Hindi And The Southern Tirade

Yatindra Bhatnagar

It’s pathetic that some of the narrow-minded political leaders of the Southern Indian states have re-started their ill-advised campaign against Hindi, the third largest language (with Urdu) in the world and the overwhelmingly popular language of India.

Obviously, they have no other issue of importance to fight the present central government led by Narendra Modi, whose Home Minister, Amit Shah recently, spoke in favor of Hindi as the unifying force in India. Speaking at Hindi Divas (Hindi Day), September 14, Shah said Hindi as the single largest language should be promoted all over India as this is the only language widely spoken and understood in India that could unify the country.

Remember, according to the Constitution of India, Hindi was deemed to be the Official Language of India and English to continue for 15 years. Later, with an amendment English was allowed to continue indefinitely. Later about 20 more Indian regional languages were included among the official languages of India, including the South Indian languages but Hindi remained the predominant language of the country.  

The official figures of Hindi speaking people in India are more than 600 million (including all the Indo-Aryan languages the figure is more than 78% of Indians.) The South Indian Dravidian languages are a little over 19 percent. The next largest, after Hindi, is Bengali (Bangla), with 97 million speaking the language. But the bitterest opposition has again come from Tamil Nadu where the Tamil language is predominant with 69 million people speaking this ancient language. 

The others are Telugu (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) with 81 million, Gujarati 55 million, Kannada 43 million, Malayalam 34 million and Punjabi with 33 million people, speaking those languages.   

The recent controversy echoes the bitterness of the 1960s when Tamil Nadu under successive ‘Tamil’ politicians asserted their regional separatist culture and went on a vicious campaign against Hindi. So much so that they scared people by saying that the Central (federal) government – then the Congress government – would shoot dead those who will not speak Hindi. This dirty tactic fooled the people and got them the votes and this language platform continued for decades.

The irony is that the propagation of Hindi in non-Hindi states of the South was started by none other than the undisputed leader of Indian freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi.  

He was joined by another South Indian stalwart, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (later the First Indian Governor General of free India) and many other eminent leaders of the South. Mahatma Gandhi started Dakshin Bharat (South India) Hindi Prachar Sabha in Madras (now Chennai- the capital of Tamil Nadu, in 1918. Popularizing Hindi was, and has remained, an essential part of the freedom struggle of India.  

This Hindi Sabha last year celebrated its 100 years, and has had many other prominent leaders like Presidents Dr. Rajendra Prasad and R, Venkataraman, Prime Ministers like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao and many other leaders of repute as its presidents. Mahatma Gandhi himself spoke in Hindi all over India and remained the Sabha’s President till his death in 1948.  

The current President is Supreme Court’s retired Justice VS Malimath.

During the last century millions of South Indians have learned Hindi in the four major and several sub-regional centers in all the four South Indian states. Hindi was not forced upon them, nor is now being forced upon anyone. Sabha is an Institute of National Importance as declared by an act of Parliament.

One country, one flag, one language is the essence of a unified nation. Unfortunately even before Independence, the Congress party had promoted formation of states on the basis of language – linguistic states – in the false perception that it would promote a strong India. Instead of that, a sense of separatism started growing in the country, especially the South where Dravidian, as opposed to Aryan (Northern) history and heritage became the divisive trend.

Decades earlier, the Government of India had adopted and promoted (voluntarily) the three-language formula – Hindi, English and the third, the Mother Tongue of the region. Because of the unfounded fear of Hindi replacing all the other languages – coupled with Westernized lovers of English – Hindi is still to get its due.

Hindi has the unique advantage of being a simple, rich language with Sanskrit background but ability to assimilate words from Persian, Arabic and other languages. The strong Sanskrit roots of Hindi – and several other languages like Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam also – has made the language most popular. With Hindi and its several dialects widely spoken in most parts of India and understood in Southern states also, Hindi actually has no enemies except those who are politically motivated.

Movies are one fine example of the popularity of Hindi as many South Indian movies are now being produced in Hindi for Hindi audiences that bring more money. Hindi movies are popular all over India and in scores of countries in the wide world. The language being phonetic (what you speak you write, what you write you speak), Hindi is marching ahead and no narrow interests, consideration or ill-advised political fight can stop it. With Hindi you can travel all over India, no other language has this ability or advantage. And please don’t bring, and inject, narrow politics and lure of votes into it.