Language Conundrum: Hindi poses no danger
by N S Rajaram on 24 Sep 2019 5 Comments

With unfortunately chosen words, Mr. Amit Shah seems to have created an unnecessary controversy by calling for Hindi as unifier as national language. The reaction has been particularly virulent in Tamil Nadu with demagogues like M.K. Stalin and aspiring politicians like actor Kamal Hasan projecting it as North Indian Aryans imposing their language on the Dravidian people of the south. This particularly welcome for anti-Hindu forces of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to fight nationalist parties like the BJP. Christian missionaries and church propagandists who dominate the intellectual space in Dravidian politics must be especially happy.


For those of us who have been fighting the bogey of Aryan invasion by Dravidian politicians and missionaries, are now faced with a new bogey of Hindi invasion.


There was never any talk of enforcing Hindi on anyone, notwithstanding Mr. Shah’s maladroit choice of words. Hindi is useful if you have to work outside your state as with the armed forces. So people learn Hindi for professional reasons, just as they learn English. Tamilians in Mumbai learn Marathi. Most educated families in Tamil Nadu send their children to English medium schools. It is English, not Hindi that poses a threat to regional languages, including Tamil. But Tamilians in Bangalore refuse to learn Kannada though demanding greater share of water from the Kaveri river.


Mr Vaiko who heads a Dravidian party of which he seems to be the only member, was particularly virulent, twisting Mr Shah’s unifier to mean enforcing Hindi on Dravidians, notably Tamilians. There is also an element of political one-upmanship in all this as each politician wants to show he is more Dravidian than the next. It has allowed aspiring politicians like actor Kamal Hasan to jump into the fray.


Mr. Vaiko of MDMK went on to claim that he would lay down his life to defend Tamil, if necessary. It won’t be necessary, though many of his opponents might welcome it. And he added for good measure that Sanskrit is of no value as it is a dead language. This is not my impression from teaching Hindi and Sanskrit when I taught both at the University of Massachusetts in the US.


People interested in India, both Americans and Indian-Americans (including children of Tamil parents) showed interest in learning Hindi and Sanskrit. No one showed the slightest interest in learning Tamil. From this I can hardly claim Tamil to be a dead language. Bollywood has made India known worldwide.


It is best to recognize that Tamil is just one of several regional languages that is in no danger from Hindi. Tamil will be accepted by others if it offered something not available from other languages like English, Hindi and Sanskrit. People learn English because it opens the door to technical fields.


Computers and the internet, more than Shakespeare or Wordsworth, have made English accepted worldwide. Hindi is useful nationally, even if it is not a unifier. So build up a technical literature to make it useful and modern, instead of complaining. Otherwise you will lose Tamilians also to English. As it now stands, there are no compelling reasons for anyone to learn Tamil. It has nothing to offer that I cannot get from other languages. The emotions of others will not persuade me to learn Tamil any more than make me learn mathematics.


The views expressed are personal

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