Linguistic Homogenization: India or Bharat?

Bhaskar Majumder

Of late people across states in India by linguistic categories are extremely annoyed for the perceived lessening weight of their own language or mother tongue as they perceived their own language was made pygmy relative to robust Hindi. Probably their anxiety followed the Expression of Interest (EoI) by one of the heavyweight Ministers in the Government of India this year on Hindi Diwas that is the 14th September each year. There is nothing wrong in such interest expressed and nothing wrong in jubilation on the very day. After all, Hindi is everybody’s language for Bazaar and Bollywood. There is Brahminical Hindi also. Learning Hindi is, of course, a welcome proposition that I burnt my hands to realize after I left West Bengal two decades back to come to BUP (Bihar and UP). But once I learnt speaking in Hindi a little bit, I started loving it like my child. (And let me whisper in your ears, I get enough appreciation when I deliver in Hindi in BUP though it seems to be still my third language!). In parallel, who can ignore the political heavyweight of BUP?  But the question is more serious: should Hindi be imposed on all the citizens of the country or natural members of the society through educational institutions and offices of public interest?

First, a decomposition of the size of population in India that is Bharat is the need of the hour to understand the gravity of the EoI. Undoubtedly the Heartland defines Bharat notwithstanding the cultural contributions of states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. First, it is north India from Bihar stretched to north-west like Rajasthan that has the capacity by conventional indicators to determine the polity and hence power. Though Hindi as a language is not identical for all in the states like Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, there is a natural bhaichara (fraternity) in this region that is understood once one gets rid of the superiority (sic) of English and the other languages that exist in parallel. I abstain from recapitulating notorious BIMARU status of these states understood by demographic-economic indicators. The firmament of Bharat is more than demography-economy.

Second, the state needs some degree of homogenization to address the innocent people in same language. We have so far two official languages: English and Hindi; there is no national language in India that is Bharat. In most of the offices run by the Government of India, Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to make Hindi ‘the language’ to represent people. The Minister has only expressed his intention to translate Gandhi’s desire.

Third, so far it was English hegemony and I have reasons to believe that not more than 5.0 per cent of India’s population can meaningfully communicate in English in year 2019 that excludes 95.0 per cent. This 95.0 per cent innocent population constitute Bharat. If most of them constitute the Heartland and like to have Hindi as the means of communication, I find nothing abnormal in that. The body fails if the Heart (Heartland) fails. The question remains, did the innocent people demand it? The counter question could be, are they capacitated to demand as such?  

Fourth, I have no iota of doubt that the Minister represents the whole of India that is Bharat and not his birthplace and probably his birth place is not Heartland and mother tongue is not Hindi. Still he pleads for Hindi to make it Rajbhasa. So, in my understanding he is above parochialism, linguistically speaking. Some responses started pouring in print and electronic media against the idea of imposition of Hindi as the national language, if I understood it, for 5.0 per cent language elite or approximately 40.0 per cent non-Hindi speaking people in India cannot be wished away. The question remains, what should be the social-link language, if at all? The global context is left out for the time being.

Fifth, for localized people the language issue may not be a major one but once the localization breaks down whether or not the innocent people like it, the corollary issues crop up, one of which is language. Innocence works both ways and has no finite elasticity – one might have experienced it already in the context of Assam.

But the problem remains and those are more serious than what I proposed so far. While the distinction between India and Bharat is understood, even if a little, the non-homogeneity of people in Bharat is not at all understood (I stand to learn very politely if one offers her/his understanding) for what I found in corners of Bharat is people living in different centuries and different spatial divisions. Examples are galore like the Adivasis in Arunachal Pradesh are not at all comparable to the non-Adivasi people in Delhi or the people on the coastal belt are totally different from the people in the desert areas of Rajasthan. Some of the Adivasi families in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh know only their own village and the destination in Gujarat where they migrate each year for a few months. Many of the Adivasis in Uttarakhand, for example, have no written scripts even today and they are living happily in the society. So, the first question comes, why do we go to disturb that unity in diversity? Second, is the question of Hindi-homogenization linked with state rule? If yes, I abstain from analysing it for the time being. Third, is Hindi-homogenization a question linked with nationalism? If yes, I have doubt if Hindi can be a major force to ensure national integration. The country fought against the British power without any linguistic homogenization.

If the above arguments and observations are acceptable to the political determinants and the English-reading population (not more than 10-15 per cent of India’s population), then the question comes why language and why not religion or why not a form of Government that takes decisions unilaterally on issues that aim at homogenization of the people? I have no answer as a layman but I believe (which is not an argument) linguistic homogenization is not warranted for culture that accommodates language is varied and chequered in Bharat that cannot be cocooned in a single shell. Muslims in India participate in Durga Puja in Kolkata just as Hindus relish Siwai in Muslim houses. Non-Adivasis enjoy chicken-bamboo shoots in houses of Adivasis in Arunachal Pradesh just as UP pundits secretly enjoy chicken in Muslim houses. It may be ruthless to eliminate all such beauties from human life.

I believe the state is not inclined to create any conflict between the Hindiwalas and the Non-Hindiwalas. Both are lovable – Hindi and Non-Hindi. Both are beautiful. The point is how the language is used in the public domain and not the very coverage of a particular language by size of population. It is after all not the language per se but the language-content that matters.  

So, in my understanding it was just getting the response of the innocent people what if Hindi-homogenization is accepted as an idea. Or, it was to make the innocent people engaged in public debates on the question. Some questions are really non-questions even if interrogative sign comes at the end of the sentence. The state of India seems to be in no hurry to impose it on the nation of India. India is a civilization that has been accommodating people of different centuries since time immemorial. The state of India is not going to destroy that. Also, national pride is not only Hindi-specific; it is specific to non-Hindi land also. Both Hindi-land and non-Hindi land are in the same nation-state; they are naturally integrated. If the joke is converted into elastic seriousness, it may have serious adverse repercussions. After all, all the Bharatvasis are not standing on the same pedestal of satire. It seems better if the costly satire is avoided in the public domain.               

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Sep 24, 2019

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