By Garga Chatterjee
While the Indian Union and Pakistan celebrated the transfer of power from London to New Delhi and Karachi (something that goes by the name independence in these parts of the world), a twitter hashtag made news on 15th of August 2015. #StopHindiImposition was trending among the all India top 5. This was a well-coordinated campaign from citizens who wanted to bring their demands for linguistic equality to be brought into public notice. Such an act, `especially`™ on 15th August was termed by some as being `anti-national`™. From when did asking for linguistic equality and fighting against non-consensual imposition of something become an anti-national act `“ unless being patriotic and being for Hindi imposition are the same? It is precisely this right to protest unilateral impositions, among other things, that were supposed to have been achieved on 15th August 1947, or so we were made to believe.
Freedom also means equality. This means no one should have more or less advantage in any sphere of life, just because of his or her mother-tongue. I will give two sets of examples. There are a million things that a non-Hindi mother-tongue person cannot do in mother-tongue in the Indian Union and this becomes especially stark when one goes down the socio-economic ladder. One cant write to parliamentary committees in their mother-tongue (thus cutting out a majority of the people from the legislative process), cant expect public sector banks to provide forms, documents and ATM choices in their mother-tongue even in their own states and areas, cant expect air-plane safety announcements to be in the major languages of the origin and destination even when both are in non-Hindi regions (ironically, foreign airlines have announcements in Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, etc for flights to Indian destinations where these languages dominate), can`™t expect that their Prime Minister will go abroad and open their own language centre in a foreign country as part of PR and `soft-power`™ projection, can`™t have passports and other documents in their own language (Canada does, Switzerland does in 5 languages, even a neighbouring repressor of minority ethnicity like Sri Lanka mentions both Sinhalese and Tamil, many others do), can`™t argue in their courts in their mother-tongue in non-Hindi states, can`™t take competitive exams like IIT, IAS and a host of other `national`™ exams in their mother-tongue, can`™t expect in an age of increasing digitization of information that `national`™ websites will also be in their mother-tongue, can`™t expect that `national`™ institutions do essay competitions for children who are non-Hindi, can`™t expect that Income Tax website and forms are intelligible in the mother-tongues of the majority of tax-payers, can`™t expect signsboards in Lok Sabha in their own language (Singapore parliament house, ironically again, has signs in Tamil and 3 other languages), has to put up with disrespectful things like reservation chart of train between Chennai and Coimbatore being in Hindi but not in Tamil, can`™t expect that central government and PSU bank employees will be paid cash incentives to learn some Indian language other than Hindi (hence non-Hindi speakers fund the cash-incentive based promotion and learning of Hindi – clearly a Bengali learning Tamil won`™t link anyone in any way that `matters`™ or result in `national integration`™!), can`™t expect their own mother-tongue signage in trains and metros in areas where they are linguistic minorities (Hindi signs exist everywhere in Bengaluru`™s Namma Metro, a city where Hindi doesn`™t figure in the 3 most spoken languages in the city), can`™t expect Central government schemes and missiles to have names that mean nothing in Hindi but are meaningful in other Indian languages (while the reverse seems to be the rule) can`™t expect that CISF-CRPF-RPF-Army-BSF will speak and understand language of non-Hindi locals (but you can`™t find a government paid Khaki in UP who doesn`™t understand Hindi), can`™t expect government adverts about cleaning India, greening India, making India and what not in non-Hindi Indian languages to be in newspapers and bill-boards of Hindi regions (while the reverse is true), can`™t expect that their population proportion will atleast hold somewhat constant if not grow (no points for guessing whether population proportion of major non-Hindi language speakers have decreased or increased since 1947 – and the decrease closely parallels the increase in proportion of Hindi speakers), can`™t expect Central government to fund World Kannada Conference or Tamil Language Day, can`™t expect a Bangla film to have a CBFC certificate in Bangla, can`™t expect someone to `break into`™ their non-Hindi mother-tongue in English language TV channels, can`™t expect government websites that cater to the poorest (like MNREGA information) or government TV channels that cater to farmers (like Kisan TV) to have anything in their non-Hindi mother tongue (as Mohammed Shafi points out `farmers of non-Hindi states have real challenges to overcome. Let`™s not include `learning Hindi` and ridicule them`™. The list goes on and on. When a nation-state treats huge sections of its citizens as second class, do those citizens have the same obligation of loyalty to that system as the first class citizens? Only a twisted and hypocritical supremacist can claim to believe in `diversity`™ and then unilaterally dictate which specific kind of `common`™ interface that needs to be developed. Who are these `non-Hindis`™ anyways? They are peoples with individual populations as large as Canada, Mexico, Italy, Egypt, etc depending on which state we are talking about. 5 of their languages figure among the top 20 languages with the largest number of native speakers.
If you are discriminated on the basis of your mother-tongue, are you independent or free? The answer is no. Who rules over you then? Well, those who oppose linguistic equality and hence want to continue the discrimination against your mother-tongue, that is, against your mother, you and your coming generations till your kind gives in to this discrimination as `normal` and considers New Delhi sponsored promotion of a particular language also as `normal`. If you learn to speak, think, write and feel in that imposed language, can sing Bollywood tunes to be included in `national` antaksharis on TV and feel included in informal settings among `cosmopolitan`™ friends in Mumbai, Delhi and increasing Bengaluru, you will become the kind of citizen New Delhi wants you to be. This is not accidental and is by design. This is not some new design either. Macaulay had something similar in mind but he is now dead. His ghost now speaks official Hindi and writes that in Devanagari script. Any imposition works best using the resources of the people on whom the imposition takes place. Curzon knew that then. The power-that-be know that now.