Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Language Controversy

Recently I read a blog named “Any Excuse to Write” by Smita. The title was “Selective Freedom?”. It dealt with the use of languages in the Indian Parliament. I wrote a comment that the whole language controversy in India was created by politicians. I also mentioned that I would write my own blog on this subject. Smita asked me to go ahead, so here is the blog.

Before reading this please remember I am describing below the situation in 1950s and 1960s. Things have changed a lot since then.

The language issue in India, was created and has been orchestrated since 1950 by politicians from Hindi speaking states and Tamilnadu.

The Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950. It says “the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. However, for the next 15 years English shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union”. This was the first mistake by the writers of the Indian Constitution. If they had said in the Constitution that Hindi will be THE official language of India (and do not say anything about English) there would be no problem. Some minor protests here and there and that would be the end of it.

Now let’s fast forward to 1965. It’s time to amend the Constitution to eliminate English. The DMK party went into full swing opposing the removal of English. In 1964 and 1965, the DMK’s leader Mr. Karunanidhi organized a massive protest movement in Tamilnadu. He organized statewide demonstrations, protests, and strikes by students. The students included kids from kindergarten to post graduate. 5 year old kids sat in the scorching sun, as protestors, for the whole day without even knowing why they are sitting in the sun. In addition, all Hindi signs from railway stations and post offices were removed. The police came into action and more than 500 students died in the hands of the police..

There were organized public meetings every day and they spoke in an uncivilized manner about Hindi language, Congress Party, and the leaders from Hindi speaking states. Here is a sample:

“Hindi language has got only 2 literatures. One is Ramayan by Tulsidas and and another one is All India Railway Time Table”.

Mr. Shastri was the Prime Minister at that time. He decided against the use of Hindi only as the official language of the government, and India has since continued a policy of conducting its business in English as well as in Hindi.

How about the other states? Non-Hindi speaking Northern States have no objection except a little objection by the Bengalis. Since most of the north Indian languages come from Sanskrit, Hindi was not a big problem for them. However, all the South Indian languages come from Tamil. But in other South Indian States, there were no political leader who wanted to manipulate people for personal gain.

Even today, some fanatical Tamil zealots are proud to say in public meetings that both Sanskrit and Tamil are root languages, but Sanskrit is a dead language. It is not spoken in homes and streets. Whereas Tamil is still spoken by millions of people around the world. Therefore, Tamil is a better language than Sanskrit. Only in Tamilnadu, speaking is a profitable business.

Bingo! In 1967 DMK came to power in Tamilnadu. Mr. Annadurai was the Chief Minister and he later died in 1969 and then Mr. Karunanidhi came to power.

What was the role of the leaders from Hindi speaking states back then? They were extremely chauvinistic about Hindi. They wanted to wipe out all the other languages from India. They thought if you are not a Hindian then you are not a Indian. Some leaders believed India means only “North” India. This helped the DMK guys to popularize their favorite slogan. Vadakku Vaazhkiradhu Therku Theikiradhu (North Lives South Erodes). When anti-Hindi agitation was spreading in Tamilnadu, one North Indian leader even made a hilarious statement. He said: South Indians, especially Tamil speaking people, are “born intelligent”. Therefore, they will be proficient in Hindi in no time. What a joke that is! There is no such thing as Tamil speaking people being “born intelligent.” Even if a 10 year old child in Tamilnadu learns Hindi and is proficient, that child will be no match in Hindi language skills of a 10 year old child in UP, whose mother tongue is Hindi.

There was a lot of misunderstandings. The then Government and political parties and leaders did nothing about it. People in the North have never heard of problems faced by Tamils in Burma and Sri Lanka. People in the South never cared about Kashmir problem. To the North Indians, all South Indians are Madarasis…No Malayali, No Kannadiga, No Andhrite. To the South Indians, all North Indians are Hindikaaran (person who speaks Hindi). No Punjabi, No Gujrati, No Bengali.

