Antagonism In India

State are built by the governments, whereas nations are built on the epitome of shared culture. Language is the core of the cultural identity. This cultural identity is the main ingredient in the recipe of a nation. The Language holds the people together as an imagined community, as Benedict Anderson believed. Language is not a connector, but a divider too. India has experience the crossing of swords between the linguistic communities or with the state as a whole.

First trace of a language movement could be seen in the case of Urdu movement. With the waning of the Mughal Empire and waxing of the British, Urdu lost its significance. British Empire replaced Urdu by Hindi as the second official language, by complying with the demand of the Hindu communities. One of the distinguished Muslim leader Sir Syed Ahmed Khan turned fiercy to voice out his opposition to this decision. He always considered Urdu as the lingua franca of the Islamic follower, and with the victory of Hindi, he realized that the Hindu-Muslims are two separated identities, which he propagated in his later life. This was one of the first events, which sown the seeds of India-Pakistan partition. Different religion, different language forms a separate nation, thus a separate state.

With the independence of India, there was a need for the division of the princely states into states in a structured manner to avoid further chaos. The task was handed over to the State reorganization commission, that chose to divide on the linguistic, following the linguistic difference in the country. The precursor and catalyst to the division of the state on the linguistic was the demand of the Telegu-speaking people for a separate. And, turned out be gory with the death of their leader Potti Srimalu during his fast for the demand of a separate state.
But, these movements did not end there. After the independence, India adopted India as an official language along with Hindi, but for a period of fifteen years. With the commencement of that period, Indian leaders tried to impose Hindi in all the sects, which was highly criticised by the southern part of India, especially Tamil Nadu. The Anti-Hindi Agitation is first linguistic conflict after the independence of India, where Tamils opposed the imposition of Hindi as the official language of India. This movement paved the way for the amendment in the Official Languages Act, 1963, which states that, notwithstanding the expiration of the period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used in addition to Hindi.

Linguistic Homogeneity

Machiavelli believed that a common language is one of the corner-stone of a nation state.

India has one national identity, but many linguistic identities. Indian citizens hold closer the linguistic identities to their heart, rather than the national ones. Before being an Indian, they are Tamils, Bengali, Oriya etc. Thus, any attack on the legitimacy of their language make them ferocious . Any attempt to bring to linguistic homogeneity in a state like India, which boast its motto of ‘unity in diversity’, will rescind its core identity. With the arrival of BJP, there has been attempts made to promote Hindi. Be it through the Prime Minister’s speech in Bhutan been delivered in Hindi or it could be recent order regarding the usage of Hindi for the social websites. If seen from a particular frame, it is righteous to promote the indigenous language that owes its origin to the India, but being struck in this frame we are overlooking the other languages that also owes their origin to the same Land. If they can’t be accepted as the official language, neither do Hindi. Promoting one’s language is a noble work, but one must stop at promotion, not to turn it into imposition. It seems like an attempt by the government to move beyond cultural slavement of a foreign language, i.e. English. It endeavours to build an Indian nation-state with its own language. But, it needs to be taken care that in the nation-making of India, using Hindi as a common language, we don’t end up giving rise to more and resilient nationalities in the country.

Loveleena Sharma has completed her graduation in Political Science from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce. And, with her ardent interest in International Relations, is now pursuing her Masters in International Relations from the South Asian University. She is interested in  Foreign Policy, Conflict Transformation and Peace Building, South Asian studies, etc. Her other interests include reading, cinema, and theatre.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind