Millennium Post

A pervading Hindi

Unwarrantably imposing Hindi as national language makes way to passport content.

A pervading Hindi
The Union government has decided to impose Hindi inside passports too. On June 23, the Hindi speaking Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, announced that from now on, all details in the passport of Indian Union citizens will also be printed in Hindi, in addition to English. Already at present, the cover page has Hindi, the registration details are in Hindi, a "Caution" note underneath is in Hindi, a Presidential order printed in the passport is in Hindi, all field names like Type, Country Code, Passport number, Name, Surname, Nationality, Sex, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Place of Issue, Date of Issue, Date of Expiry, Name of Father/Legal Guardian, Name of Mother, Name of Spouse, Address, Old Passport number with Date and Place of Issue and File Number is in Hindi. So what changes? Now the content inside those fields will be in Hindi in Devanagari script. These details are at present printed only in English. To justify the introduction of Hindi and Hindi only along with English, Sushma Swaraj said, "All Arab countries have their passport in Arabic, Germany makes it in German and Russia makes it in Russian. Why can't we make it Hindi?"

What Sushma Swaraj cites as examples is clever because the statement makes perfect sense to people in areas from where her party, the BJP, got more than 70 per cent of its seats in the Lok Sabha elections, that is, the Hindi speaking states. However, it does not make sense to the majority of Indians who are non-Hindi speaking. Hindi is, in fact, the mother tongue of less than 30 per cent of the citizens, and that too after many Independent languages in the so-called Hindi belt are counted as Hindi dialects. Thus, when Sushma Swaraj says "Why can't we make it Hindi?", the 'we' is the Hindi citizens of the Indian Union. It is a shame that she equates that minority with the rest of us, thus completely obliterating the identity or stake the rest of us, the majority, have in any idea of 'we'. Compared to that less than 30 per cent number that Hindi people constitute, more than 95 per cent people of Germany speak German as their first language; more than 96 per cent people of Russian Federation do the same. Majoritarianism is bad enough. A minority espousing majoritarianism is a delusional recipe for disaster apart from the indignity that such ideologies met out to non-Hindi linguistic nationalities of India. What is interesting though from Sushma Swaraj's cited examples of German in Germany and Russian in Russia is that she understands that it is language that makes a nation. But pushing that simple and obvious understanding in the Indian Union's case would mean multiple sovereign linguistic nations. And that's where the brute assertion and imposition of Hindi by the Hindi minority makes its power felt.
If Sushma Swaraj had taken her eyes away from these practically mono-linguistic nations to nearby Sri Lanka, she would have seen that Tamil along with Sinhalese and English is embossed on the passport cover, even though Sinhala is the mother tongue of 74.9 per cent. Compare this to about 25 per cent in case of Hindi and presence of no other language. She could have also studied another multi-lingual formation (it's hard to call these nations) like Switzerland whose passport has 5 languages on the cover (Switzerland's population is 8.2 million, India's population is 1311 million). Thus, feasibility is not an issue.
Sushma Swaraj claims to have received several complaints about the fact that the passport field content was in English. She, however, did not give any details about who these complainants were, or what is the mother tongue of these complainants. Who can possibly be these citizens who complained that they faced problems with an English detail on passport and wanted Hindi to make up for that? What is the likelihood that these were Hindi speakers because I can't imagine a Tamil or a Bengali who wants his name to be in Hindi but not in Tamil or Bangla because he has some problem with English. Does it mean, that if non-Hindi citizens of the Indian Union also complain to the Ministry of External Affairs, they shall also get their language in addition to English in their passports because I am assuming that Hindi and non-Hindi citizens of the Indian Union have equal rights of understanding the content of their passport and the Minister of External Affairs represent Hindi people as much as she represents others. In fact, in social media and elsewhere, non-Hindi people have already done so by tweeting to her, emailing her Ministry and such. However, Sushma Swaraj has not responded to these complaints with the same earnestness as she did for complaints that made her Hindify the passport. Since English is internationally understood in immigration checkpoints (the primary spot where a passport is usually 'read'), it's unclear how Hindi helps in such spots except for helping India's Hindi citizens understand their passport. Why can't a Bengali or Odia citizen of the Indian Union choose Bangla or Odia (along with internationally understood English) as his/her passport language while applying for it? The technology exists. It is feasible. Denial of equal linguistic rights in the Indian Union and imposing Hindi on non-Hindi peoples is not a technocratic decision. It is a political decision.
Other expressions of this political decision are the repeated assertion by Union Ministers of the BJP that Hindi is "our" national language. But it is not, in essence. It never was. But see how it sounds. Super Indian nationalistic, right? Now, if I say, Bengali is my national language, how does it sound? Almost anti-national, right? The way these two completely equivalent assertions have come to sound so different is the old project of ethnocultural flattening, called Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan. The Hindi in passport is just the newest expression.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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