BJP slips on Hindi; Tamil Nadu stands firm

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The first language controversy in the subcontinent emerged in Uttar Pradesh in the 19th century as a section of Hindus sought to replace Urdu – till then the language of administration along with English – with Hindi. As part of this politics, “Urdu and Hindi became proxies for Muslim and Hindu [political] mobilisation,” wrote Garga Chatterjee. “In that process, shoring up Hindi numbers became crucial. Many languages of North India like Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Rajasthani, Braj, etc., were nominally fused into Hindi as a political tactic with devastating long-term consequences for the counted-as-Hindi-but-not-Hindi languages.”

Why imposing Hindi on India is a bad idea

I feel *Hindu* nationalism is a many headed Hydra. It builds on a millennia of humiliation but at the same time seems extraordinarily insensitive to actually diversity.

The only real defence Hindu nationalists have as to why their ideological brand is softer than the Muslim equivalents is simply because “Hinduism is a broad tent.”

I feel this obscures that Hinduism was the subject of intense reform over the last two centuries in a way Islam wasn’t. However it won’t surprise me if this tenuous commitment to liberalism falters after longer and more successful stunts of the BJP.

It seems the BJP has discovered the political power of Two Nation Theory and is really riding that perilous horse.

Not only is Hindi growing, it is changing. The Union government’s efforts to make it a “national language” have resulted in it being “firmly moored to a vastly associational Sanskrit with all its casteist baggage intact”, writes Mrinal Pande. “Its highly associational vocabulary is being used to purge thousands of words it has assimilated through the centuries from regional dialects and Islamic and European languages.” Of course, actually purging Hindi of all its Persian vocabulary would be an impossible task – the very name of the language is from Farsi.

Post backlash from T.N., mandatory Hindi goes out of draft education policy

It’s more than just about language, it is the imposition of culture’: DK leader K. Veeramani on National Education Policy

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57 Replies to “BJP slips on Hindi; Tamil Nadu stands firm”

  1. The more daddy tries to rein in the teenager, the more likely is the teen to rebel. There comes a time when the daddy throws his hands up and lets the “wayward” teen make her/his mistakes and come around — maybe not entirely to the dad’s position, but in the general neighbourhood of it 🙂

    lAlayet paCca varSANi
    dasha varSANi tADayet
    prapte tu SoDaSe varSe
    putre mitravatAcaret 🙂

  2. “Sanskrit with all its casteist baggage”

    Not a linguist, but I (a Brahmin) was taught a very Persianized Hindi, which is the urban high culture form of Hindi…I’ve actually heard that the lower-caste and rural folk speak a *more* Sanskritized Hindi than what I was taught.

    So the Scroll post doesn’t ring true in my experience.

    1. Seriously, I was taught that “Thank You” was primarily said as शुक्रिया, so when I heard a senior resident saying it, I excitedly went up to him and asked “I didn’t know you spoke Hindi-Urdu too”!

      He responded to me: “I speak Arabic, what the hell are you talking about”?

      I later remembered that धन्यवाद was another way to say “Thank You.”

  3. ““In that process, shoring up Hindi numbers became crucial. Many languages of North India like Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Rajasthani, Braj, etc., were nominally fused into Hindi as a political tactic with devastating long-term consequences for the counted-as-Hindi-but-not-Hindi languages.””

    Seems like East/South is more concerned about N-Indian languages than N-Indian themselves. LOL

  4. Mostly it does not fool anyone. Folks who are opposed to BJP in N-India (and else where) try to camouflage their opposition to the BJP through this language issue (since they know BJP’s growth is linked to Hindi outside of cow belt) , its not that they really care about Hindi cannibalizing other N-Indian languages.

    Half of them can’t even speak the language which they supposedly care. They could be at least more honest about it.

  5. The ONLY way BJP can make inroads into the South is by NOT messing with the status quo. I am from Telangana and we have been using three lingual policy from our inception ( following the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh). Other states in the South and in the NORTH have not taken this policy seriously. If BJP is hellbent on tri lingual policy, it SHOULD include a South Indian language of choice for Northies, it will be helpful for them as they come down South for jobs and better life. In this they can show some respect to the people they’re living amongst instead of showing off their condescending/ignorant attitudes by saying Hindi is our NATIONAL language(which it isn’t).

