South vs. North – a reprise

I got a comment the other day, on my earlier post titled, “Bihari is not a bad word, but Madrasi?” I wondered briefly if I should delete it because it is so… meaningless. Example: “The central govt in Delhi has plans to wantonly ignore other languages and pave the way for their decline by sole use of Hindi and by the portrial of India to the outside world as Hindia.” Eh? Does this guy (girl?) really believe what he/she says? I mean, who actually thinks and believes such total crap? It does not add to the credibility of the person that he/she was too cowardly to leave a name, any name. Maybe I should enforce moderation. But somehow, the idea of moderation does not really appeal to me. I will probably include a comment policy instead. But, to make my point clear. I do not share or endorse such points of view expressed in comments.”

Speaking of languages and cultures, the kind of keywords used to search Google for my blog always throw up some surprises. This post on Biharis seems to be among the most popular ones. One oft-searched term is “Hate Hindi” and surfaces on the first page of Google Search. But why? I never claimed to hate Hindi. Ever. In fact, I speak the language rather well. In addition to some 5 others.

Ok, on to the topic of the day. I stumbled across this wonderful blog yesterday. And my, I was hooked almost instantly. Of all the interesting post on it, one caught my attention because of the sheer number of comments on it. It’s amazing to see so many people wanting to express an opinion on something. But then, it is sometimes disheartening to see many of them rooting for the imposition of one language as a “National Language.” I mean, why do we need a national language. We are managing perfectly well with about 22 official ones. Each person has the right to speak in a language they are most fluent in. Why should we complicate things by wanting to name one language as “national.” One comment to the post claimed that Hindi is spoken by the maximum number and so must be national. Let me extend that logic a bit. Christianity is the world’s most widely practised religion. So, let’s all convert to Christianity. And oh yes, Mandarin is the language with the most speakers. Let’s all go learn Chinese then. Some day, it will be the “global” language. In India itself, almost 85% of the population is Hindu. So Hinduism can be the “national” religion? Ok? Can’t accept it, can you? So why do you expect people to accept Hindi because its speakers are numerically superior? Why should language be any different?

As I said in my post on Biharis, the anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu happened at a certain time and place. It was inevitable then. That doesn’t mean the violence associated with it was justified. There is no stopping mob violence once it starts. The best thing to do is to find a middle path and avoid making language such a divisive issue. Let’s get one thing straight. It is to have a national language because of the sheer number of languages that exist in India. India has never been, and will never be, a monolingual state. There is no point in rooting for one language as opposed to another. The current system works wonderfully because no Indian language is more important than the other. And please don’t tell me that English is unnecessary. But for English, I wouldn’t understand any official correspondence. My knowledge of most Indian languages is pathetic, despite the fact that I speak at least three of them fluently. And yes, people like me have a right to exist and live in India. English is as much my mother tongue, or perhaps even more, than Kannada can ever be. I am not ashamed of that because I don’t find a reason to be apologetic about my preference for English.

8 thoughts on “South vs. North – a reprise

  1. Roop Rai says:

    Another opinion :). When I was visiting my in-laws in the South (husband’s telugu), I felt so alienated in my own country. I was deaf and mute for my entire week there. Wouldn’t a national language not bring about linguistic coherence to some degree at least? Who is to say that other languages need to be squished in the wake of a national language? Shall visit nita’s blog now. Again, well written. 🙂

  2. Amrutha says:

    Communication is not confined to speech alone. A gesture here, a smile there…everything makes a difference. That said, let me relate what happened a few months ago. My boyfriend’s sis-in-law visited India. She is American. She speaks no Indian language. But communication did take place. Even with mum-in-law who speaks practically no English. It is possible to communicate without linguistic coherence. All it takes is some flexibility and lots of patience…but that’s my opinion. You are entitled to yours.

