Evidently, union home minister Amit Shah is not a student of history. If he was, he wouldn’t have advised chief ministers of India’s 28 states and eight union territories to adopt Hindi as the medium of inter-state communication, as he did while addressing the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee on April 7. Since he is unlikely to engage in scholarly pursuits to make good his academic deficit, this short editorial may serve the useful purpose of enlightenment.
The first historical truth that the Hon’ble minister should recall is that in 1956, following public protests and demonstrations in several southern states, perhaps ill-advisedly, a States Reorganisation Committee (SRC) recommended redrawing inter-state boundary lines on the basis of dominant language. The SRC report was accepted by the Centre, and state governments were permitted to develop their dominant languages for education and administrative purposes.
Earlier at the time when the Constitution of India was promulgated and endorsed by Parliament (1950), it was declared that Hindi in the Devanagiri script “shall be” the official language of the country after 15 years. In the interregnum, English “shall continue to be used for all official purposes to the Union”. However in 1965, when Hindi was declared the official language, there was stiff opposition countrywide, especially in southern India and particularly in Tamil Nadu which threatened to secede from the Indian Union. Therefore, the status
quo, i.e, continued use of English for inter-state communication has been maintained for the past 57 years.
Meanwhile, the three-languages formula starting from 1950, under which all in-school children would start learning the state language, Hindi and any other language including English, proved a non-starter because the general populace of Hindi speaking northern states showed no interest in learning a third Indian language, and the southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, were — and remain— averse to teaching and learning Hindi.
It is this ambiguous arrangement that Amit Shah has attempted to disturb with gratuitous advice to states to use Hindi and attempting to re-impose it as the national language even as during the past six decades, English has evolved into the national and global language of commerce and industry, and India’s upper judiciary.
The Hon’ble minister should bear in mind that similar attempts at language chauvinism in neighbouring countries have proved disastrous. Sri Lanka’s 1960s declaration of Sinhalese as the sole national language alienated its Tamil minority and resulted in a ten-year civil war which destroyed the economy. Similarly, Pakistan’s imposition of Punjabi/Urdu resulted in the partition and establishment of Bangladesh. The plain truth is that English/Inglish has transformed into the language of upward socio-economic mobility in contemporary India. The minister would be well-advised to divert his attention to more pressing matters.
Also read: Hindi promotion not in the National interest