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Mind our languages: Govt should avoid imposing Hindi

Seeking To Impose A Uniform Language On The Country Is The Surest Way To Encourage Discord

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At a time when the government is keen to establish India’s status in the international community, the 11th volume of the Report of the Official Language Committee, headed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, appears to represent a big step back. Though the details of the parliamentary committee report are not in the public domain, information about some key recommendations suggests that Hindi is to be made the medium of instruction in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), and central universities. The report has also suggested that the language of communication in the administration in northern states should be Hindi and bureaucrats will be evaluated on their use of the language in the annual appraisals. Not surprisingly, this has sparked protests from the southern states, particularly Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the anti-Hindi movement has deep roots, though it has been clarified that the recommendation would exclude those states broadly outside the Hindi belt.

Even so, there are several problems that could arise from these recommendations. One concerns the impracticality of explaining sophisticated scientific and management terms in any local language. Even Hindi news readers employ many English terms in economic news bulletins. The objective of this requirement may be to level the playing field for students from non-English medium backgrounds. While levelling up is always a laudable objective, given that English has become so entrenched as the global medium of communication, it would make greater sense to introduce English at school level to give more students a fighting chance of gaining from state-sponsored education. Further, many if not most students of IITs and IIMs are campus-hired by some of the world’s largest corporations and often travel overseas either for further studies or on transfers. A Hindi-based specialised education would immediately limit their access to opportunity. Few of them would be able to participate, for instance, in the IT revolution that has made India a back office to the world. If anything, it would create an asymmetric market between those who attend IIMs and IITs in north India and those who attend these same institutes outside of the region.

As for insisting on Hindi in central government departments, the recommendation ignores the fact that the Government of India governs for all of India and not just the Hindi belt and that bureaucrats, likewise, come from states outside of this region too. The issue of language has been a fraught one since independence, which is why the promotion of Hindi as the language of official communication under Article 351 of the Constitution has seen spotty progress despite exhortations from several official language committees. This latest effort to impose Hindi raises once again and quite retrogressively the issue of cultural chauvinism at a time when it is least required. India has remained uniquely unified despite the infinite multiplicities of its cultures — and those include languages and food habits. Seeking to impose a uniform language on the country is the surest way to encourage discord.