Gandhi's Hindi Sabha carries fighting spirit in S India

Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha an organization founded by Mahatma Gandhi

What Mahatma Gandhi began as a modest class in Tamil Nadu over a century ago to propagate Hindi in south India and unite people across the country, has grown into a mammoth institution, bearing testimony to his legacy of forging ahead against all odds.

The Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, founded in 1918 in Chennai, then known as Madras, runs 11 PG centres, 33 teacher training institutes, five CBSE schools and a number of prantiya sabhas today. Gandhi had said the Sabha should enable more people to read, write and speak Hindi.

According to published Prachar Sabha archives in Hindi, Gandhi had noted in his convocation address to students in 1946, "I doubt what I am saying, you people are understanding. But you have deep love for me and that's why you are listening very patiently."

"But, still, maximum number of people should learn Hindustani. It is not a difficult language...south Indian people have wisdom and talent," he had said.

Sumitranandan Pant, one of the most celebrated poets of the Hindi language, had also addressed the gathering that day.

No doubt, the Prachar Sabha faithfully followed Gandhi's advice, withstanding political trials to extend all help to people who volunteer to learn Hindi. Thousands of pracharaks today work in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Interestingly, Tamil Nadu leads all southern states with an impressive tally of more than 43,000 pracharaks, followed by Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana) with 22,835 propagators.

In all, 83,795 men and women recognised propagators are spreading Hindi in southern India, Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha Public Relations Officer Ishwar Karun told PTI.

In Karnataka, there are 6,527 pracharaks. In Kerala, there are 11,334 propagators.

These pracharaks were once themselves students at Sabha institutes and after passing necessary exams, they were recognised as authorised propagators.

Among 9 lakh students who sat for various Hindi exams in 2018, a large number of them were from Tamil Nadu, according to the Sabha.

Tamil Nadu political commentator Raveendran Duraisamy said people are eager to learn Hindi.

"People will not accept forced imposition, but they are happy to learn Hindi voluntarily or for that matter any other language. Globalisation has broken the language barrier," he told PTI. "Opposition to Hindi is a non-issue."

The genesis of the Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha could be traced to the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Indore in March 1918, when Gandhi came up with the idea.

Three months later, he founded the Sabha and led the institute as founder-president until his death in 1948. Annie Besant inaugurated it on June 17, 1918.

The Prachar Sabha moved to the sprawling campus of about seven acres at Theyagaraya Nagar, in mid-1930s, then a quaint little neighbourhood and now downtown Chennai.

In 1927, the Sabha was registered as a society with Gandhi as its president.

Gandhi chose volunteers from south India and sent them to Varanasi for training as Hindi pracharaks. He also sent his son Devdas to Chennai as the first Hindi pracharak.

During those days, there was not even one institute dedicated to spread Hindi here.

Though the Madras Sanskrit College was established in 1906, it was not focussed on propagating Hindi.

"Gandhiji's association with the activities of the Sabha was so complete. He presided over the convocations in 1933, 1936 and 1946," according to the institute.

In 1936, Gandhi also established four branches of the Sabha in areas where Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam were spoken.

The Theyagaraya Nagar campus is the central office, while there are branches across south India including in Tiruchirappalli in central Tamil Nadu.

During his January 1946 visit to take part in the silver jubilee celebrations of the Prachar Sabha, Gandhi stayed there for 10 days at a small house (Gandhi Nivas) is now one of the Gandhi Heritage sites. There, he met political leaders and delegates from the British Parliament.

The Sabha was declared an institution of national importance in 1964 by the Central government.

Through an Act in 1964, which conferred the status of a varsity, the Sabha transited into an institution of higher learning and research, enabling it to offer PG courses and doctorates.

It established the National Hindi Research Library in 1991 to benefit Hindi students and researchers, the largest such institution in South India.

In its over a century of work, stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel have visited the Sabha. 

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