Posted by Gowtham MV
On the eve of 23rd May 2019, many were in a state of shock as the Lok Sabha election results were out. BJP had become the single largest party in the house by winning 303 seats. The apprehension across India was palpable because it was clear that there was going to be no ways to counter the views of the ruling party in the parliament. This trepidation was blatantly visible more so in the South than other parts of the country. On many occasions, the South has stood its ground and successfully resisted the authority of Delhi. It must come as no surprise then that BJP had won zero seats in 4 out of the 5 southern states.
For the people living in and around the Hindi heartland, this state of mind of the South was quite puzzling and they went on to express their discontent through social media. Some even went as far as demanding that the South, especially Kerala and Tamil Nadu, must not expect any welfare schemes for their respective states since they did not vote for the BJP government. However, what they fail to remember is that these states are some of the top tax paying States in India.
With all these happening, it is natural non-Hindi states to react defensively to the policies of the Central government. India cannot be one nation, one language, one religion, just because it may be convenient to govern.
Not two days had passed since PM Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and one of the first things the government did was come up with a draft education policy to make the Hindi language compulsory in schools throughout India, forcing the three-language formula on the non-Hindi states. This caused an uproar in the non-Hindi states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal. The hashtag #StopHindiImposition was trending at number one at the world level.
This issue of Hindi imposition has to be dealt with in two aspects. The first is to understand why it may not be so logical to try and impose Hindi on non-Hindi speakers. Making Hindi a compulsory language has had a bloody past. Starting from the deaths of Thalamuthu and Natarajan in 1939 to the large-scale riots in 1965, the Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitations claimed the lives of many Tamils at the hand of the State military. These agitations ended when the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru promised to continue English as the link language for the non-Hindi states.
The state of Tamil Nadu adopted the two-language policy which included Tamil and English. It is to be noted here that any Tamil student willing to learn Hindi was never denied the opportunity, Hindi just wasn’t compulsory. Tamil Nadu has been resisting Hindi hegemony for 82 years (1937-2019). In 2018, Public Affairs Index ranked Tamil Nadu third for Infrastructure, second for support to Human Development, second for the environment, first for control of law and order, and such. The Niti Aayog health index report ranked Tamil Nadu second in health and well-being. The maternal mortality ratio in Tamil Nadu was 66 per 1 lakh births while the national average was 130 per 1 lakh birth. All these are numbers that prove that Tamil Nadu has fared far better than the Hindi belt. While Tamil Nadu is showing progress in all relevant fields of development, hurdles like this new three-language policy will force the state to resist the Centre in its attempt to make the state regress to the mean.
The literacy rate of Tamil Nadu is 80.33% against the national average of 74.04%. The imposition of Hindi in a progressive state like Tamil Nadu comes under question further after seeing the class 10 and 12 exam results in Uttar Pradesh where almost 10 lakh students have failed in Hindi this year.
In April, Tamil Desiya Periyakkam, a political movement from Tamil Nadu held a huge demonstration in Trichy condemning the railway ministry for discriminating against the people of Tamil Nadu. In his address to the press, Mr P Maniarasan, leader of Tamil Desiya Periyakkam alleged that 50% of the employees in Ponmalai railway workshop are North Indians. He also said that out of 2600 new posting, 2300 were from the North. This is happening in many of the government offices in Tamil Nadu. This refutes one of the frequent arguments that one will get more job opportunities if they learn Hindi. If that is the case there won’t be a large-scale migration from the North to South not only as government employees, but also as skilled and unskilled labourers. Another aspect which has spread discontent among non-Hindi states is the amount of fund they receive from the Centre. For each rupee the states pay as tax to the Centre, Tamil Nadu gets back 0.40 rupee, Kerala 0.25 rupee, Andhra Pradesh 0.67 rupee, Karnataka 0.67 rupee. Whereas, Uttar Pradesh gets back 1.79 rupees and Bihar 0.96 rupee.
Why Hindi Can Never Be Made Compulsory
With all these happening, it is natural for the non-Hindi states to react defensively to the policies of the Central government. India cannot be one nation, one language, one religion, just because it may be convenient to govern. With such intense diversity across the country, the government cannot expect to concentrate all the powers in the Centre. A certain amount of state autonomy is mandatory for a healthy co-existence of so many different ethnic nationalities to live together in harmony under the Indian Union.
Since it is not 1965 anymore, modes of information transfer are quicker and more accessible. More and more non-Hindi states are realising the need to preserve their language and culture.
In 1965, it may have been a language war. But this time around Hindi imposition is not just perceived as a language issue. Many in Tamil Nadu feel that it is an attack on their culture and history. This could have been observed during the Jallikattu protests in January 2017 where the whole state came to the streets demanding the ban on their tradition sport be lifted. A majority of these people had never seen the Jallikattu sport in person. Yet they felt the urge to leave their home and throng the streets for 7 days and 7 nights. Why? They felt that their tradition was under attack, their identity was being questioned. During this protest, there were banners talking about farmers suicide, Cauvery water management board, Mullai Periyar dam issue, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, Methane extraction in Cauvery Delta, Tamil fishermen killing, Genocide in Sri Lanka, the release of the 7 Tamils convicted in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination case, and many more.
Anger at the state government and the Central government is brewing on the minds of people of Tamil Nadu, as evident from the election results last month in which the opposition party DMK won 38 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats. The Sterlite killings, Anitha’s suicide demanding the ban on NEET exam and the Salem-Chennai 8 lane Highway project have added to the list of grief that the people are holding against the government. Imposing the three-language formula at this point of time may be the tipping point for a large-scale protest in the state which may put the 1965 protests and the Jallikattu protests to shame.
And to make matters even more difficult for the central government, Tamil Nadu will not be entering the fray alone this time. Since it is not 1965 anymore, modes of information transfer are quicker and more accessible. More and more non-Hindi states are realising the need to preserve their language and culture.
Karnataka, for example, seems to be readying themselves to a major anti-Hindi imposition mindset. While the politicians in Tamil Nadu are giving out press releases and the people are trending hashtags in social media condemning this new draft policy on the three-language, Karnataka has already come out in the streets. Last Sunday, activists in Karnataka conducted a demonstration against imposition of Hindi.
Another promising ally is West Bengal from where similar dissatisfactions were registered against the Central government’s move.
In the last eight decades, the Central government has been using every opportunity in its power to impose Hindi throughout India. For example, right after coming to power in 2014, the BJP government sent a directive that all schools must celebrate Sanskrit week. The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Miss Jayalalithaa wrote a letter to Modi stating that instead of Sanskrit week, each state must be directed to celebrate their own linguistic heritage. And now in 2019, it is testing the mood of the people again. After realising the amount of backlash that this education policy has provoked, the Centre has changed its stand, saying that though the three-language formula would remain, the students now will get an option of choosing the third language. Even this development is eyed with scepticism, as Tamil Nadu wants only a two-language formula. It is believed that the three-language formula will end up as a loophole for the Centre to impose Hindi again.
This will be a never-ending process. The Centre will always be on the lookout for its next opportunity to try and impose Hindi, again and again. But this, unfortunately for them, will remain an unfulfilled dream.
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