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HindustanTimes Fri,01 Aug 2014
Mind your language: why the Hindi debate matters in India?
Viju Cherian, Hindustan Times
June 20, 2014
First Published: 21:10 IST(20/6/2014)
Last Updated: 14:07 IST(23/6/2014)

Did the Union home ministry pass an advisory asking all government departments to use Hindi as the medium of communication while using social media platforms? Is the government, after objections were raised from the South, backtracking on its order? Is the Centre now trying to ease the tension by saying that both English and Hindi will be used on official social media platforms?

At the moment these questions seem irrelevant because even if such an order has not been given, the damage is done and linguistic and regional passions have been fanned in different parts of the country, especially in the South.

Read: 'Use of Hindi on social media only for Hindi-speaking states'

If such an order has been given, all that the NDA government has managed to do is flog a dead horse back to life. To quote BJP-ally MDMK’s leader Vaiko: “The government should not indulge in activities that will provoke a sleeping tiger”.

If the order was given keeping in mind the sentiments of the Hindi-speaking population, it is bad politics on the side of a party that has shown great political acumen in the general elections and that has been voted into government on the promise of ‘development for all’. It’ll suffice to say that this needless controversy has managed to open an old wound.

India’s recent history has seen several instances of anti-Hindi protests. From the late 1930s till the 1980s there have been at least three major anti-Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu, when at different times the Centre tried to make the learning and use of Hindi mandatory. The protests in 1965 are by far the most violent, which lasted for more than two months and saw more than 70 people killed. The agitation stopped only after then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri assured the continuance of English as the medium of Centre-state communication.

Read: Jayalalithaa joins Karunanidhi to slam Modi govt's Hindi push

During the 1986 language riots, many DMK leaders, including M Karunanidhi, were arrested. So charged was the atmosphere, more than 20 people committed suicide by self-immolation.

Events are unlikely to take such a drastic turn today, but nevertheless, such an advisory thickens the air with a discomforting tension.

The fallacy of such a move is clear in the answer to this question: Which was the language used in the Union home ministry advisory sent to a government office in Salem in Tamil Nadu or Guntur in Andhra Pradesh or Thrissur in Kerala?

On Friday evening the government clarified that the advisory was only meant for Hindi-speaking states. The question that then should be asked is: Why only this focus on Hindi? What about the other recognised languages in India?

India has got a rich culture and heritage and even if some see the British rule as an aberration in an otherwise ‘glorious’ past, the fact remains that English — the language used by the British — serves as one of the important medium of communication between different states.

The government could have done without this controversy, especially when there are many other pressing issues at hand.

@vijucherian


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