Monday, November 8, 2010

The Great Indian Language Divide

"Language is the biggest barrier to human progress because language is an encyclopedia of ignorance. Old perceptions are frozen into language and force us to look at the world in an old fashioned way."
-Edward de Bono, Famous Maltese physician,originator of term Lateral thinking and author of best seller Six thinking hats

 During the second semester of my engineering degree, we had a subject(which we never accounted for) called communication skills. Though this was a subject which one could clear with relative ease(when compared with mother of all horrors, Mechanics), I took time to mug up one answer, "Barriers to effective communication". One of barrier which holds true in the Indian context ,is Language.

I wrote a few blogs in the past one year which showed how a constant bias is being developed against speakers of one language(Hindi) by others(namely tamil and marathi). What I saw is what I wrote. But what is the reason for such a huge prejudice and bias? The rivalry of Indian languages goes back a long way in our very old history.

 1000-1500AD: The Arrival of Muslim rulers in India

  The Islamic era of India is something we owe a lot of current tourism revenue to(read Taj mahal). But one thing which this era gave us was our official language. Surprised? Yes, Official language of India, Hindi was not in existence before the Muslim rulers came to India. We had Brij bhasha, Maithili amongst others, but not the khari boli dialect. The Muslim rulers who arrived in India spoke persian and arabic. To gain ground among the locals, the rulers adapted ,and with mixture of persian and brij bhasha came the khari boli(Urdu/Hindi). The father of this khari boli movement was Amir Khusro, famous poet of 12th century, who had mastered brij bhasha along with his own native persian language. Following prose gives us a fair idea of his mastery of the two languages,

zihaal-e-miskeen mukon taghaful (Persian)
doraaye nainaan banaye batyaan (Brij)


The development of the khari boli went on for a long time and not surprisingly, it is still under development(more on that later)

The British Era:-


The Britishers, taking a cue from the previous Islamic rulers, made Urdu the official and national language of communication in India. Almost all the literates of the North Indian belt could read, write and comprehend Urdu, so not surprisingly Urdu was made our national language. What the Britishers did not account for, was that a language could be associated with religion. After the 1857 rebellion, the Hindus started distinguishing themselves by calling the language they speak as Hindi. The very same language, developed by Amir khusro et al, written in devnagri script. This was the first seed sowed for the communal tensions which were to develop between two religions which had so far lived in peace. In response to this, Sir sayyed laid the foundation for the now prestigious Aligarh Muslim university, focussing on educating the Muslims in Urdu, as a counter response to this,  the foundation for Benaras Hindu university was laid. The offensive and counter offensive went on till the year 1900, which was a significant year in the history of languages in India. That year, Hindi and Urdu were accorded the equal status. Two dialects of the khari boli, which when spoken colloquially had no difference, were given a status of two official national languages. The Hindus rejoiced, finally they had an equal standing with a "foreign language imposed upon them". What they did not realize was ,the language they were rejoicing for, was given to them by the very same foreign rulers. From that year, the supporters of Hindi, to make it distinct from Urdu, increasingly 'sanskritized' the language, while, Urdu was constantly drawing from persian. And this is what I meant when I said, the Khari boli is still evolving, because even till today, the languages are getting influenced. When the demands for the creation of Pakistan was raised, Gandhi, Nehru amongst others, propoganded the language Hindustani(the khari boli, Hindi/urdu) and even assingned the famous Hindi and Urdu author Munshi Premchand to compile his work in this common language. They wanted Hindustani to be the official language, which could be written interchangeably in Nastaliq(script of Urdu) and Devnagri. But it was too late, to save the language, and to save the unity.

Post Independence: 
The very same congress, which proclaimed India to be a secular country(which fortunately it still is), and propoganded the use of Hindustani, made Hindi the official language of India(not national), along with English as a defacto official language till 1965. Every effort was made, to increase the reach of Hindi to everyone, sometimes by words and sometimes by force. The Hindi, which liberally used words from persian language, was being 'sanskritized' at a faster rate. Meanwhile, our neighbors left no stone unturned to make Urdu increasingly 'persianized'. Hindi and Urdu which were like conjoined twins a century before, looked like non-identical twins now.

Anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu:
Apparently, Urdu wasn't the only nemesis for Hindi, bigger nemesis for propoganda of Hindi was the dravidian states in south India. Anti Hindi sentiment in Tamil nadu goes back to 1936, when the then congress govt led by our first governer general C rajgopalachari, made Hindi a compulsory subject across all schools in Tamil Nadu. This came as a bolt from blue to Tamilians. They were forced to learn a language which was a polar opposite of the language they spoke. They felt no need of introducing a new language, when just tamil was enough for administration. Instead of addressing their concerns, the chief minister of Madras, used brute force to quell the agitation. But the agitation did not die down and the Congress govt resigned in 1939. After Independence, Congress decided to make Hindi a National language, which would mean all the communication hence forth would be in Hindi to all states. It was only after the threat of secession by the Dravidian states that it was decided to keep Hindi and english(defacto) the official language and not National language, while a scheduled list of 22 national languages would be maintained. English would be the defacto official language only till 1965, but all attempts in the year 1965 to remove english as the official language were quashed by massive protests by DMK and their landslide victory in the state polls(Trivia-Congress has never managed to come back in power since). This prompted Indira Gandhi to make English defacto official language indefinitely. Agreed, their was a hint of linguistic chauvanism in the protests in Tamil Nadu, but the use of force to impose Hindi only increased the Anti-Hindi sentiment in the state. Though the Anti-Hindi protests led to English being made a permanant official language, which is now the source of the Service Industry boom in India.

Current Scenario-
The linguistic chauvanism has reached heights never seen before. The Anti-Hindi sentiment is gaining momentum in Maharashtra and West bengal is not far behind. Their will be no dearth of parties like Shiv-Sena, MNS and DMK for a long time to come 


The country which feels proud of being a land where language changes every mile, is suffereing due to the very same reason. The Hindi language which was envisioned to be a uniting factor for all Indians has instead ended up dividing the nation.One solution to this can be going back to the colonial ways by completely adopting english. But for a problem as old as a millenium, I am no one to offer a solution. I only believe in what is said by Abhishek bacchan in one of the ads for a telecom operator,

                         "Language needs no words"

3 comments:

SWATHI said...

very true.....Language should bury d barrier n not make one...plzzz ppl cummon we r Indians at d end of day...

Anonymous said...

hats off to ur research:-)

Shubhada said...

It's a very informative..... I enjoyed a lot this blog...b'coz of you i learned languages history. INCREDIBLE INDIA!!!!!! Thnxxx abhiiiiiii...... thanx a ton !!!!

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