Millennium Post

Language bars to mapping nation

The row over ‘prioritisation of Hindi’ between the union and state governments over the circular issued one day after Narendra Modi assumed charge as the Prime Minister of India is a telling one that stems from the inherently federal and fractured fabric of this nation. The home ministry note dated 27 May asks ministries, departments, public sector banks and corporations in their official communication on social media to use Hindi on a priority basis, alongside English and the regional language. While there’s nothing overtly wrong in issuing an advisory seeking to promote Hindi, there’s no constitutional norm making it mandatory. Under the Official Languages Act (1963), use of Hindi and English has been earmarked for official directives and communications, but there’s no constitutional declaration of Hindi as the national language of India. Despite the Hindi film industry being India’s chief cultural export, the census has proved that only 25 per cent of Indians call Hindi their mothertongue, and making it mandatory for official communication on social media would be violative of the existing law. Given that the state governments predominantly use the provincial language to reach out to their people, it is but natural that there would a counterattack from the regional regimes along linguistic axes.

    However, there’s no need to get alarmist over this as-of-now harmless directive, which only advises, and nor orders, to promote the cause of Hindi. Not yet smacking of linguistic chauvinism, and not blocking out the use of either English or the regional language, the MHA order only seeks to make communication easier and more accessible for the current makeup of the union cabinet. In fact, Modi’s emphasis on Hindi could also be traced to his intention to speak in this language at diplomatic conferences abroad. In continuation with his indigenisation of work ethics and bureaucratic protocols, this advisory is alright, but only if it stops short at inciting latent passions along language divides. Given that the Indian states are basically divided along language axes, imposition of Hindi would automatically translate into unrest and situations of riotous conflagrations engulfing the nation. But as far as making the official websites, social media accounts, documents and circulars available in Hindi, along with English and the regional language, is concerned, that is really not a problem at all. In fact, that would mean more opportunities for Hindi language teachers and translators in the spanking corridors of the new government. But in case the directive intends to shove Hindi down the unwilling throats of the states, not only would that be a breach of the fundamental right to freedom and expression, but also be an insult to our linguistic identities.
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