    Telugu was my first language, Hindi my second and English my third language till 10th. In junior college ( 11 and 12). English is compulsory first language and I chose Sanskrit as my 2nd language.

    1. Agree with this.
      North Indians should also be made to learn a 3rd Indian language which could be a choice between Sanskrit, Punjabi, Bengali, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil or Malayalam for Hindi speakers.

      I learnt English, Hindi and Sanskrit at school. Learning any other language was not an option available at most schools in Delhi.

      If given a wider choice perhaps I would have dropped Sanskrit for Tamil or Bengali. The ability to watch all those Satyajit Ray movies in their original Bangla would have been so cool.

  6. “North Indians should also be made to learn a 3rd Indian language ”

    We ain’t learning no shit. Its mostly a bureaucratic error which will be reverted back to original language plan which was being followed till now.

  7. Modi is pursuing the exact same re-distributive economic policies that Congress/Left would have followed. And in fact, he’s implemented the welfare schemes better than them.

    Naturally, the left doesn’t have any foot to stand on there. So it’s manufacturing artificial issues like lynching, church attacks, and now Hindi imposition.

    This country might end up a socialist shit show.

    1. We always were a socialist shitshow, Modi at least stands a chance at being a decent statist reformer-modernizer.

      1. The best thing about Modi election for me, is that it has showed the world the truth about “right wing free marketers” charlatans.

        For straight 10 years they heralded Manmohan Singh (and still do today) as the “economist” prime minister while he rolled out one socialist policy after another. In no other country would Manmohan singh Govt which had not one “free market” legislation ( Modi still has GST) to boot be heralded as the “economist P.M” .

        And now when Modi has won despite their support now all of them have fallen in line and want Modi to do “reforms” by expending his own hard earned political capital . LOL

        1. Which economists praised Manmohan Singh during his tenure as PM? People praised him for helping engineer liberalization (back in the early 90s), which he did, albeit reluctantly.

  8. It seems odd for someone who wants to impose Farsi on Pakistan (not to mention Islamicate culture on India) to decry attempts to impose Hindi on India.

    It’s like the Republicans who care about states’ rights when it comes to things like desegregation but have no qualms with the feds imposing their drug laws and gun laws on the same reluctant states.

      1. It’s relative, you ask a South indian, he/she might say that parsi, arabic, Hebrew sound the same. Kinda like speaking a normal language but with a hot potato in your mouth.

          1. French and Romanian are both “Romantic” languages though we wouldn’t contrast them as such.

            There are aesthetic qualities to a language. I still remember the refrain by an Israeli writer “Hebrew is a wonderful language in need of a literature.”

            I also feel that Hebrew is a bit like Hindi; it’s cannibalised a huge bunch of linguistic traditions (Ladino, Yiddish and the other Jewish dialects) simply to survive.

            I’m sure there was profound cultural loss when Turkish displaced Ottomanish; that along with displacing the Empire were some of Ataturk’s biggest mistakes (but he kept Istanbul Turkish otherwise I imagine it might have become another Jerusalem or Granada).

  9. I think I know where this renewed itch for Hindi propagation is coming from.

    Coming from small town India like Modi or Yogi, I can identify the impulses behind such initiatives . I don’t think there is any intention of imposing hegemony of Hindi over provincial languages. More likely it is just an attempt to show English its place.

    Small town Indians like Modi or Yogi subconsciously feel an inferiority complex vis-a-vis their own English educated bureaucrats. I can remember the difficulty I, and many of my fellow classmates had with English growing up. In our frustration we used to demand that English must be banned in India and Hindi must be made sole national language. We were kids with limited horizon, who imagined India just an extension of our small hometowns. Little did we realize how incredibly diverse India is, and that small town kids from Andhra or Tamilnadu will find Hindi as alien as English.

    Love it or hate it, English is going to stay in India. There is no escaping this fact. I can write this whole post in Hindi ( I am perfectly capable of that), but half the Indian readers of this blog will not be able to read it. Therein lies the raison d’eter of this necessary evil called English.

