A Dalit writes on Oppresive Hindi

The historian Sumit Sarkar, in his Modern India: 1885-1974, writes that literary Hindi was very much “an artificial creation closely associated with Hindu-revivalist movements.” Bharatendu, Sarkar notes, “combined pleas for use of swadeshi articles with demands for replacement of Urdu by Hindi in courts, and a ban on cow-slaughter.” Around the same period, a historian and linguist named Shivaprasad was promoting another link language, Hindustani. Where Bharatendu’s Hindi was highly Sanskritised, Shivaprasad wanted something closer to the languages already popular at the time. The champions of Hindi were especially offended by Hindustani’s incorporation of Urdu elements.

Biting My Tongue -What Hindi keeps hidden

Hindi carried Brahminical and communal impulses from its inception. Later, its installation as a dominant language came to be a demand in the nationalist movement, though even then this was highly contentious. Anil Chamadia, a veteran journalist who has taught at Mahatama Gandhi International Hindi University in Maharashtra, told me that Bharatendu’s language prevailed because it appealed to the emergent, Brahmin-dominated nationalist movement and administration. The dominant castes, he said, saw in the Sanskritised tongue a tool to further their varchasv, or dominance, over society. Sanskrit, of course, had earlier served exactly that use. Chamadia described Hindi as “varchasv ki dhara”—a stream of dominance. Today, he said, those who control the Hindi language are the same who control the dominant societal narrative.

22 thoughts on “A Dalit writes on Oppresive Hindi”

  1. Hindi carried Brahminical and communal impulses from its inception? ?


    Don’t learn English as it carries Colonial, Imperialist , slave holding impulses from its inception.

    Don’t learn Spanish as it carries genocidal impulses from its inception.

    Don’t learn Arabic as it carries medievel tribal jihadist impulses from its inception.

    Don’t learn German as it carries nazi impulses from its inception.

    Learn Dalitese as it carries noble , equality impulses from its inception

    1. Learn Dalitese as it carries noble , equality impulses from its inception

      Perfect repartee.

      I love Dalitese too. Such a rich, grammatically perfect language, with centuries of literary tradition behind it. If only Dalits would make some effort to learn their own language. 😉

      1. Urdu is Dalitese ..

        The language of the sub-alterns; the demotic equivalent to Persian.

        It explains Hindustani’s astounding dexterity (on par with english).

        1. Urdu is Dalitese

          Interesting. So when it suits you, the language of the nawabs, the symbol of Islamic high culture, grandiosely titled “Zabaan-i-Urdu-i-Maula” becomes the language of subalterns. 🙂

          Don’t tie yourself in knots. Just quit justifying the silly comment.

          1. Urdu – “the demotic equivalent of Persian” – is the language for India’s Dalits ?

            LOL. These neat solutions betray a monotheistic frame of mind. One simple solution for a complex fractal problematic reality.

        2. \It explains Hindustani’s astounding dexterity (on par with english).\

          Simple test. Is there a Hindustani (or Persian) translation of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’. Darwin wrote this groundbreaking work 170 years ago in straight ordinary English without any jargon or technical words. When Hindustani or any other language has books like that, i would call it dexterous.

  2. This seems like a very odd version of the genetic fallacy (the claim that Hindi is bad because it’s origins in the nationalist movement.) Does anyone even care, except people who hated Hindi and Hindi-speakers anyways?

    A comparison can be made with French, whose propagation was also a component of French nationalism, and which spread much less organically than Hindi. Still, nobody uses this to attack French, because we know the point is irrelevant.

    1. On the eve of French Revolution in 1789, perhaps less than half of Louis XVI kingdom spoke French as we know today. French was spread on revolutionary bayonets and it was generally Paris dialect.

    2. “The French nation-state, which appeared after the 1789 French Revolution and Napoleon’s empire, unified the French people in particular through the consolidation of the use of the French language. Hence, according to historian Eric Hobsbawm, “the French language has been essential to the concept of ‘France’, although in 1789 50% of the French people did not speak it at all, and only 12 to 13% spoke it ‘fairly’ – in fact, even in oïl language zones, out of a central region, it was not usually spoken except in cities, and, even there, not always in the faubourgs [approximatively translatable to “suburbs”]. In the North as in the South of France, almost nobody spoke French.”[30] ”
      From Wikipedia

        1. Yes and No. English has undergone lot of phonetic changes in the last 1000 years. While Norman French was the official language after Norman Conquest, Old English made a comeback , not in the old form but with a lot of changes by 14th century. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale is the first literary expression of English. During the years as subaltern language under Norman rule , it had undergone the Great Vowel Shift

  3. The dalit grievance narrative is alive only in a small section of academia.
    1. The Dalits in political sphere are as demanding as any other section for fruits of offices etc.
    2. Reduction in government jobs and opening up of economy has made dalits come to these sectors, where there is no discrimination in any real sense.
    3. In urban areas there is hardly any difference between a dalit and a non dalit.

  4. One dalit Tamil writer explicitly defended his decision to write in English over Tamil, since Tamil carries a lot of hierarchical notions embedded in popular usage, and those notions were decidedly anti-dalit

    1. Tell him to use Urdu. Seems like it has become the national language of Dalits.

  5. sagar, the author in the link provided writes
    \ I read BR Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, in English. It was my first introduction to his work, which articulated and explained so much of the caste humiliation I had suffered, and that I had seen inflicted on Dalits everywhere I had been in the country as a journalist. All I have read of Ambedkar has come to me in English—the language he himself wrote in. It is also in English that I have since learnt about Jotirao Phule, Periyar and Malcolm X. These discoveries, and others like them, opened my mind to anti-caste thought, progressive politics and the history of struggles against inequality.\

    Sagar also says his mother tongue is Hindi.
    Basically there has been a major failure to translate into Hindi Ambedkar. Malcolm X and other ‘radical’writers whom the author admires.

    What Sagar brings out is very real – lack of translation of world literature into Indian languages and translations between Indian languages.

      1. Nothing to worry; all this advice to the people at large to change their speech patterns is bound to fail. A language takes it’s own course , not governed by advice from busybodies. Purism will only make sure a language is unusable and people will silently desert it.

    1. @Kabir and Xerxes, just to set the record right, the standard position of Pak establishment is that Urdu and Hindi are *different* languages, and there should not be any borrowings between them.

      You see, arguments like Hindi and Urdu are same language, or just a language continuum somehow seem to undermine the rationale of Pak as a separate nation. So be careful of what you find disgusting.

      1. The Pak establishment can believe what it likes. The linguistic consensus is that Urdu and Hindi are standardized registers of Hindustani.

        It is ultimately foolish to try to exorcise “Urdu” words from “Hindi” and advocating this only reflects the bigotry of the person doing so. Similarly, worrying about Pakistanis using “Hindi” words instead of pure Urdu is also stupid.

        Also, there are separate nations that share the same language. North and South Korea is an example.

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