By Sagarneel Sinha
India is a land of different languages, religions, ethnicity and cultures with a variety of food items and clothes. If anything that makes India proud in the global forum, it is this diversity, which has existed here for ages. It is not that there are no countries in this modern century that pledge for diversity. Obviously, there are many countries with a rich linguistic heritage. But, India is among the rarest of countries in this world, which has inherited a long civilizational history of flourishing cultures with incredible linguistic and cultural plurality. Not to forget that, even in Europe, the continent known for its liberal values in the modern times, there were wars in the name of language, creed and religion in the last millennium — with instances of different factions of Christianity engaging in war among themselves for supremacy.
Recently, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, also BJP’s national president, on the occasion of Hindi Diwas courted controversy by iterating on Twitter that there should be a language in the country which will act as the identity of India. Shah didn’t stop and continued further to say that if there is any language, it is Hindi which can be the unifier of the country. Although, following criticisms, he clarified later that he didn’t mean Hindi imposition and too believes in the importance of propagating every mother tongue.
However, despite clarification, the meaning of Amit Shah’s statement still remains the same — that India needs Hindi as the mediator language — which cannot be supported. The wording of his tweet was very clear on that — particularly written on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, that too in Hindi. This one language theory only undermines the strength of India’s linguistic plurality that has already become its identity all over the world.
The proponents of Hindi always argue that it is the most widely spoken and understood language in the country. Undeniably, this is a fact. Around 41% of the people of the nation speak Hindi. As far as the question of understability of Hindi is concerned, the figures are higher than the speakers. One of the reasons for Hindi’s propagation is Bollywood, or the Hindi film industry — and also the dominance of the Hindi entertainment channels in Indian television.
But that doesn’t mean it is the medium of all people in the country. One shouldn’t forget that every language has its own culture. So, propagating one language will only undermine the other existing cultures that are not related with that tongue.
One must not forget that Hindi is only 300-400 years old. There are many languages which are even older than Hindi. Tamil, which is spoken by 90% of denizens of Tamil Nadu, is the oldest widely spoken language in the world, as its contemporaries — Sanskrit, Hebrew and Latin — are almost lost in the pages of history. Tamil is considered being in existence for the last 2000 years and the majority of its speakers live in India. So, no doubt, this ancient existing language is definitely a feather in India’s diversified lingual culture.
The example of diversified linguistic culture can be known from the different existing versions of the Ramayan, one of the two epics of Hinduism — which undoubtedly has emerged in the years as one of the prominent cultural symbols of India. The text originally written by sage Valmiki in Sanskrit, historically dated around 7th-6th century BCE, exists in many versions across the country. It has been written in many regional languages over time with each version having its own respective cultural flavour. The first regional Ramayan is the Kamban Ramayan, written in Tamil around the 12th century, which is quite different from the main text — both in spiritual concepts and in respect to the storyline. The same goes for the other Ramayans like the Shri Ranganath Ramayan written in Telugu (14th century), Kumendu Ramayan, a Jain version, written in Kannada (13th century), Saptakanda Ramayan written in Assamese (14th century), DandiRamayan written in Oriya (14th century), the 15th century Konkani Ramayan of Goa and the Bengali version called the Krittivasi Ramayan written in the 15th century. It must be mentioned that all these Ramayans were written much before the 16th century Tulsidas’ Ramcharit Manas written in Awadhi, which is widely regarded as the Hindi Ramayan. They are also Ramayans written in other languages like Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi,Urdu etc. Although the main story remains the same, the regional ones carry their own traditional taste with them.
This history of many Ramayans only throws a light on the rich linguistic heritage of the country — which has been strongly rooted for thousands of years. Not to forget that, the eight northeastern states, which although are smaller in areas with a reduced number of population, have many spoken languages within itself only. Arunachal Pradesh is one of the main samples with many distinct native tongues — which is also considered as the richest linguistic region in Asia. So, propagating Hindi as the language as a unifying thread is not identical as it undermines the spirit of those non-Hindi cultures of south, west and the east, including the most varied northeast. That’s also the main reason for not naming Hindi as the national language by the members of the Constituent Assembly, who drafted the Constitution. Instead, India’s constitution has officially 22 recognised languages.
Only because Hindi is spoken and understood by most number of India’s population doesn’t present it as a reconciler of the country’s varied lingual society. India’s traditions have always been defined by its pluralistic features — and this has been the strength of the Indian culture. As far as, medium is concerned, English presently does that. It would be unfair to look English only through the prisms of slavery as the truth that it is currently the dominant tongue in the global forum can’t be ignored. That doesn’t mean that the Indian languages shouldn’t be promoted. They must be. But not only Hindi that too as a unifier language as it has the potentiality to ignore the other regional Indian languages, which have their own rich heritage. Also one must not forget what happened to our neighbour —Islamic Pakistan — which lost East Pakistan, modern Bangladesh, in 1971 due to former’s imposition of Urdu on the latter’s large Bengali speaking population (largely Muslims), which also dealt a big blow to Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s much prophesied two nation theory. (IPA Service)