The morning of September 2012 is still fresh in my mind. Hindi lovers from all over the world had gathered in Johannesburg. I was presiding over the media session of the 10th World Hindi Conference. Mani Shankar Aiyar was the chief guest. In his speech, Aiyar had said that nothing could be as good as a person from Bihar arriving in a village in Tamil Nadu and people there asking him in Hindi, “Bhai kaise ho?” Similarly, if a Tamilian were to go to a village in Bihar and be asked, “Neeng epdi irikel?”
There are two reasons why I still remember those moments – first that I realised that Aiyar was absolutely right in what he was saying. He is from Tamil Nadu though he was born in Lahore. Besides Tamil and Hindi, he is conversant in Punjabi and Urdu. How I wish, other Indians knew one or more Indian language besides their mother tongue.
After the session was over, some young people emerged from the crowd and asked me where Mani Shankar Aiyar was. One of them asked why Aiyar felt Hindi speakers should know Tamil. I again asked what their response would be if a Tamil speaker spoke in Hindi. They said it was the duty of every citizen of the country to know Hindi.
Languages and dialects are like those relatives whom we accept at our own will and who cannot be imposed on us.
In 1937, when the government was formed in Madras Presidency, C Gopalachari made the use of Hindi mandatory in schools. Periyar and many pro-Tamil leaders were vocal in their protest. The movement became violent. The police had to use force in many places and some lives were lost. From then on, Tamil parties have resented Hindi.
Our Parliament was also affected. After much debate, the Official Language Resolution was passed in 1968. As per the resolution, Hindi-speaking states had to teach an Indian language besides Hindi and in non-Hindi speaking states, Hindi was to be taught besides English and the local or regional language. This three-language formula was accepted by everyone but Tamil Nadu was adamant.
In 1971, when I took admission in the sixth standard, I was given three options for languages. Telugu, Kannada or Bangla? We lived in Tagore town in Allahabad those days where a large number of Bengalis lived. I opted for Bangla and for the next three years I got the opportunity to understand the language. While writing these lines I can say proudly that this also awakened an interest in reading the immortal literature of Bengal.
Now we come to the present day. When the Central government saw the resentment increasing it explained that it did not want to impose Hindi on anyone. Politics has always followed the policy of one step forward two steps back as far as languages are concerned. When the Hindi-speakers of our generation were growing up, Lohiya had launched the ‘angrezi hatao’ (remove English) movement. Many people boycotted English. It felt good to hear that if Soviet Russia, China, France or Germany could progress so much without English, then India too could grow with Hindi? But this only damaged us. Hindi speakers faced difficulties in getting employment and found themselves at a disadvantage on many other fronts because they didn’t know English well. In exactly the same way, Tamil speakers faced more problems than people from Karnataka or unified Andhra Pradesh when they came to Delhi or any other part of the country. We should love our own language, but if we close the doors on other languages, we are shutting out so much knowledge.
The census of 2011 is an eye-opener. In the beginning of that decade, the number of Hindi speakers and those who could understand Hindi was over 52 crores. This number increased by 10 crores from 2001 to 2011. The biggest reason for the increase which will continue is that people are now moving on to the emerging metropolitan cities in search of employment opportunities. According to the previous data, the number of people speaking Hindi, Oriya and Assamese in the southern regions has increased by 33 per cent. Clearly, after commercial activities increased in the cities of Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Surat, people from the east and north have started coming and settling down in these cities.
One aspect which is often forgotten is the contribution of our Bollywood films. Hindi films which are produced in Mumbai, considered to be a Hindi-speaking city have played a significant role in spreading the language all over the country. There was a time when we knew of actors like Rajinikanth, Mohan Lal, Rekha, Hema Malini or Sridevi only through these films. Now with the changing times, the cinema from the south has also been becoming popular. Baahubali was dubbed in Hindi also and it broke all box office records.
It’s clear that the caravan of languages has moved forward like this and will continue to do so. Indians don’t really need politicians to guide us on this.