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India Needs Unity, Not Uniformity

India Needs Unity, Not Uniformity

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement on Hindi Divas that Hindi should be made the common language for the country drew strong reaction from various quarters. In his tweets, Amit Shah said, "India has many languages and every language has its importance. But it is absolutely necessary that the entire country should have one language that becomes India's identity globally”. He also appealed that Hindi be made the primary language, saying that it is necessary to have one to represent India.

The political parties from the South said that they would oppose any move to impose Hindi. Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, called Shah’s statement “a war cry” against the mother tongues of non-Hindi speakers. “The claim that Hindi unifies our country is absurd. That language is not the mother tongue of a majority of Indians. The move to inflict Hindi upon them amounts to enslaving them. Union Minister's statement is a ‘war cry’ against the mother tongues of non-Hindi speaking people,” the Kerala CM said. DMK president Stalin and former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah also came heavily on Shah for raking up the issue of Hindi being made the common language.  

"We should not stir up controversies on emotive and sensitive issues which have been settled by the maturity of India's Constitution-makers and the prime minister after Independence, especially I am referring to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru,” said Anand Sharma, Congress spokesperson. Responding to the statement of Amit Shah, Jairam Ramesh of the Congress said, "We may have one nation-one tax, one nation-one election, but under no circumstances can we have one nation-one culture, one nation-one language." “India is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and secular nation and any move to impose Hindi would strike at the pluralistic feathers of the nation and its cultural identity,” said V. Narayanasamy, Chief Minister of Puducherry.

Ever since it was known that the economy of India is facing a serious slowdown, adding more burden to the already soaring unemployment, the Modi government has been using various techniques to divert the attention of the people from the real issues. Shobhaa De in an article in The Times of India on 15th September, Don’t cry over the moon, there are other worlds to conquer ”, had mocked the drama enacted when the lander, Vikram of Chandrayan 2 failed to touch-down on the moon. She wrote, “There are priorities and priorities. Of course, our scientists are the best in the world... There was no need for the Prime Minister to ‘console’ all those wonderful scientists quite so dramatically. There was no need for the scientists to cry. There was no need for this unwarranted public show of disappointment. This was one photo-op that need not have been as heavily publicised.” Some people see the unwarranted statement of Amita Shah on Hindi at this juncture as a technique to divert the attention of the people from the issues of bread and butter. This view was echoed in the statement of Kerala Chief Minister when he said, “Mr. Shah has wilfully exacerbated language divisions to divert public attention from critical issues. This is a conspiracy by the Sangh Parivar to open a new battle front in the name of language”.

Re-election of the BJP with increased mandate in May 2019 has emboldened the party to hasten the process of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra. The abrogation of article 370 and article 35 A, bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories and keeping the region under communication lockdown since August 5 are celebrated as  “bold” steps ‘to unite India’ by many supporters of the Government. RSS’ dream of making a uniform India (Hindu, Hindi, Hindutva) will be realized only if Hindi is made the common language of the whole country.

The constitution-makers had found a solution to the vexed problem of a common language by proposing the three language formula: mother tongue, Hindi and English as official languages. This arrangement has worked well for the last 70 years. According to the Official Languages Act, 1963, Hindi and English are the official languages for the Union Government and Parliament. A total of 22 languages of the country are recognised under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Hatred towards English should not be the reason for promoting Hindi. Any ideology or policy based on hatred will only lead to disaster.

Even without imposing Hindi, more and more people of India are learning Hindi in view of better mobility from one state to another state. Data from the 2019 survey by the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha also gives weight to this argument. For example, Tamil Nadu topped the south Indian states for its voluntary Hindi learning classes. Some 500,000 students signed up for its courses, says the Sabha. The Hindi movies are playing a prominent role in motivating the non-Hindi speaking Indians to learn Hindi. The BJP and the RSS should know that anything that is imposed will be rejected in course of time. The government has to give incentives to the people for learning Hindi. People know that learning any language is an asset. The sharp reactions from the South Indian states are against imposition and domination.

Imposition of Hindi on all people of India could be part of implementing ‘cultural nationalism’ or Hindutva, the ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party. According to V.D. Savarkar, a proponent of Hindu nationalism, the characteristics of a nation are common race, common religion, common culture and common language. Therefore without making Hindi the common language of India, the ideology of Hindutva cannot be fully realized. The Sangh Parivar seems to have forgotten that the concept of one-language nation to unite the people is a construct of 19th century nationalism which became outdated in the 20th century itself.

India is a land of diversities in language, religion, culture, bio-diversity etc. Unity in diversity has been the heritage of India from time immemorial. Diversity was not seen as a weakness or threat but as strength of India. The Rig Vedic phrase Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam (the world is one family) and the Rig Vedic statement, ekam sat, vipra bahuda vandanti (That which exists is ONE, sages call it by various names.) are considered the philosophical foundation of ‘unity in diversity’. Mughal rule except that of Aurangaseb, was an outstanding example of acceptance, appreciation and celebration of diversity and communal harmony. A quote from History of Jahangir by Dr. Beni Prasad (P.100) highlights how Emperor Jahangir promoted harmony and unity by accepting diversity.

“The principal festivals of the Hindus as well as those of the Muslims were celebrated with equal enthusiasm and éclat in the Durbars of the Mughal Emperors of India. On the Dusshera day, richly-caparisoned horses and elephants of the Emperor were taken out in procession. On the occasion of Raksha-Bandhan, Brahmins and Hindu feudal chiefs tied the sacred Rakhi on the wrist of the Emperor. The imperial palace was illuminated on the occasion of the Diwali festival and even gambling was indulged in accordance with the Hindu custom. Shivaratri was marked by an unusual festive atmosphere in the palace. In precisely the same way, the Muslim festivals of Id and Shab-e-Barat were celebrated with the same enthusiasm and éclat”.

Amulya Gopalakrishnan had published in the Times of India on 15th September an article under the title, “ A small Ahmedabad initiative holds out a different unity model” based on a small event, inauguration of Ekta chappal shop.   It was the opening of a footwear shop called Ekta (Unity) owned by Ashok Parmar. The shop was inaugurated by a tailor named Qutubddin Ansari. These two persons were the instantly recognizable faces of Gujarat Riots. “The photographs of Ansari, crying and pleading with folded hands, and of Parmar in his saffron headband, arms aggressively raised and fists balled, had become iconic images of the 2002 violence.”

The author of the article has shared her reflections on the present socio-political scenario of India. “The Ekta chappal shop is a different model of peace and solidarity, where unity does not demand uniformity, where we can be stronger together,” was the conclusion of her article. In the present socio-political context, building this kind of unity is not easy, as the author has indicated; but it is not impossible. Accepting, appreciating and celebrating diversity has been the heritage of India and that is the only way to keep a diverse country like India united. Highhanded methods to impose uniformity will only multiply problems. Transforming India into a Hindu Rashtra where uniformity is imposed and no diversity is tolerated may prove to be costly.

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)

(Published on 23rd September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 39)