    What is frustrating is that BJP is trying to solve solved problems. Letting provincial language take precedence over Hindi has served India well. India has moved beyond linguistic nationalism. Telugu people willingly broke their state in two, overriding the language affinity. Just when we thought we are over and done with language issues, comes these wholly unnecessary controversies.

    1. I think the motivations behind any and all such moves whenever they arise are correctly described by you as having to do with the antagonism towards English more than anything else. This problem likely continues to creep up periodically now and then with constantly decreasing potency as English will continue to acquire more and more negative reputation in the minds of economically prospering Indians. A sense of neutrality towards English as a strictly science-technology oriented language and having no strong cultural importance for Indians, either this way or that way, is what is to be aimed for, in my view. Also, this entire thing is likely not serious even this time around already as some people have pointed out above. At least to me this language-policy thingy really seems so extraordinarily stupid especially after that very intense election in India and its discussion here lol.

    2. ‘Telugu people willingly broke the state’. To start, ‘linguistic states’ was kinda shallow idea. Telangana and Seema-Andhra together were never part of any major empire in the past 1500 years, barring a few exceptions, even during the glorious Vijayanagaram empire. Same language doesn’t necessarily mean same culture or history. Smaller states (with some threshold on the size/resources) are stronger and efficient which means a stronger and prosperous Indian union.

  10. For anyone who genuinely wants the REAL reason of the language shitshow.

    https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/bjp-trying-to-enter-tn-through-settlers-from-other-states-says-vck/article27429890.ece

    “VCK leader Thol. Thirumavalavan on Monday claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and proponents of ‘Sanathana dharma’ were seeking to gain entry into Tamil Nadu by settling people from other States here.

    “They failed to gain entry through cultural activities — Vinayakar festival — and imposition of language – -Hindi and Sanskrit — and are now making another attempt by settling north Indians [here].”

    1. Joke: complaining about external migration from people with a different race, religion, and general worldview

      Woke: complaining about internal migration from people who share your race, religion, and general worldview

    2. This is precisely the kind of backlash I was afraid of. BJP has given a handle to their opponents to beat them with. Now all sorts of cranks will propagate wildest of conspiracy theories, and opportunist politicians will gleefully fish in the troubled waters.

      In the end, BJP will backtrack. It has to. There is no other option. But the regional passions will be inflamed and atmosphere will get vitiated, all for no reasons. Nobody will benefit.

      I think there is an opportunity for Modi to establish his credential as a statesman, if only he can speak up firmly and affirm his commitment to the pluralism of India. Won’t happen. Modi is no Vajpayee.

      1. You are overthinking it. Everyone knows why these games are played. The Dravidians cannot like really solidify the anti North vote more than it already has(against the BJP) . While no one North of Vindhyas give two hoots about what Dravidians thinks anyway.

        1. I wish they had given atleast single hoot instead of two hoots which might’ve stopped them from breeding like bunnies and stopped them from being street shitters in goddamned 21st century.

          1. “I wish they had given atleast single hoot instead of two hoots which might’ve stopped them from breeding like bunnies and stopped them from being street shitters in goddamned 21st century.”

            It’s too late for that now. As Saurav astutely and gleefully points out, nobody outside of South India gives a damn about what South Indians think. South Indians are widely regarded as inferior and servile. The northern hegemony will only be exacerbated as the percentage of South Indians has precipitously plummeted from 25% at independence and will probably settle around 15% by the time the seemingly everlasting Indo-Aryan Baby Boom ends.

            These linguistic issues are the final spasms of a dying and increasingly irrelevant community.

          2. I dont know why the high TFR disturbs the S-Indian states. It s a N-Indian problem and nothing has changed politically in the South due to it.

  11. The problem though is that it is extremely difficult for north Indians to decide which south Indian language to learn that is useful, as there is no common language for south India other than English/Dakkhani. I think Kannada and Tamil without Telugu and Malayalam would be best options if at all any north Indian states decide to opt for some south Indian language as a third language in a serious manner. Telugu is at the same time not very important culturally and economically as well as numerically strong so difficult to decide whether to go for it or not, from a north Indian perspective. But it would have been very good if my grandmother had some better way to communicate with the daily laborers from Bihar during the construction of our house a long while ago. The best solution is for at least the younger generation people of Andhra Pradesh to learn to communicate well in Hindi, which is most likely the case already. Which brings me to the other point I wanted to make: all south Indians better stop complaining and learn Hindi because Hindi is very beneficial for people wanting to live in India. Too much arrogance and silliness about stupid stuff does not do anyone any good.

