I speak Kannada, and I'm no less Indian

I speak Kannada, and I'm no less Indian

Once I got to understand India and the idea of India, I realised I don't need Hindi to prove my Indianness

 Representative image. Credit: iStock Photo

“Hindi is our national language!” it is often asserted, especially around Hindi Diwas, September 14, every year. Well, I too believed that throughout my student life. After all, that’s what we were told in our schools, weren’t we? Willy-nilly, Hindi, despite nowhere in our Constitution being accorded the national language status, is officially being shoved down the throats of the entire Indian populace as such. Constitutionally, it only enjoys the status of being one of the official languages of the Indian Union, along with English.

Back in the days of the lone Doordarshan channel, growing up as a kid in a Kannada household, in Bengaluru, ironically, I had very limited access to entertainment on TV in my mother tongue. I guess, an hour’s Kannada fare, including the news, is all we could get during the weekdays. So, I had little option but to consume the entertainment content that was available in Hindi. In a matter of a few years, by the time I was in Class V, the fact that Hindi was also being taught at school by then helped me get a grip on the language, and I could understand Hindi completely.

A normal Kannada kid in Bengaluru grew up in a Hindi environment — thanks to our three-language education policy and Doordarshan! On TV, Shaktimaan, Chandrakanta, Alif Laila, Jungle Book and many other Hindi shows had cast a spell on me. I was in complete awe of the language, which was not my mother tongue. And my cricket madness made me learn the Hindi numbers till 100 — listening to Hindi commentary. Let me tell you, the joy when I was able to decipher a score like: “ek so thihattar per char,” and tell my friends the same, “It means 173/4,” while listening to radio commentary, was out of this world. I had started reaping the benefits of knowing the numbers in Hindi. After all, we were living in a Hindi nation, weren’t we?

Even during my engineering college days, I made sure that I always spoke in Hindi with my classmates from North India. They would praise me for my impeccable Hindi despite being a Kannadiga. Oh yes, I was a proud Hindi-speaking Indian then, though Kannada was my mother tongue! After all, we had to speak Hindi to be called Indian, in the Hindi nation, didn’t we? “Hindi hain hum?”

It was only after my graduation that I realised that Hindi is not the “national language” of India. In fact, even now, India doesn’t have one national language. When I looked around, it dawned on me gradually that my mother tongue, Kannada, was being pushed to a corner in its own abode. Why should a bank challan in Karnataka be in Hindi? Why on earth should the railway reservation charts for a journey between two cities in Karnataka be in Hindi and English? Even practically, in a Kannada-speaking state, these languages do not serve the purpose for a large number of people. These instances started to bother me. It was plain injustice to Kannadigas.

Agonisingly, aberrations like these could be found in every nook and corner of Karnataka. The Union government conspicuously seems to be bent on imposing Hindi, rather than serving its citizens in their respective languages. To add insult to injury, the preliminary exams of the Union government, the banking exams and various other competitive exams are only offered in English and Hindi, giving the Hindi populace an unfair advantage and a head-start over the rest. Lo and behold, come the September of every year, the Hindi hegemony reaches its zenith. All Union government institutions celebrate Hindi Diwas, Pakwada, with tremendous zeal. Also, a lot of perks are on offer for Union government employees to promote Hindi.

When the system itself is designed in such a way that it gives Hindi preferential status, can we expect justice for our mother tongues? Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Of late, there’s a growing awareness among people about Hindi imposition and its perils. On a positive note, we’ve also seen a few MPs voicing their opinion on the matter in Parliament. But unless Articles 343-351 of the Constitution, which have made Hindi hegemony possible, are amended, there may be no hope for other languages.

It was only after I got to understand India and the idea of India that I realised that I don’t need Hindi to prove my Indianness. Even now, Hindi is the only other Indian language, apart from my mother tongue Kannada, I’m proficient enough to speak, read and write in. But it’s not a badge of honour as I once thought it was. My Hindi proficiency is a result of the relentless imposition that I went through as a kid. Actually, it’s absolutely okay for a Kannadiga to not know Hindi. It doesn’t make him a lesser Indian. This needs to be echoed time and again. Only then can we build a plural India.

Well, from being a dumb teenager who thought Hindi is a must for an Indian to calling myself a proud Kannada-speaking Indian now, my journey over the last decade took me over much-uncharted territory and educated me on the linguistic diversity of India. It’s high time we implemented a two-language education policy in Karnataka to save our children from the excessive burden of learning Hindi. That would be the first right step in the right direction. Let’s hope no Kannada child in Karnataka, in the future, spends his childhood in a Hindi environment and starts looking down on his own language!

Sirigannadam Gelge! Sirigannadam Balge!

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based IT professional and blogger)