Language of divisive politics

Home Minister Amit Shah looks on during the 'Hindi Divas Samaroh' in New Delhi on September 14, 2019. PTI

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s call to make Hindi the national language and to take it to all regions of the country by 2024 when it will “achieve new heights’’ has again stoked fears of imposition of the language on non-Hindi states by a zealous government. The Constitution does not prescribe a national language but lists 22 scheduled languages, of which Hindi is one. It is an official language, along with English, but that does not take away from the importance of other languages. The status and use of languages in the country seemed to have been settled with the adoption of the three-language formula in the 1960s, though it has not been implemented well in most parts of the country, like the Hindi-speaking states and Tamil Nadu.

BJP politicians keep raising the issue of the primacy of Hindi again and again. Amit Shah said that “it is extremely necessary to have one language for the whole country that will be India’s identity in the world’’. The proposition “one nation, one language’’ is similar to the ideas of “one nation, one constitution’’ and “one nation, one culture’’ and can soon lead to others like “one nation, one religion’’ and “one nation, one leader.’’ The BJP has always pursued a “Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva’’ agenda and Shah’s advocacy of Hindi is in line with that. India has a plurality of languages, religions, races and cultures and the idea of India is based on this diversity. Its identity whether within India or outside it cannot be defined in terms of a single language, religion or other exclusive markers and attributes. The RSS-BJP idea of the nation is based on uniformity and deference to a dominant central principle. But uniformity does not promote or strengthen unity, and an enforced uniformity actually undermines it. What is being proposed in the name of unity is a divisive policy. 

The HRD ministry had recently proposed compulsory teaching of Hindi in schools but had to drop the move in the face of opposition from non-Hindi states. Language is an emotive issue and the angry responses to Shah’s views in non-Hindi states show how strong the opposition to it would be. There have been violent protests and agitations in the past against Hindi supremacist policies. The government and the BJP should draw their lessons from them. They should also remember that attempts to impose one language on the speakers of other languages have only resulted in alienation, resistance and strife, as Pakistan found out in 1971. Languages spread naturally with the spread of media, migration of people and growing people-to-people contacts. They should not be forced on people.

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