India Vs Hindia: Migration from North, Job Prospects Trigger Language Equality Debates Across South

Divya Kapoor

Bengaluru: On September 14, to celebrate ‘World Hindi Day’, Union Home Minister and National president Amit Shah tweeted his views on making Hindi a link language in India.

Top political leaders from non-BJP parties and language activists in the south took to Twitter and Facebook to attack Shah for advocating what they called RSS’ unfulfilled dream of ‘one nation, one language’.

Even though Shah remained silent, not wanting to join the issue, his party colleagues came to his defense. Some of them were vocal in support of Hindi for all, the remaining ones were placatory assuring no harm to other major languages in India.

In Tamil Nadu, which has been fighting the imposition of Hindi since Independence, all political parties led by the DMK swung into action, warning the Centre against any such move.

Even in Karnataka, a loud protest erupted accusing the Centre of promoting Hindi hegemony at the cost of much older Indian languages. There have been murmurs of protests from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala as well.

During the 1964-65 ‘anti-Hindi’ riots, several protesters were killed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka forcing the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to withdraw his decision to make Hindi a national language. Indira Gandhi, who was a minister in his Cabinet, had criticised the move even visited Tamil Nadu to pacify the angry and hurt people.

After that, all successive governments at the Centre kept the issue of ‘one national language’ buried, fearing a huge backlash. But the indirect promotion of Hindi continued in various forms leading to protests from time to time.

According to Kannada activists, the current anti-Hindi imposition movement is a direct response to north Indian migrants’ condescending attitude towards native languages and culture of the south. They argue that they have nothing against Hindi as a language and respect its promotion in Hindi-speaking states. They demand that the Centre promote non-Hindi languages in their respective states with the same zeal and enthusiasm.

Arun Javagal, a leading activist from Karnataka, describes it as a movement for language equality. “It is not against Hindi. It is against promoting Hindi at the cost of other major languages. In the language hierarchy, Hindi is above all other languages. The Centre is willfully doing it by using a provision in our Constitution. That should be corrected first. We are against that provision. We want language equality. All 22 languages in the 8th schedule of the Constitution should be treated equally. No more, no less. The Centre is spending our money to impose Hindi over the rest of India. We will oppose that,” he said.

Professor SG Siddaramaiah, former chairman of Kannada Development Authority (KDA), has been fighting for language equality for a long time. He said that some vested interests are trying to create a rift between Hindi speakers and non-Hindi speakers by calling it an anti-Hindi movement.

“Why is the Centre promoting Hindi over Kannada or Tamil or Bengali in states where these are state languages? What are its intentions? Why should Bengaluru Metro have sign boards in Kannada when we don’t get the same privileges in Delhi or Lucknow Metro? Do they have boards in Kannada or Tamil or Marathi?” Siddaramaiah asked.

Vasanth Shetty, a technocrat and language activist, feels that economic liberalisation has worsened the situation. “It is a fight between ‘Hindia’ and India. The Centre feels Hindi alone can represent the entire nation. India is a federal nation. It is a Union of States. The linguistic states were created to protect and promote all major languages. What the Centre is now doing is unconstitutional. If Hindi can generate jobs, why are millions from Hindi states migrating to south and west to seek jobs and educational opportunities? How many from the south and west migrate to Hindi states for jobs and education?” he asks. He punctures the arguments that Hindi opens doors of opportunities.

The Hindi speakers demand all services in Hindi in non-Hindi states, but they don’t extend the same courtesies to non-Hindi speakers in Hindi states, he says.

Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who is vocal about language equality, argues that Centre should promote Hindi only in Hindi states. “The Centre should spend money on Hindi in Hindi states. Not in non-Hindi states. In our state, our language is supreme. We don’t need any national language. All Indian languages are India’s national languages. Why only Hindi?” he charges.

Those comparing Hindi with English have met with criticism across the southern states. “Their argument is, English is foreign, Hindi is Indian. So accept it across India. But the argument is baseless because the same Hindi speakers learn English. Why don’t they learn an Indian language like Kannada or Tamil or Bengali instead of English, if they expect us to learn Hindi and drop English?” language equality activists ask.

The fear of not getting central government jobs because of Hindi imposition has also led to the current crisis in the south. The examination for jobs in central government-run banks, post offices and Railways are only in English and Hindi. It gives a huge advantage to candidates whose mother tongue is Hindi over rest of the candidates whose mother tongue is not Hindi.

“They write these examinations in Hindi and get 90 per cent of the jobs all over India. Our youth don’t get jobs in our own states. The central government is the real culprit. Hindi speakers don’t even learn Kannada or Tamil. It leads to huge day-to-day problems at banks, post offices and railway stations. This is nothing but neo-colonialism. They have a colonist mindset towards our languages. That’s why we are opposing Hindi imposition. We want the central government services and examinations in our own languages. We are also Indians, aren’t we? We, the non-Hindi states, contribute over 60% income to government of India. We will never tolerate making Hindi a national language. We will fight them,” said K V Narayana Gowda, president of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), a pan Karnataka pro-Kannada organization.

Similar sentiments are expressed in rest of the states in the south. The DMK chief MK Stalin has dared the Centre to make Hindi the national language, warning of serious consequences.

Terming Shah’s statement as dangerous and aimed at dividing the nation, Stalin said language diversity is the foundation of India’s unity.

Surprisingly, the BJP chief minister of Karnataka BS Yediyurappa has taken a strong stand against Hindi imposition. In an effort to calm the frayed nerves, he tweeted that Kannada is supreme in Karnataka and any effort to undermine it, would not be tolerated.