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Why one-nation, one-language is bad for diversity

Why one-nation, one-language is bad for diversity

Shah's pitch for linguistic unity has expectedly and ironically divided the public.



By Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's Desk)

Published: Tue 17 Sep 2019, 9:56 PM

Those of us exposed to the 1980s' Bollywood music will remember Amitabh Bachchan wooing Parveen Babi by crooning the song Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain (loosely translated to As They Say in English). That hit song in which the superstar is seen expressing his feelings for his lady love in four languages (English, Gujarati, Bengali and Punjabi) sort of alludes to the linguistic diversity of India. In that light, the country's Home Minister Amit Shah's recent appeal for Hindi as a unifier may be misplaced. In fact, Shah's pitch for Hindi as a pan-national language to counter foreign languages and cultures goes against the fabric of a country that counts diversity as its biggest strength. Hindi is widely spoken in India, of course, but it is one of the 22 scheduled languages of the country. Incidentally, four of those scheduled languages are not the official language of any of the country's states.
The world's largest democracy has not even imposed Hindi as the only language in which the country's parliament conducts business, with that honour being shared with English. In addition, the Indian constitution requires the language of the bills enacted and passed in parliament to be worded in English, with an additional requirement of all such bills to be accompanied by their Hindi translation. In case of any conflict, the English text of such bills and laws remains authoritative. India, indeed, is the epitome of unity in diversity, be it cultural, racial, religious, linguistic, or even geographic.

Even in north and central India, in the so-called Hindi heartland with several dialects of the language, the spoken language is Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) while there are parts of the country where Hindi is hardly spoken or understood leave alone being the language of choice. The efforts and the thought behind promoting Hindi in the country have never been unacceptable to anyone, but the Home Minister tweeting about Hindi being the only language that can unite India is misguided. Shah's pitch for linguistic unity has expectedly and ironically divided the public, with Twitterati and commentators giving reactions on either end of the spectrum.

Almost a score of Indian states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and all the eight north-eastern states would harbour anti-Hindi sentiments if the language was to be imposed on them. That surely can't be the purpose of a unifying language. In fact, a look at Twitter's trending hashtags, including #StopHindiImposition, suggests that Shah's comments may have actually united a diverse India -- if only against the levy of a single language.


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