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Linguistic genocide

Linguistic genocide
Imagine a middle-class Tamil person in Chennai. He is a citizen of the Indian Union. He has always wanted to defend his homeland from external aggression. He studies in a government school like the huge majority does in Tamil Nadu. He is not from a poor family, he aspires to go to the National Defence Academy (NDA) to become an officer in the Indian Army. He thinks that as a Tamil man and an Indian citizen, he can serve well in the army. Then, before the exam, he comes to know that his mother tongue and medium of schooling, that is Tamil, is not allowed in the NDA entrance examination. He can’t write the exam in his mother tongue. He can’t even get the NDA entrance exam syllabus in his mother tongue. He wonders why he has this disadvantage? Then he thinks that maybe everyone has this disadvantage, that no one gets to take that exam in their mother tongue. His Hindi speaking neighbour studying in a CBSE school informs him that he can take the NDA examination in his mother tongue - Hindi. Now, the Tamil boy is confused. He had assumed all along that citizenship confers total equality of status and as C.N.Annadurai said, every citizen must share advantages and disadvantages equally. He also comes to know that the NDA exam has Mathematics and General Knowledge components. He doesn’t understand how Hindi helps in mastering Mathematics and General Knowledge in a way that Tamil doesn’t. He has heard that Hindi-speakers are over-represented among officers in the Indian Army. Maybe that is a rumour. But then this “Hindi OK, Tamil not OK” rule make him think again. It also makes him think deeper about things beyond NDA, like issues of equal citizenship. He feels cheated and discriminated but there is no recourse. Is it not enough for a Tamil to get the same treatment as a UP person despite having the same amount of knowledge and patriotism? He had tried to maintain good health so that he passes the physical test to get into the Army. But he wasn’t even allowed to take the exam in his mother tongue, so physical exam became irrelevant. Language became the decider.

One Tamil guy from Tamil Nadu studied in English medium and cracked the entrance for NDA. And after joining the Academy, he was tested again for various subjects, including Hindi! He has no idea of Hindi but his Hindi-speaking batch mates have a cakewalk. He thought fitness, knowledge, and patriotism was enough for an Army officer. Now he comes to know that knowing Hindi is so important that NDA even tests it. When does the discrimination end?

Earlier this August, about half the candidates who wanted to join as soldiers in the Indian Army from Tamil Nadu, were disqualified. They had successfully cleared the extremely difficult Physical Fitness Test (PFT) but were stumped by the absence of Tamil question papers, which were obviously made available in Hindi and English. Thus, even at the soldier level, Hindi mother-tongue people can expect to be tested in their mother-tongue. Everyone else is a second-class citizen. Also, the exam was set in CBSE syllabus, where less than 10 percent of students in the Indian Union study. Tamil state board students never knew that to be considered a citizen who enjoys all the rights of citizenship, one had better be a CBSE-educated Hindi speaker. Tamils have to discard their Tamil-ness to become Indian. Hindis define what others must change into, in order to be Indian.

Take a look at Indian Union’s map. Over 90 percent of the land border is in non-Hindi states. The entire coastal border has non-Hindi states. Is this Hindi business some kind of a cruel, discriminatory joke to keep the unscientific and racist Martial Race theory of the British that even recently the Army defended in court? After the Tamil Nadu recruitment event where nearly half the Tamil medium applicants were disqualified, sources at the Indian Army Recruiting Office said, “We lose some of the best candidates and sports talents” due to the anti-Tamil discrimination policy. A report in The Hindu says, “some of the best candidates in terms of physical fitness and talents in sports were missed out as they found the written examination tough in the absence of regional language option. These candidates would probably clear the test had it been conducted in Tamil, the sources said”. What does the Army want – the best person or the best Hindi-speaking person? By upholding a preferential policy for Hindi even when the best talent is being lost to the Army, isn’t external security being put at stake?

Government of India, in pursuance of its Hindi imposition policy wants to peddle the idea that Hindi is the national language (it is not, as clarified multiple times by courts) and Hindi has some kind of universal acceptance. Extensive studies show that a large majority of Indian citizens don’t understand Hindi and that Hindi is the mother tongue of a mere 25 percent of the people, which also includes independent languages deliberately misclassified as Hindi dialects to bloat up Hindi’s numbers. Perhaps the Government of India wants to repeat the lie of Hindi’s universal intelligibility and acceptance and concomitantly discriminate against non-Hindi speakers so that with time, this Hindi imposition and non-Hindi exclusion programme finally produces what it claims is already present. There are other names for such a policy. It is called cultural apartheid or linguistic genocide.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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