The writer T.R.Jawahar is Group Editor of Chennai-based News Today, Maalai Sudar and Talk Media publications.
Let me start with my now familiar invocation: When Sanskrit itself is being challenged, whither Hindi? Really, compared to Tamil, Hindi is a bachcha. It does not have much of a history, let alone literary history. Still, a brief on that brief history would put the present in perspective.
At one extreme, there are those who claim that there was never a language called Hindi till modern times. Even Hindi pundits with a very sympathetic outlook place its origins to around 12th century AD. It is generally bunched with the Indo-Aryan family and has classical Sanskrit along with the Devanagari script as its parent from which it has inherited bulk of its vocabulary.
Hindi’s ‘history’ is mired in medieval maze. Let me add to the confusion. Prakrit, which evolved from classical Sanskrit around 500 AD gave birth to numerous dialects, collectively called Apabhramsha, all of which were spoken across North India.
The Sultans who ruled after the 10th century AD referred to them as Hindavi. Their Persian, which later became the official language under the Moghuls, gradually mixed with these and led to the emergence of Hindi and Urdu.
As the Moghuls fizzled out in 18th and 19th century, so did Persian. By this time an upper class version of Apabhramsha dialect had gained in popularity. This was Khariboli and was predominantly identified with Delhi and parts of western UP. Khariboli became Hindusthani.
The British were harried by the humongous range of tongues wagging at them like the Tower of Babel and searched for a single language to administer India. Hindusthani came in handy for them. After the 1857 revolt in which Hindus and Muslims fought shoulder to shoulder, the British de-Persianised Hindusthani to cause a communal divide. In early 20th century, the Brits also replaced Persian, which was the language in the judiciary with this Hindusthani.
This was a shot in the arm for Hindi-centric Sankritised Hindusthani. Hindi therefore is a very nascent language and its present form, particularly prose, evolved in just over two hundred years, thanks to many zealous stalwarts eager to make up for lost centuries. Also, to put it in commercial jargon, Hindi would rank as the most leveraged language in the world, having borrowed in a very short time from scores of Indian (Avadhi, Bhojpuri, Maghadi, Marathi, and even Tamil) and foreign languages, French and Portuguese, to name just two.
But for all its mixed breed and indebtedness, Hindi has bulldozed itself into national consciousness in a very short time span. Much of what is claimed as Hindi literature actually belongs to other North Indian local languages which were booming in literary flourish owing to the Bakthi movement. Tulsidas wrote his Ramayana in Avadhi; Mira’s bhajans were in Braj-basha plus some Gujarati and Rajasthani dialects. Kabir was known for singing in and mixing several little known languages (Kichchadis) to take the message of devotion to God to the masses, while rejecting Sanskrit as elitist.
All these are languages in their own right as are their literature. But modern Hindi historians conveniently and rather, cunningly, call them as dialects of Hindi, a matter of resentment for the speakers of those languages till date. And thanks to Delhi being the capital and power centre of British India, its Khariboli Hindi was automatically deemed the real Hindi, though Hindi by itself had different dialects.
Post-Independence, after heated debates in the Constituent Assembly on the language issue, there emerged what is known as Munshi-Iyengar formula. Congress had always pushed for Hindusthani alias Khariboli Hindi for national language. This was opposed by several linguistic groups and regions of the fresh-born nation. Even many Congressmen from TN objected. TTK’s quip is famous: ‘Do we want a whole India or only UP India?’ So, by this formula English and Hindi were declared as official languages. India therefore had no national language. Urdu promptly became Pakistan’s national language. No disputes there.
But it was agreed that in 15 years there will be a move towards a three-language regime by which Hindi will become compulsory. However, the fact that there was intense opposition to Hindi as national language, even in the North, at the time of freedom and India’s federal structure being based on linguistic States flies in the face of claims by Hindi proponents that it was the most popular language at that time. That said, the views of nationalist leaders like Gandhi also carried credence, valid even now, some say: With its vast diversity of languages, most in the world, India needs a common lingua franca for communication and integration. If so, an honourable intent was botched by shoddy, shady methods.
Hindi, though not the majority tongue, was spoken by a minority in most States. It was first past the post as in polls, by which a candidate with just about 25% votes gets elected because the others’ were split into lesser fractions. And with liberal and blatant official push by Nehru’s regimes, it slowly crept up the charts as Sarkari Hindi and then spread its tentacles into the hinterlands, assimilating, adulterating and acquiring many local tongues in the process.
To paraphrase a popular movie dialogue, ‘there are now many languages in Hindi’. The Hindi of interior UP could be so vastly different from the Khariboli Hindi of Delhi that the same word could have two meanings, even opposite. With many rural students and job-seekers entering urban areas in the last 20 years, this has led to a lot of confusion and even social friction, say some friends in the know of things. Many such migrants have even lost touch with their own native tongue, causing familial disconnect back home.
Hindi is predatory. It is India’s indigenous imperial lingo and has swallowed many tongues. The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution which lists 22 languages stipulates that the mother tongue should be mentioned as sub-categories. Census guidelines also insist on recording mother tongues. And, lo! Hindi has 49 mother tongues under it simply owing to the fact that almost all north Indian ‘unique’ tongues are deemed sub-categories of Hindi! A mother tongue is the one spoken to a child by its mother and not something imposed by law or society. But Hindi by a pervert twist of the official tongue reigns as the mother of all these tongues.
In a recent article in Livemint, a Bihari writer bemoans the fate of his mother tongue (the very ancient ‘Magadhi’ of the mighty Magadh) that has become alien to its own people who have settled in Delhi and elsewhere, thanks to the confusion wrought by the ‘new’ Hindi. Quoting and interpreting intricate census data on language and mother tongue, he says, ‘…these numbers bear testimony to the ongoing cultural violence inflicted by Hindi in its own backyard. Much has been written on the pitfalls of forcing the use of Hindi as the national language on non-Hindi states. But what about the hegemonic project which is threatening to subsume the likes of Magadhi and Bhojpuri? Is this yet another aspect of the politics of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan, which is associated with the political right in India?’. A familiar phobia, is it not?
A language carries in its womb the speakers’ culture, religion, traditions, rituals, art, literature, etc. When a local language is hacked and hijacked, all these inherent treasures, too, get disrupted and slowly dissipate. Hindi, during its unremitting onslaught across India has converted many such wombs into tombs.
Aah, but yes, it is no doubt the most spoken single tongue now and therefore the most eligible candidate for ‘National language’ status or so believes the BJP. By no means a classical language, it is sought to be placed on that pedestal as the sole consensus language, a position it has reached only through imposition. Clearly, like it or not, good or bad, the emerging scenario is that one has to be a Hindian to be an Indian!
Tailpiece: Nehru ensured the spread of Hindi in anticipation of 1965, when the three-language formula was supposed to kick-in! Did it? Aah, we are now in TN terrain, at last.
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