Language reduced to a dog whistle

Again, this “national language” trope is paraded, this time sparked by a social media feud between northern and southern actors. Picking up from this, many politicians stepped in to offer their bits of wisdom; the usual suspects raising the specter of anti-nationals and banishing them to Pakistan. Although the current turn of the dispute originated in the neighboring state, the issue has crucial resonance in Tamil Nadu, which first sounded the trumpet against the imposition of Hindi, which the leaders of the era described as “linguistic imperialism”.

First, the basics: India has 11 national symbols, which include an animal, a bird, a tree, a flower and a fruit, a river, and a water creature. What we don’t have is a national language. The rulers, who amalgamated the regional kingdoms into a composite whole on the basis of shared history and culture, left the language alone. Instead, they chose 22 regional languages, including Hindi, as the programmed languages.

As a bridge between the English governments and the peoples of distant states, it has been allowed to be used for official purposes for 15 years since the Indian Constitution came into effect. But when states with non-Hindi populations grew restive at the end of the 15-year period, the Center introduced the Official Languages ​​Act 1963, amended in 1967, and the Official Languages ​​Rules ( use for official purposes of the Union), 1976.

At its core, a language serves two purposes: first as a tool of communication, then as the vehicle that preserves and the vehicle that advances history, culture, heritage and, most importantly, memories of a people. Despite the widely perceived animosity the state apparently has for Hindi, the resentment is not towards the language, but the attempt to impose it. This explains why shop owners in Tamil Nadu, many of whom have minimal education, are able to converse in passable Hindi after the influx of guest workers from the north. This usefulness of a language is purely practical.

The second role is intangible, but it is one that adds to the bright and vibrant kaleidoscope that is India. The better a regional language writer is, the more difficult it is to translate his work. Because contained in the words, phrases and idioms one chooses, is the true culture of one’s society. In writing them, the writer weaves them intricately into the greater whole that is the country.

Trying to erase or undermine this with a top-down approach is no different from trying to paint a rainbow with a single color; an attempt full of dangers as recent history has shown. There are many lessons to be learned from the language protests of Tamil Nadu (against the imposition of Hindi), Sri Lanka (against the Official Language Act of 1956, popularly called the Sinhalese-Only Law) and Bangladesh. before independence (against the replacement of Bengali by Urdu by Pakistan). ). It’s important to remember that none of these ended in favor of hegemons.

A more instructive story comes from Indonesia, where the new rulers decided not to impose Javanese – spoken by around 40% of the population, much like the case of Hindi in India – but instead chose to design a new language, Bahasa Indonesia, as the national language. Not having a regional language as a national language removed the element of hierarchy.

It is inconceivable that these lessons of history are lost to Hindi hegemons, indicating a calculated ploy to use the national language trope for political gain. It reduces a beautiful language, which was used with grace and elegance by great writers, to a simple dog whistle. It’s cynical and a recipe for disaster, and it has to stop.