    1. “. Which brings me to the other point I wanted to make: all south Indians better stop complaining and learn Hindi because Hindi is very beneficial for people wanting to live in India”

      LOL, Bro already Karnataka has been designated as the “cow belt” of the south (for voting the BJP), why do you want to add the Telugu states to it.

      1. Haha I don’t know about the connection to BJP and all that; I just talked purely about the language business. Telugu people can at the same time be super-regionalistic and vote for TRS, YSRCP, etc. and also pragmatically learn Hindi for basic communication for several reasons, one of which is to communicate with north Indians belonging to lower classes whom they tend to encounter significantly lol. I also said in the above comment that north Indian people, at least of the upper and middle classes, should try and learn Kannada at least (maybe leave alone Tamil as well in addition to Malayalam and Telugu as the latter two are pretty much completely useless from a north Indian perspective), because Kannada is really one of the most wonderful and culturally supreme languages of India, and north Indians will gain so much by learning it all quite easily and enjoyably too because there is a certain classical religious ethos that Kannada literature represents that is the same as in north Indian culture.

        Edit: And of course, it does not hurt even a bit that Karnataka is a highly sought out destination for migration and settlement by north Indians in south India.

        1. True If there is one ethnicity in India I would trade my own ethnicity for that would be kannadigas. Perhaps the most underrated chilled out folks in India.

        2. “I also said in the above comment that north Indian people, at least of the upper and middle classes, should try and learn Kannada at least (maybe leave alone Tamil as well in addition to Malayalam and Telugu as the latter two are pretty much completely useless from a north Indian perspective)…”

          I don’t see the point in that. Within two generations, Kannada will be extinct. Even in Karnataka, it is of little value to know Kannada. When I was trying to navigate my way around Karnataka, the few locals who only knew Kannada would do anything to help you out, including using sign language and translation services on smartphones. The ones who only knew Hindi would berate you for not knowing the national language and seemed to be more likely to physically thrash you for being a deficient Indian. So even in Karnataka, you’re better off knowing Hindi than Kannada. And that’s just today! As migratory trends and differential growth rates continue, Kannada will surely be dead.

          1. I have never been to either Bengaluru or other places of Karnataka so far in my life so I cannot verify/dispute if what you say is correct but at the first glance it seems a bit too alarmist (I have never been very disciplined in life to procure and look at some data for myself too). I have heard of the tendency of aggression of some Hindi-speaking people in Bengaluru against Kannada but I don’t know to what extent. Also, I doubt if this sort of a thing with Hindi goes on in other places of Karnataka other than Bengaluru. Please correct me if I am wrong.

            Even in the event that Hindi is so rapidly capturing off Bengaluru and driving Kannada to extinction over there (which is likely not accurate), does not the whole rest of Karnataka exist for Kannada? Mysuru, Hubballi, Ballari, etc. If anything, Kannada is probably like one of the least likely languages to go extinct – it is because of the people of ancient Karnataka that Kannada and other major Dravidian languages like Telugu survived and continue to exist today. If anything too dire happens, Kannada will most likely figure out ways to go through it and emerge out of it as recognisably Kannada, probably after undergoing appropriate linguistic changes.

            Also, I read somewhere that Kannada is somewhere near the top in the list of Indian languages having massive presence online. So while me, a Telugu person is here busy typing away in English, many Kannada people are communicating online in Kannada language – both speech-wise and script-wise.

          2. Also, I have just gone and looked at Rakshith Ponnathpur’s posts in Quora one of which says that actually Bengaluru is the district with the most Kannada-speaking people in Karnataka. Apparently Kannada is spoken in a native capacity by 55% of the population of Bengaluru and in a second-language capacity by some 70-80% of the rest.