In this context, let’s say that all your life you are speaking one language and all of a sudden you must learn Cantonese for reading writing, speaking, and comprehension. Also, it’s used on TV, radio, newspapers, school, and work…you will have a very difficult time adapting no matter how intelligent you are. Also, when it comes time for measuring performance and success in school and at work how will you compete with a native Cantonese speaker. You are at a disadvantage from the start…even if you are born more intelligent than your Cantonese counterpart. Of course in 3 or 4 generations everything will even out, however what do you do about the inequity for the HERE and NOW?

Another mistake was made by the Congress government in the Center. They never developed tourism for South India in the 50s and 60s. If there were opportunities for people to mix and mingle, there would have been far less misunderstanding. If 100 South Indians visited North India in a day, there were only 3 North Indians visiting the South. One of the 3 was probably an Army soldier. The other one was an old person making a pilgrimage to Sri Rangam and Rameshwaram.

What was the role of the DMK leaders in Tamilnadu? They never cared for the people in Tamilnadu. All they wanted to do was seize power in Tamilnadu and they found the perfect platform to use. The Hindi agitation helped DMK come to power for the first time in 1967. Students who listened to the politicians, and hated Hindi, never learned that language and missed out on all of the opportunities that Hindi would have provided them. And of course, nobody cared for the many students who died during the Hindi agitation.

Fast forward to the present. After the 2004 Parliamentary elections, Mr. Karunanidhi came to Delhi and personally recommended a cabinet post for his grand nephew, Mr. Dayanidhi Maran. Mr. Maran was a newcomer to politics. One reporter asked Mr. Karunanidhi “what qualification does Mr. Maran have to become a cabinet minister?”

Mr. Karunanidhi replied: Mr. Maran can speak Hindi very well.

Different yardstick when it comes to own family.

It is high time we rise above petty politics and learn to change and accept other languages and cultures, without abandoning our own.


  1. Superb post. I loved it to the core.

    I have always wondered 'What If Mr Karunanidhi told 'no' to English as well? People of TN have already missed out on all those wonderful opportunities because they didn't know Hindi.

    All due to a personal gain of one selfish individual. Common man was brainwashed, but lately, students are taking private lessons and learning Hindi, now that they know the repercussions of not knowing a national language.

    Its not only Hindi, knowing as many languages is always prudent.

  2. Thanks for your comments Insignia. Mr. K will not say NO to English. His kids and grandkids went to English medium schools and reaping the benefits now. Yes, he will say to the people to hell with English and long live Tamil only.

  3. Very Interesting! Will come back to comment in detail.

  4. Thanks Smita. Very much interested to read your comments.

  5. You know what…that is just ridiculous what Karunanidhi did.
    He didn’t help the state, he didn’t help the country.
    Just another crooked politician trying to further his own agenda and wallet.

    Rod Blagojevich and J. Jayalalithaa

  6. Thanks for your comments Mr. Blagojevich. We have not heard from you after you were removed as Governor of Illinois. Compared to Indian politicians, you are a bacha. If it was an Indian politician in your place, by now he would be a member of Pres. Obama's cabinet.

  7. Nice blog. Enjoyed reading it.

    Mr. A. B. Vajpayee said: "Hindi was the Language of Unity during the Freedom Struggle against British Rule. That is false. Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Nehru spoke only in English when they visited South. The language of communication between North and South was always English.

    Another Hindi zealot, Mr. Morarji Desai said by learning Hindi the Tamil people would only increase their influence within India as a whole. Ha Ha Ha.

    Even though Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri sided with Hindi zealots like Mr. Morarji Desai and Mr. Gulzari Lal Nanda, he decided to fully honor Mr. Nehru’s assurance that English would be used as long as the people wanted.

  8. Thanks Vivek. I understand what you are saying.

  9. I feel language is for bonding and not for creating barriers.
    It is not true that people from the north did not visit the south. My mother, in the 50's journeyed through all the 4 states of South India with her entire family. She however has not visited her own backyard, (Bengal)
    People in Bengal also had problems with Hindi, but not anymore. They have finally realised that they have to know the language for their own growth.
    Besides, Amitabh and Shahrukh Khan and the entire hindi movie industry were major uniters. Knowing any language apart from your mother tongue is an asset. Even if you can not master it, it is a big help in communication. Who says you have speak like a local? Tutti futti hindi chalta hai.

