Fear of ‘Hindi imperialism’ sparks language war, but Devanagari may sign amicable truce
Indian languages are not mutually competitive, but complementary. This reciprocity and complementarity will increase further with the adoption of the Devanagari script.
Time and again, Hindi is projected as a threat to India’s pluralistic language identity. The latest being an online spat between two actors from competing film industries. At the celebration of the success of KGF: Chapter 2, Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep has referenced the recent pan-Indian success of South Indian films and said Hindi is no longer “a national language”. In response, veteran Hindi film actor Ajay Devgn claimed that Hindi was the “national language” and would remain so. He further asked his South Indian film colleague why regional films are dubbed in Hindi if they are not. This Twitter spat quickly snowballed into a major controversy, with other South Indian actors and politicians jumping on the bandwagon. They accused the central government of indulging in language politics.
Earlier, chairing the 37th meeting of the Parliament’s Official Languages Committee, Union Home Minister Amit Shah also called for the adoption of Hindi as an alternative to the English language. He pointed out that nine tribal communities in the Northeast have adopted Devanagari as the script for their dialects. Apart from this, the eight North Eastern states have agreed to make Hindi compulsory in schools up to class X. The minister also said that the development and expansion of Hindi should not come do so at the expense of other Indian languages but as an alternative. in English.
Shah’s speech for Hindi drew heavy criticism from a wide range of opposition leaders and artists. These include Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Kerala Chief Minister P Vijayan, famous musician AR Rahman and actor Prakash Raj to name a few. It is ironic that while Hindi, an Indian language, is seen as a symbol of linguistic imperialism, English finds no such objection. The statements made by AR Rahman and Prakash Raj are blatant examples of this hypocrisy and demonstrate their lost connection with the soul of India.
The National Education Policy 2020’s emphasis on the mother tongue ensures that a child’s energies are directed towards learning critical concepts rather than a new language. It also protects languages hitherto discriminated against by including them in the school curriculum. However, its implementation on the ground seems to be a Herculean task in the current socio-cultural scenario, in which Indian languages find themselves vulnerable to the colonial language, English, which is slowly swallowing up all Indian languages except English. ‘Hindi.
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The importance of the 21 Indian languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution is gradually diminishing in the intellectual world, while the dominance of the English language is gradually expanding. Apart from its importance in socio-cultural life, governance-administration and the commercial market, English has also made significant inroads as a medium of instruction. This undoubtedly poses the greatest existential threat to Indian languages as a whole.
In the current context, it is urgent that the Indian languages come together to face English supremacism. Efforts should be made to strive to eradicate their mutual misunderstanding and separation. The Devanagari script can play a decisive role in the development, spread and interaction of Indian languages. For this, the best literature of all Indian languages must be transliterated into the Devanagari script so that it can be accessible to the vast majority and to Hindi society at large.
Figures such as Raja Rammohun Roy, Lokmanya Tilak, Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati, Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Krishnaswamy Iyengar, Muhammad Karim Chagla and Bineshwar Brahm had advocated the adoption of Devanagari script for all Indian languages as the national script or common. . A common script would allow spoken language to flourish while easing the burden on educational and administrative systems. The Devanagari script is best suited for this purpose because it fulfills the two most important criteria – unlike the Latin script, Devanagari is phonetically sound; and among current Indian scripts it is the most widely used. Although the need for a common scenario has been stressed by many, no one has intended to step on the political landmine of regional politics for years. It is time to rise above narrow politics and regionalist identities and move towards realizing this dream.
Having a single script for different Indian languages is far reaching as it will remove the unfamiliarity, distrust and distance between them. Thus, bringing them closer to each other. The process can be initiated with the adoption of the Devanagari script as the common script for Indian languages descended from Sanskrit, as well as unscripted languages and dialects. Today, many languages and dialects – for example, in Jammu and Kashmir, the North East, Andaman-Nicobar and Goa – are facing existential crises due to the lack of a script. However, these endangered/disappearing languages have a very rich tradition of oral literature, which needs to be protected.
The same goes for the literature of the Nayanar-Alvar saints, Gitagovindam by Jayadeva, guruvani by Guru Nanak, verses by Shankardev, Bakh of Lalleshwari, Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, and Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. These should be read by every literate Indian. Standardizing the script not only provides the best balance between diversity and functional literacy, but it further increases social closeness and cultural affinity.
Some Indian languages have their own distinct scripts like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam etc. Excessive linguistic diversity is not always the best for the creation and propagation of knowledge. Adopting the Devanagari script as co-writing would not only allow the spoken language to flourish but also solve the age-old problem of socio-cultural narrow-mindedness existing in a society.
The Devanagari script can also be partially modified/enhanced to suit the specific sounds of a particular language, thus establishing its natural proximity and affinity with more and more Indian languages. The complex process of language learning can be made very easy and accessible by adopting a common script for all Indian languages. By doing this, new languages can be learned easily. The origin, cultural background and vocabulary of Indian languages from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kamrup are very similar. This holds the key to making Indians multilingual. It should be understood that Indian languages are not mutually competitive, but complementary. This reciprocity and complementarity will increase further with the adoption of the Devanagari script.
Today, the market and language are interdependent. The market develops through language and language flourishes through the market. This is why Hindi is growing and spreading so much. Other Indian languages would not only be culturally enriched by being associated with Hindi through the Devanagari script; on the contrary, they will also be able to find their marks in the sectors of employment, business and tourism. The original script of the Dogri language was Takri and that of Kashmir was Sharda. During a period, Dogri adopted Devanagari and Kashmiri adopted Nastalik as the screenplay respectively. Today, Dogri is read and understood by Hindi society, while the Kashmiri language is gradually shrinking. Kashmiri language can revive by adopting Devanagari script and connecting with Hindi and other Indian languages.
The author is Dean, Student’ Welfare, Central University of Jammu. The opinions expressed are personal.