It’s the year 2019 and in case anyone needed a reminder, India is still a secular country. Recent events at political levels may lead a person to think otherwise, but the word ‘secular’ continues to be a word written and defined in our Constitution. The reality of the times has, however, triggered a fresh wave of antagonism and fear of the growing dominance of the Hindi language in the country.
India is home to over 20 languages and over 700 dialects which only add to its cultural diversity and uniqueness. English and Hindi are the most widely spoken languages in the country. This, in theory, ought not to threaten the other regional dialects, the reality, however, tells a different narrative.
About 70 years ago, when India was in the midst of her fight for Independence from the British, Hindi was adopted as the symbol for Indian nationalism. It served as a connecting and uniting force for the divided country against the British, and it was adopted as the official language of India when the Constitution was drafted. In the post-Independence era, the regional states started consolidating their power and feared the hegemony of the language. India at this time was trying to build back a nation and in a patriotic fervour to compete with the dominance of the English language, tried to enforce the education of Hindi in all schools across the country. This move met with resentment from the Southern states of India who felt it unfair that their students had to learn three languages (English, Hindi, and their regional language), while their brothers and sisters in the North only had to learn English and Hindi.
In an effort to introduce a fair solution to the problem at hand, languages from the south were introduced in the curriculum in schools in the northern parts of the country. The step failed as Urdu and Sanskrit were also offered, and being the easier languages to learn, most students opted for them instead. The rushed enthusiasm of our leaders in the centre to enforce the language upon everyone built a wall of resentment between Hindi speakers and non-Hindi speakers. The short-sightedness of this move has driven a wedge and while enthusiasts speak of the ‘attributive values’ of the language, it has no appeal and is not a convincing argument for those who don’t primarily speak Hindi.
Fast forward to present times and the turmoil between languages is just one example of the chaos that has come to define India. With urbanisation and migration occurring at a much larger magnitude, the divide has become only more apparent and frequent tugs-of-war between Hindi and regional languages occur. The hostility towards Hindi is especially evident in the southern parts of the country in contrast to the East and the Northeast. Most of the locals in our southern states refuse to acknowledge Hindi and would prefer to speak in English instead, and the animosity towards people from the northern parts of the country is also more predominant here. With southern cities such as Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad emerging as growing tech hubs of the country and inviting more migration, especially so from the north, one can’t help but wonder what the upshot will be.
What is the future for a secular country like India which has more languages than one can count on one’s fingers? The French had a similar problem, not in the multitude of languages but in that there were at least other regional languages. The current French generation however only speaks French and the regional languages have now faded to only a small section of people in more rural settings speaking those languages.
Will India follow the same fate? Will Hindi finally triumph or will we actually find some peace in the midst of this language divide? Will India grow to be a shining example of secularism at its finest or will it buckle and enforce one unifying language that risks the present generation’s abhorrence but accomplishes harmony thanks to the ignorance of future ones ? Owing to the association of languages with cultural identity and with the history of India ‘s divide not only between the North and South but also with regions such as the Northeast, the need to protect and preserve the languages becomes amplified. However, add urbanisation to the mix and it becomes a puzzle with pieces that just don’t seem to fit right.
Author: Camilla Lyndem
Camilla Ann Lyndem is a Staff Writer. Based in Bengaluru, she is a graduate of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, where she completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degree in English Literature.Although a hardcore liberal arts student, she enjoys coding and has worked on building smart models, including a smart irrigation system (take that, CS students).