Why India can’t have a national language

Dear Editor,
This is in response to Mr.Ojing Megu’s letter titled “Do we need a national language?”(January 11).
Let’s start with an anecdote! It was mid-Eighties of the last century. Every Sunday noon, Doordarshan used to telecast award-winning films in different languages of India according to alphabetical order. The sequence used to start with Assamese, Bangla and end with Tamil, Telugu and the cycle continued to get repeated.
So as to taste the unique cultural flavour of this vast diverse heterogeneous India, I used to religiously view these films. And I used to succeed in appreciating the films of the alien languages just because of the English sub-titles.
But one fine day our “nationalist” friends at the Centre perhaps took objection to the subtitles in “foreign” English! So the sub-titles got changed to Hindi overnight! And right from that point of time; my connection with Manipuri to Marathi films, Kashmiri to Kannada films got snapped permanently! Yes, far from serving as a “common rope binding different places of India together”, Hindi actually detached me from accessing the cultural taste of rest of India! How can a Bengali like me remain comprehensible of that language of North Indian states named Hindi?
Mr.Megu has rightly said that India must have a common language, but certainly that cannot be Hindi as far from binding all, this language of Bihar-UP rather succeeds in disintegrating the Indians of various linguistic vintage and that have got proved by my mentioned anecdote revolving the Doordarshan films.
Instead of taking up the cause of Hindi as the common language to “link” the country, Hindi should be banished from non-Hindi speaking regions to prevent the country from disintegration. Making Hindi the dominant language has resulted in a particular linguistic group getting an upper hand in all sectors and given its speakers an added advantage in the limited job market, the resultant inequality flouting all norms of democracy. In many national-level examinations, candidates are required to answer in English and Hindi only. Thus when a Hindi-speaker can boldly answer fluently in his/her mother tongue, a non-Hindi speaker cannot exercise such an option. What a blatant unfair advantage in favour of Hindi-speakers and gross prejudice against the speakers of non-Hindi languages? Thanks to the use of Hindi in Railway Recruitment Board Examinations, the candidates from North India were bagging the lion’s share of the jobs which compelled the proud Assamese, Kannadigas and Marathis to launch violent protests. But the Railway Minister in Mamata Banerjee rightly ensured examinations to be conducted in all scheduled languages of India, thereby putting all languages on an equal pedestal. And thereafter the Railway Recruitment Board examinations have started to get conducted smoothly. Thus it has got proved crystal-clear that Hindi merely serves as a tool to divide the Indians and invoke regionalism. If a regional language of North India gets crudely imposed upon the rest of the country and 74% of the Indians of non-Hindi speaking vintage, naturally counter-regionalism will also prosper according to Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Unity in diversity can be attained by respecting and nurturing diversities, not by killing the cultural heterogeneity or imposing a particular language upon the rest. Why would the Central fund allotted for promotion of Indian languages be utilised almost solely for Hindi with allocation for it exceeding the allocation for rest of the Indian languages put together? In the Railway stations, Banks and various other Centralised sector located in West Bengal; innumerable signboards, notices and forms get written in Hindi with the language of the soil Bangla coldly consigned to oblivion. As if forcing the Bengali employees to perform official work in Hindi is not enough, often they are forced to even sign in Hindi as well! What a disgraceful imposition upon even as personal thing as signature also!
Mr.Megu is of the opinion that Arunachal Pradesh is “adjusting well” with Hindi and that too “not at the cost of indigenous languages”! I beg to differ. Barring few establishments in Tawang adorning perhaps Monpa script/language; use of indigenous languages is absolutely unseen right from Bhalukpong to Bomdilla to Dirang. Often letters get published in Arunachal Times where the enlightened citizens of the state lament how obsession with Hindi is killing the indigenous languages of the region right from educational and cultural sphere to even vocabulary. If this unconditional surrender to that North Indian language(just like what the pusillanimous suicidal Hindi-obsessed Bengalis are doing) gets certified as “adjusting well with Hindi”, then even Almighty cannot save the rich languages of the exquisite state from meeting its doom. Just go to Guwahati-Imphal-Bhubaneshwar-Hyderabad -Bangalore-Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram-Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Amritsar and see for yourself how the indigenous communities are residing there with their heads held high by establishing Assamese-Manipuri-Oriya-Telugu-Kannada-Tamil-Malyalam-Marathi-Gujarati-Punjabi languages respectively and boldly keeping the alien Hindi at bay. And they have prospered and developed without any inkling or aid of Hindi!
Yes, a common/national language will prove beneficial for smooth communication throughout this multi-lingual nation. But certainly it cannot be Hindi. Even before getting Constitutional and Judicial approval of “national language”, Hindi has emerged as a threat to rest of the Indian languages. Just imagine how its tentacles would gain more strength if it gets the legal and Constitutional boost of “national language”! And in the land of equality, by virtue of which right can Hindi be awarded greater status than the rest of the languages whose right in democratic India is not a bit lesser than the language of Bihar-UP! Won’t it hurt the basic norms of democracy and equality? While multi-lingual Switzerland has designated all languages in its territory as “national”, Israel has revived neutral Hebrew and made it the national language so that Jews of no particular linguistic affiliation can enjoy the upper hand. India should learn from these nations what linguistic democracy is all about.
And it is a foregone conclusion that English is the one and only language which can serve as the Common/National Language of India. Not only is it the language of higher education or the window to reach out to the world; it is also the only language which can link and bind all regions of India. English is the only language which can enable an Assamese to appreciate Telugu literature, a Naga to converse with a Gujarati. Had the likes of Rajinder Puri, Ramachandra Guha, Ashok Mitra preferred to write their articles in Punjabi, Tamil or Bengali only instead of taking refuge in English; far from attaining a national stature, they would have remained confined within their respective states only. Had Mr.Megu had written his letter in Hindi, he could have reached only the cowbelt region of North India. Had he written in his own indigenous tongue, he would have remained confined in Arunachal Pradesh only. Similarly I could not have crossed the border of Bengal had I written my piece in Bangla. But Mr.Megu and myself can communicate with each other only because of English. Our writings can reach all corners of India only because of English. Thus only fools and those with vested interests can dare to ignore the importance of English in spheres of national interest. Rather English should be awarded the numero uno status as it is absolutely neutral whereby people of no particular state will be privileged, the way speakers of Hindi now are. And let the “nationalists” remain enlightened of the fact that the language spoken by innumerable Indians of Anglo origin or the language which has a considerable influence on the literature and vocabularies of all premier Indian languages and also which remains one of the official languages of Nagaland and Mizoram is no less an Indian language than Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and others.
Kajal Chatterjee,