Why realpolitik must transcend language

We must be proud of a democracy that nurtures language diversity and salvage dialects that are pushed to the brink

Language in the digital age is a cultural marker, not a political tool. That it is often used as the latter is absurd. Every language must be celebrated for its journey with peoples of varied identities and cultural traditions.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein exposed the limitations of language, and believed humanness transcends such barriers.

“Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings,” he wrote while stressing one cannot see any language out of context.

In our diverse context though, instead of exploring ways to propagate the riches of our varied language heritage with tech, cornering the southern states for their cultural identities by ‘imposing Hindi’, the language of the powerful, is preposterous.

“Language is the inalienable right of every citizen. The state has no constitutional authority to impose any language on any individual. It is a pseudo-nationalist and absurd position. India has been multilingual for ages. This is a move to ease the spread of the RSS. It is a disastrous thought that can lead to disasters, something not constitutionally legitimate,” observes linguist and thinker G N Devy.

The Centre going back on making Hindi mandatory in non-Hindi speaking states proves it would not shy away to use cultural differences for political gain in the future, just like stoking communal tension.

“Every power centre is against plurality. They think like the corporates, irrespective of political ideologies. The assumption that Hindi is a connecting language is wrong. In Karnataka, we must go back to the two language policy, where the third language could be any optional Indian language,” says author Vivek Shanbhag.

In times of rural-to-urban migrations, when jobs are at a record low, bigotry of those who push for language supremacy in our emerging multicultural southern cities, stands exposed.

“Migrant labourers pick up a southern language as it is a matter of livelihood. It is the upwardly mobile migrant who isn’t interested in Kannada, or any south Indian language. It is fuelled by arrogance. A Bengaluru watchman from the North East can speak Kannada. The techies from elsewhere cannot,” notes Shanbhag.

Some feel the debate is blown out of proportion.

“It is an emotional issue. Being practical, one needs to understand language acts as a barrier to job seekers and successful entrepreneurship. Politically it may be relevant to fire identity issues based on language but calling it ‘imposition’ in an age of globalisation, when children are learning French and Chinese, is a restricted sense of global vision,” says political commentator Harish Ramaswamy.

According to Ramaswamy, as we needed a national language, we agreed upon Hindi but the politics over it is yet to come of age.

“Vested interests have clouded the brighter side of being a polyglot. It’s unfortunate that we are parochial in the wrong sense for a wrong cause. The digital vision has achieved the success of a border-less world, but the stigma attached to Hindi is yet to cross political boundaries created by artificial resistance. Time must wake up our consciousness to the truth about the politics behind this,” Ramaswamy points out.

The brute majority using language to ride to power is denigrating the cultural identities of the language minorities in the country. Surely, the government’s dilly-dallying on the policy is a sign that the gravity of the issue is acknowledged at the least.

“Technology has in fact helped the propagation of languages blurring geographical limitations. But it is a double-edged sword,” feels Shanbhag.

At this juncture, we must be proud of a democracy that nurtures such language diversity and salvage dialects that are pushed to the brink.

“Every language is of a unique standing and beauty. There cannot be such a thing as an imposition. A democratically elected government going back on its decision means it is willing to consider the difference of opinion and ground realities, which is the right direction,” Shanbhag reiterates.

Theatre and film personality Prakash Belawadi, however, points at a constitutional provision.

“The scope for mischief is provided by the Constitution itself. Articles 343 to 351 have to be amended. See the provision: Article 351 — ‘It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India...’

“Any surprise that some ‘Hindu, Hindi, Hindutva’ zealot is tempted to push the agenda?” Belawadi wonders.

Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor in his book, The Paradoxical Prime Minister, writes: “It is, quite simply, because of Bollywood, which has brought a demotic conversational Hindi into every Indian home. South Indians and North-easterners alike are developing ease and familiarity with Hindi because it is a language in which they are entertained. In time, this alone will make Hindi truly the national language.”

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