  3. Roop Rai says:

    Nay, not for me. When I have to search for someone just to tell a lad that “i’d pick the cake up tomorrow”. If I was in another country, I’d understand and be patient too. However, in my own country, I’d rather be understood and be able to understand others as well. I know of many people who dislike working in Chennai because of language problems. Why should there be any language problems if I may ask? Countries like Canada are so accommodating to different languages that road signs are in Punjabi now in Surrey. Punjabi is being taught as a course in schools. Why can’t it happen in India?

    I am not fighting Hindi’s case. Tamil can be made a national language for all it matters. It’s just that majority of the country knows Hindi. My native tongue is punjabi and I rarely speak punjabi let alone hindi. English is what I grew up in, and english is what I speak now. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my mother tongue. I’ll teach my kids punjabi as well just as my parents taught me. However, I wouldn’t fight the crusades for punjabi to let me maintain my identity. I’d rather opt for a language that helps me communicate with most number of people. In canada, my mother made herself fluent in english cuz that’s what majority of canadians speak. Why can’t people do the same in India? Make themselves equipped with one language that majority would understand? It could be english too if not hindi.

    but again … these are just thoughts … rambled away. 🙂 I am all for democracy, liberalism, but I really wanted to be able to have some interaction with people in the place that I now call home. It was soo nice to hear one girl speak hindi there (in Nellore) in a restaurant. I gave her plenty extra tip just for that extra effort she made to make me feel comfortable. It was well nice of her. She barely spoke it but she made an effort. I couldn’t have felt any more blessed my entire trip. When in Rajasthan, it was me attempting in my broken hindi to speak to the natives there.

    Where communication is not confined to speech alone, it cannot be independent of speech either. Speech is an integral part of it. There is a reason why silent movies were ousted as soon as technology for ‘talking films’ was brought in. 😉


  4. Nita says:

    Thanks for linking to my post Amrutha. I agree with you entirely. It is a myth that one needs to have one language to unite people. As I have mentioned in the comments in my post, Switzerland has 3 separate languages as their national language. This myth, that we need to have one language to unite us all, that too a language which is alien to 70 per cent of the people of India is gross injustice. The resentment has been boiling under the surface amongst all communiites, but you cannot stop people from feeling I guess. It is bound to come out some way or the other. And as I abhor violence, both in word and deed, it’s best that we discuss this issue like civilized people and come to a formula that is agreeable to all.
    But first the myth that any country needs ONE language to be united needs to be busted. In fact I feel that forcing a language creates feeling of separatism. Usually I don’t like to write comments on this subject on another blog because I found that when I did once, I got attacked by people, obviously those who want Hindi to be the “national” language. On my own blog I can delete personal comments, but on another blog I can’t. 🙂 What surprises me is why people use bad words and filthy language when someone doesn’t agree with them!

  5. Nita says:

    Roop, your reasoning is right. But unfortunately people who are native Hindi speakers when they live for years and years in another place expect others to speak Hindi with them, like in Maharashtra. It is not fair, as I myself have been shouted at: Hindi me BOl!! That too in my own region! Marathi is my mother and I don’t like being shouted at.
    I think like your mother learnt English in Canada, those who travel to another place, need to pick up some basic language of that region, and respect it. I am talking of settlers, not visitors.
    I don’t know what the solution is, but certainly forcing others to speak a language is wrong and undemocratic.
    Even today people from the North make fun of the Hindi I speak, and frankly I have now stopped speaking Hindi. My daughters have the same problem, their north indian friends make fun of their Hindi.
    I can go on forever as I feel very emotional about this issue and have personally suffered a lot of insults from people because my Hindi is not good, and it’s driven me to the conclusion that I don’t need Hindi.
    You say you don’t care about Punjabi that much, well, I must say that there is far more resemblance between Hindi and Punjabi rather than Hindi and Marathi.

  6. Amrutha says:

    Hmm…this is getting interesting. I agree with Nita. It’s all about wanting to adjust. And the imposition of Hindi (or any other language) is a sensitive issue. We must understand that people have their sensibilities and that we must respect them…as Nita so rightly put it.

    Roop: Just click on subscribe on the top toolbar. it takes you to feedburner and you can choose your reader.

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