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.
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.