  10. Awesome post buddy...what does SG stand for!!
    Your absolutely right i agree with u. Its these kind of politics that has pulled us back from development. Politics is involved everywhere in our country.

    We never learn....we still r following those footsteps. Look at what is happening in Maharashtra...MNS the kind of stuff they have done...still the law cant do anything. Recently the HRD minister brought forward a lovely plan for a uniform one board exams in India...n u have the left in Bengal opposing it. These stupid things always acts as a barrier for development.

    Politicians just need an issue to come in power or public eye...wonder what has Mr. Karunanidhi has done for Tamil lang. Keep dividing people on religion, castes n class. If this is not working then here u have some more issues to deal with!!!
    We the citizen of this country are also very much responsible too as we allow them to b successful in what rubbish they want to do.

  11. Thanks for your comments Aparna. And, welcome to my blog.

    I said , back then, if 100 South Indians visited North India in a day, there were only 3 North Indians visiting the South. One of the 3 was probably an Army soldier. The other one was an old person making a pilgrimage to Sri Rangam and Rameshwaram.

    Your mother is the third person. She is a visionary.

    Had they passed the law in 1965 that Hindi will be the ONLY official language of India, then all medium of instruction, business correspondence, court languages would now be conducted in Hindi. In that scenario “tutti futti Hindi” is no good.

  12. Thanks for your comments Vivek.

  13. very well written enjoyed dear

  14. Thanks for your comments Shilpa. I really appreciate it.

  15. Oh Gosh, you did a lot of research there! Good effort! I didn't know all about these protests and other deatils. Thanks! I feel we must accept other languages as we accept our own mother-tongue. And I feel one needs to be intelligent enough to learn a new language which apparently our great leaders weren't ;-)
    Great post!

  16. Hi.I recently noticed the destination boards on the BMTC buses in Bangalore, none of them is in English,it's only in Kannada. How on earth an outsider is supposed to find out? Language fanatics :-O

  17. Very informative post!

  18. A very well researched post, lot of information that I never knew.

    You are right that hindi should have been made the official language then and there itself, but what is the solution for the "HERE and NOW" ?Anytime, they could have tried making Hindi one official language, the south indian people would face difficulties..

    And i did not know Bengalis ever had any objection to Hindi, i know they speak in Hindi in a weird way and that is because the difference in pronunciation and difference set of alphabets.

    Thanks for your informative comments in my post, will reply there and also thanks for mentioning this post of yours. it was good insight :)

  19. Dear SG,

    Thanks for Visiting my Blog and leaving your comments..I happened to read this posting language controversy here..While i agree with you in certain facts,i dont agree with this fact people from Tamilnadu have been deprived of many opportunities because they didnt get to learn Hindi...You may be right in saying that the agitations created by DMK was for personal political gain.but its because of them that the English factor stood strongly against the Hindi factor and i welcome it.The English factor has helped the whole country in boosting their economy..Outsourcing has yielded millions and trillions for this country and its purely because of choosing english factor strongly over Hindi could they achieve this..

    I read, write and speak Hindi and iam married to a north Indian.But i honestly agree with this fact, that if south prefers not to talk Hindi iam ok with it.Nor in India the attitude of people from UP is so great..they know only Hindi and they thought the entire country should speak only that...Iam glad Chennai stood to the fact that you cannot impose something like this on us and still Chennai ranks among the Top three in both IT and other commercial industrialisations..

  20. I want to know what benefits Gujarat,Madhya Pradesh,Haryana and Punjab reaped by obliging to use the Hindi factor all over the states.They saw growth only now in the past few years..Uttar pradesh and Bihar is a known story to everyone.Uttar pradesh reaped benefits because luckily it was treated like an extended part of Delhi.Noida is just close by to Gurgoan and because IT set up happened in Noida as well today Up is atleast there in the list...I strongly feel there is nothing chennai has lost by saying a big NO...

  21. Lol. What kind of "Opportunity" Hindi would have bestowed upon Tamilians.

    You certainly have no idea of the political situation prevalent then , when Hindi was supposed to be "replacing" English. Wonder if you would be in San Francisco now, if anti Hindi imposition protests never took place.

    Pure Tripe !