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Home / Opinion / Views /  Opinion: To bridge the language divide, nation must adopt a new script

In September 2012, I presided over the media session of the ninth World Hindi Conference in Johannesburg, attended by Hindi lovers from across the world. In his speech, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said nothing can feel as good as a day when a person from Bihar arrives in a village in Tamil Nadu and people there ask him in Hindi, “Bhai kaise ho?" In the same manner, if a Tamilian goes to a village in Bihar and he is asked, “Neeng epdi irikel?"

There are two reasons why I still remember those moments. I realised while listening to Aiyar, that no matter what everyone says about this gentleman, he was absolutely right. As is obvious from his name, Aiyar originally belongs to Tamil Nadu. He was born in Lahore and besides Tamil and Hindi, he knows Punjabi and Urdu very well. How I wish other Indians could also understand one or more Indian languages besides their mother tongue! I would have forgotten that incident had I not come face to face with some disturbing elements.

After the session, some young people from the audience came to ask me where Aiyar was. I felt their aggression a little objectionable. On questioning, one of them said, how Aiyar can expect Hindi-speakers to speak in Tamil? I again asked - What if a Tamil-speaker speaks Hindi, then? Their response was, “That they should anyway. This is the duty of every citizen of the country to know Hindi." This attitude is not good for Hindi. Languages and dialects are like relatives whom we readily accept. It is not good to impose them.

In 1937, when the government was formed in Madras Presidency, C. Rajagopalachari made Hindi mandatory in schools. Periyar and many pro-Tamil leaders protested. The movement turned violent. Police had to use force in many places. Lives were lost. Since then, Tamil parties have resented Hindi.

After long debates, the Parliament passed ‘Official Language Resolution’ in 1968. Hindi-speaking states had to teach some Indian language besides Hindi and in non-Hindi speaking states, Hindi was to be taught besides English and the local or regional language. This three-language formula was accepted by the entire country, but Tamil Nadu remained adamant.

In 1971, when I took admission in Class VI, I was also given three options for languages. Telugu, Kannada or Bangla. We used to live in Tagore town of Allahabad those days, where a large number of Bengalis lived. I opted for Bangla and for the next three years I got the opportunity to understand the minuteness of the language. This not only introduced me to Bangla but also awakened an interest in reading the immortal Bangla literature.

Now, we come to the present times. When the central government saw rising resentment, it said it doesn’t want to impose Hindi on anyone. Politics has always followed the policy of one step forward, two steps backward, as far as languages are concerned. And we have borne the brunt of it.

When the Hindi-speakers of our generation were growing up, Lohia had launched the ‘Angrezi hatao’ (remove English) movement. Many people overwhelmed by sentiments boycotted English. It felt good to hear that if Russia, China, France or Germany could progress without English, why can’t India grow with Hindi. But this only damaged us. Hindi-speakers faced difficulties in getting employment and complexities on many other fronts because they didn’t know English well. Exactly in the way Tamil-speakers faced more problems than people of Karnataka or unified Andhra Pradesh when they came to Delhi or any other part of the country. It is good to love our language and feel proud of it, but if we close the doors on other languages, even the light of hope for knowledge will fade away.

The census of 2011 was an eye-opener. In the beginning of this decade, the number of Hindi-speakers crossed 520 million in the country, an increase of 100 million in a decade. The next census will be carried out in 2021 now, but it is certain this number will increase. The biggest reason is that people are moving to metropolitan cities, leaving behind their old obstinacy in search of employment opportunities. According to the previous data, the number of people speaking Hindi, Odiya and Assamese in southern regions has increased by 33%. Clearly, after commercial activity increased in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Surat, people from east and north have started coming and settling down in these cities. Hindi films have played a key role in spreading the language. There was a time when we could come to know about the actors like Rajinikanth, Mohan Lal, Rekha, Hema Malini or Sri Devi only through these films. Now with changing times, cinema from the South has also become popular among us.

It’s clear that the caravan of languages has moved forward like this and will continue to do so. We Indians do not need our leaders at least for this.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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