Primacy to Hindi: igniting rift

Less than four months before President Pranab Mukherjee is set to demit office, the NDA government at the Centre has unfortunately made him sign a controversial order that deals a severe blow to the federal structure of the country and has the potential to ignite divisive passions that lay dormant for several decades now. The Hindi zealots in the country have never given up hope of imposing that language on the rest of the linguistic groups, despite knowing that every time a fresh attempt is made, it invites strong resentment, sometimes even leading to violence.

But, that has not deterred the Narendra Modi government from quietly pulling out a compendium of recommendations made by the Committee of Parliament on Official Languages six years ago for promotion of Hindi across the country. President Mukherjee – who, being a Bengali, was more comfortable speaking in English than in Hindi while in office – has been ‘forced’ to sign an order containing as many as 117 recommendations that seek primacy to Hindi over all other languages. The order requires constitutional functionaries, including the President, the prime minister and the Union ministers who have a knowledge of Hindi to henceforth use only Hindi in official communications, statements and speeches. Fortunately, President Mukherjee turned down a suggestion to make Hindi a compulsory language to be taught in all schools across the country, which needs to be welcomed. But, he has accepted in ‘principle’ a recommendation to make Hindi compulsory in all CBSE schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas, which will be strongly opposed. Why should Hindi be imposed on a Kannadiga, a Tamil or a Malayalee when he is better off learning his mother tongue? If national harmony is the goal, why isn’t there an attempt to teach a south Indian language in Hindi-speaking states?

India’s strength lies in the diversity of the religious faiths its citizens follow and a wide array of languages and cultures that flourish under one umbrella. Soon after Independence, when there was an attempt to impose Hindi as a national language – though Hindi or some its variants are spoken by less than 30% of the population – it was strongly opposed by the rest of the populace. It was then that Hindi was made the official language of the country along with English and 22 other languages were incorporated in the Eighth Schedule so that they too are promoted simultaneously.

In the 1960s, Tamil Nadu led a fiery agitation against imposition of Hindi which prompted then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to assure the nation that nothing would be done by force. Prime Minister Modi needs to give a similar assurance now.

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