          3. Man you really went and checked , LOL.

            You really fell for the whole “Kannada going to be extinct in the next 2 generation” I guess perhaps this is the power of our “linguistic” bros, just scare everyone into the whole “North Indian (the Huns) are at the gates “

          4. Hello Saurav,

            I just wanted to confirm. I believed that the situation is not very severe even in Bengaluru. And Rakshith Ponnathpur is a pretty strong pro-Kannada guy, so if he says the ground level situation in Bengaluru is not very severe, then it is likely to be true. In my own view, what might be happening broadly in Bengaluru is that Hindi is tending to replace Kannada as the lingua franca and not as mother tongue. If this is the case, then there is no cause for worry at all. And those 30-40% population of the district who apparently are mostly the native speakers of languages like Telugu, Marathi, Tulu, Malayalam, Tamil, etc. who speak Kannada in quite significant bilingual proficiency. These are probably older-generation migrants to Bengaluru and these people and their cultural descendants seem quite important overall for the continued presence of Kannada in Bengaluru, in addition to the native Kannada speakers.

            Anyway, Hoju may also have written what they have written in a somewhat metaphorical manner; I don’t think anyone seriously believes that Kannada or for that matter even Brahui will last only for 2 more generations before going extinct.

            Edit: Lol false memory! Hoju did not say anything about 2 generations.

    2. “Which brings me to the other point I wanted to make: all south Indians better stop complaining and learn Hindi because Hindi is very beneficial for people wanting to live in India. Too much arrogance and silliness about stupid stuff does not do anyone any good.”

      I don’t like it, but if I was raising a child in South India, I would ask them to learn Hindi and refuse to teach them their South Indian mother tongue.

      It’s the same thing that many immigrants to the US do. One of my colleagues is a Finnish American who moved to the US at 2 years of age. Her parents refused to teach her any Finnish. Refused to allow Finnish to be spoken at home. They wanted their daughter to flawlessly speak English so that she would not face any discrimination in their new home.

      In many ways, it’s the same situation for South Indians. We are similar to immigrants in a foreign land in India. While many South Indians can never fully assimilate due to bluish-black skin color, the ones who can at least pass off as North Indian Dalits would be smart to wholly adopt Hindi and the cultural customs of the cow belt.

      Once the Muslims are sent packing, the South Indians will be next, so better to be prepared for that.

      1. Hoju,

        You are being far too pessimistic. I agree that south Indians are learning more Hindi these days, both because they want to and because of northern immigration, but the condescension and marginalization you speak of seems to me to be a lot less now than when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s (a Tamil boy in the Hindi belt.) In big cities, including Delhi and Bombay, Biharis and UPites are far more likely to be looked down upon.

        Back when I was a kid, I would receive an occasional slur (my Mom, who grew up in the 50s and 60s in the far north of India, reported getting a LOT more in those days), and people would look askance if I spoke Tamil with my parents in public (among Hindi speakers.) These days no one bats an eyelid if I speak Tamil in public, not in my hometown, nor in Delhi, where I lived a few years recently.

      2. Haha I again don’t know the challenges faced by a typical south Indian-origin person living in north India (I did my college in north India and only one person, a professor of mine, a Bengali one at that (lol), threw racial slurs at me once lol; it was very amusing for me and only very mildly hurtful). If what you say is true, then it is quite sad but losing mother tongue to assimilate into a new society that might become the home culture to your progeny in a few generations is the least sad in it, in my view, compared to other graver things like affronts to personal dignity by (high incidences of) racism, etc. (if they exist). Anyway, we always have more comfortable alternatives like bilingualism instead of such extremes like losing mother tongue altogether or straight-up refusing to at least acculturate into the host society in any manner.

        But also, in the comment that you referenced, I tried to say that people living even in south India and have no plans to settle in north India should learn Hindi because, why not. Hindi is a nice language and an exceptionally useful one. If the kind of asymmetric migration to south India that is happening currently involving majorly lower classes of north India migrating to south India for wage labour, etc. continues, then it is too unreasonable to expect that the migrating people learn Telugu/Tamil, at once, for immediate communication needs, and English cannot come to the rescue in such situations, whatever the Dravidian+English bilingual elites may think. Edit: And it’s not like people need to by-heart Ramacharitamanas or something; they just need basics to communicate. Actually, come to think of it, even normal Tamil people in their home territories may not be as negative towards Hindi as usually caricatured. Likely the topic is too much politicised as things usually tend to get and it all feels so very stupid to me.

