FactBehindFiction: Whipping linguistic passions

Tags: Knowledge

Any attempt by Hindi zealots to force the language is likely to be resisted

Chauvinism is as bad as fundamentalism. It is unfortunate that Hindi zealots have raised their heads again in the country trying to whip up passions. A language controversy has been sparked off after union home ministry issued an order on May 27 asking government departments to use Hindi on social media platforms. This triggered outrage in Tamil Nadu. State chief minister J Jayalalithaa shot off a letter to prime minister Narendra Modi, saying the circular was “against the letter and spirit” of the Official Languages Act, 1963, and that the “highly sensitive issue” had caused “disquiet” to the people of the state “who are proud of and passionate about their linguistic heritage”. DMK chief M Karunanidhi went as far as terming it as “beginning of the imposition of Hindi”.

Promoting Hindi during freedom struggle was warranted as part of the swadeshi movement to galvanise and unite people. But it has lost its relevance in an era of globalisation where English is the central language. When China is feeling handicapped because its citizens lack the knowledge of English, India is trying to lose an inherent advantage accrued from 150-200 years of British colonial rule.

The fact that Hindi has not become a unifying language nearly 70 years after independence shows that it has caused greater division within India by vote-seeking politicians. If muslim appeasement is bad, than trying to divide the country on the basis of language is equally bad. This is also vote-bank politics.

It is unfortunate that the contentious language issue has resurfaced in a country with 1.2 billion people and over a thousand languages. India is a multilingual nation, home to Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families, considered two of the world’s largest language groups. On a minor scale, India is also home to Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman language families mainly in the northeastern region. If Sanskrit, an Indo-Aryan language, is believed to be the oldest language, Tamil, a Dravidian language is considered to be the oldest spoken language.

Sanskrit is used in practically all Indian languages but no one can deny the fact that there are evidences to show use of several words from Dravidian languages in Sanskrit as well. For example aadhi used in Sanskrit is an ancient Tamil word meaning” a state unknown/hidden”. Dhairya (patience) is a derivative of thiram (capacity, skill and potential). The English word dare is also related to thiram while chandra is a derivative from chentharu in Tamil, meaning brightness.

When former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was addressing an election rally in English in Bangalore in the early 1980s, he said the Congress government required shock treatment. This was wrongly translated in Kannada by a BJP party worker as chikitsa. Immediately Vajpayee corrected him and asked audience the Kannada word for shock treatment. When they shouted back, Vajpayee said “you understand English and I understand Kannada”!

Hindi zealots argue that when a large country like China can speak in one language, why shouldn’t all Indians talk in Hindi? In the 1990s, a parliamentary delegation visited East Asian countries, including China, to study how use of Hindi was being promoted in Indian embassies. The trip might have been a junket but the delegation did not learn lessons from China, which had made English a compulsory language from class l in schools. Today, all Chinese children passing out of schools know English. They realised that they lost out to India in IT software because of not knowing English.

In reality, language is never an issue of discord; people learn them to eke a living. Several sikhs in Chennai’s auto parts industry are fluent in Tamil, as are Tamilians in Chandigarh who are at home in Punjabi. There are marwaris who are fluent in Kannada and Bengali. You can run into a Belgian who learnt Tamil to work in local slums as part of a leprosy eradication programme and there are Chinese scholars of Tamil. Former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao knew 14 languages and needed no interpreter to converse in English, French, Spanish, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi and Urdu.

Forcing people to learn a particular language leads to resistance, aversion and agitation. Many people from South India believe they are at a disadvantage in competitive exams compared with those from Hindi-speaking areas who enjoy a natural language advantage while negotiating jobs. They argue that with greater emphasis on Hindi in competitive exams and government jobs, more people from the Hindi heartland get into government, as compared to South Indians or Bengalis, who once dominated the civil services.

It is unfortunate that masses are blindly following political leaders advocating Hindi without realising that the leaders themselves send their children to English-medium schools, even as they whip up mass emotions for political gains. DMK leaders exhort Tamils to study in their mother tongue but their children end up learning Hindi in private to be effective in Parliament.

When a journalist congratulated the late Raj Narain after he defeated prime minister Indira Gandhi in the 1977 general elections, he retorted aap Hindi mein boliye (speak in Hindi). Not surprisingly, while Raj Narain was a bachelor, his nephews and nieces studied in convent schools. Indians are by nature hypocritical and this is reflected in the language issue as well.




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