        1. It’s too much to expect immigrants to respect the local culture? Then they should go back.

          1. No no I did not say anything about immigrants respecting local culture. That is a different topic than people learning the language of the place. And it is unreasonable and also heartless to expect poor migrant labor to devote resources to learn completely different and otherwise useless languages just because they want to earn a living. And it is not the case that the people they work for don’t know their language at all; most of them know it at least in bits and pieces. The upper and middle classes may perhaps be expected to do so but still the migrating generation should not be stressed with this because learning a language as an adult is difficult for a typical person in a typical busy routine, than acquiring the language during childhood. So perhaps the middle-class migrants should consider enrolling their children in Kannada and Tamil language classes or something like that.

      3. “One of my colleagues is a Finnish American who moved to the US at 2 years of age. Her parents refused to teach her any Finnish. Refused to allow Finnish to be spoken at home. They wanted their daughter to flawlessly speak English…”

        Funnily enough, lot of upper class Indians do this as well. Talk to their children only in English, send them to schools where they are fined for not speaking in English etc.

  12. Saurav,

    “They failed to gain entry through cultural activities — Vinayakar festival — and imposition of language – -Hindi and Sanskrit — and are now making another attempt by settling north Indians [here, Tamil Nadu].”

    Sound like the Sri Lankan Tamil political versus the SL National Parties.

    Voting in India has seemed to follow what happens in SL. The North (and somewhat the East) vote for Tamil Nationalist Parties.
    The rest of the country votes for the National Parties. Could say Sinhalese, but they dont have the word Sinhala in the Party name and do have a smattering of Tamil and Muslim candidates.

    Incidentally does India have Muslim Nationalist Parties like in Sri Lanka, eg Sri Lanka Muslim Congress‎ .

    1. Pre-1947, All India Muslim League claimed to represent all India pre-partition Muslims , even though that was a myth. In 1948 it dissolved itself . But was revived by south Indian Muslims. But it is just regional and it has split into factions

      1. I think the *Hindus* had very poor leadership under Nehru-Gandhi. If the RSS had been negotiating with Jinnah; it would have been much better for all. Either it would have been a clean Partition or a more sensible Cabinet Mission (a confederation of a Hindu Rashtra flanked by two Muslim wings).

        Nehru wanted Power, Gandhi was like Jeremy Corbyn (hung up by his Principles) but Jinnah was hyper pragmatic.

        Jinnah’s problem was that he couldn’t see the wood for the trees and left Pakistan in a particularly perilous shape. He pushed for a Partition that he didn’t need.

        I think a more natural “division” would have been a confederation of 4 sectors; Greater Punjab, Hindustan, Bengal and the Deccan. It sort of is the original British model with the 3 Presidencies (Bombay, Madras & Calcutta) centred on Delhi.

        I would have also *liberated* the British cities (Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Karachi and any others) as Free cities directly to the Centre.

        It would have taken a decade to get right but then 200 years of rule cannot be undone in a year.

        1. Zack,

          I think a more natural “division” would have been a confederation of 4 sectors……….

          It seems you are wishing the British Empire had continued to exist, just run by Indians rather than by the British. Where and when has that ever worked (an empire transitioning into a stable and coherent country after the imperialists have left)?

          In the modern world especially, I see no alternative to nationalization (either now or in 1947) as a means of keeping people together in a geographic location. But this requires people to either have a lot in common with each other, be willing to ignore their differences, or abandoning identities and practices that distinguish themselves from their fellow-citizens. Your confederation model would not have achieved any of those things and been perennially unstable.

  13. sbarrkum

    All across South Asia you have similar type of parties /ideologies /pushes and pulls.

    A centre left / plurastic party
    A right wing nationalist party
    Smaller communist/caste/communities parties
    Couple of muslim/minorities parties
    Soft secessionist/ no-longer-secessionist/now-revamped-into-regional parties

    Take your pick

    1. It’s irritating to see the pros and cons of a policy being concretely addressed instead of the simpler “two legs bad four legs good” naarebaazi type discourse.

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