Debunking a popular myth: Do Southern states really abhor Hindi? writes Sumit Paul

Hindi is believed to have originated from Sanskrit which is known to be 700-years-old. Tamil is an independent language that is older than Sanskrit by nearly a millennium, around 6 to 7 thousand years old. So, North's imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu is an attempt to establish the superiority of Hindi (Sanskrit) over Tamil, one of the oldest existing languages.

Sumit PaulUpdated: Saturday, May 28, 2022, 09:21 AM IST
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Tamil language inscriptions on a wall | Photo: Pixabay

Is the entire South India against Hindi? It could be an erroneous general tenor. Contrary to popular belief, the state of Tamil Nadu does not stop anyone from learning Hindi. There are Hindi Prachar Sabhas across the state. Tamils going to North India or other states learn the local language and speak it fluently. Any language will be learned by a person if there is a need. Why force people to learn it when there is no need, is the fundamental question posed by Tamil Nadu. French great and the Father of Deconstruction, Jacques Derrida opined in his essay Linguistic Hegemony: Battles of Language/s that "Learning a language out of sheer interest and learning it under duress are poles asunder. Roman emperor Julius Caesar imposed Latin on the indigenous people who spoke other languages. The imposition of Latin was resented by those people who rebelled against him. Brutus was one of them. He (Brutus) didn't speak Latin and disliked Caesar's linguistic superiority and supremacy." Very fine and sagacious observation, I must say.

What happened in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh? Despite Bengali-speaking Muslims in East Pakistan having the same faith, Pakistani Punjabi-Urdu speaking Muslims imposed Urdu on the people of East Pakistan who spoke Bangla. The result is for all to see. Bangladesh was formed on the basis of the language despite having a common religion. Bangladeshi Muslims resented Pakistan's imposition of Urdu on them.

Even when Spain was under Muslim rule, Spanish-speaking people of Spain vehemently opposed when Arabs tried to impose Arabic on them. North African tribes embraced Islam nearly 1400 years ago but resented when Arabic was imposed on their tribal tongues like Berbec, Swahili (originated from Sahil: Sea-shore), Bunu (Bu-Nao), Bajan, and Kusuf (Kosovo), among others. Even after so many centuries and Arabic being the main language of North African Muslim countries (Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco etc.), local languages are predominant. People of North African origin learn Arabic.

Almost everyone knows it but the moment Arabic is imposed on them as the ONLY language, they become furious. It's interesting to note that the most erudite and sensible Mughal (Dara Shikoh) warned his father Shah Jahan when the latter tried to impose Persian on Hindus. In a letter to Shah Jahan, the polyglot Dara Shikoh, who knew Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Sanskrit, and ancient Hindi, wrote, "Those Hindus learning Persian are most welcome because they're learning it out of interest. But you cannot impose it on all and sundry. Such linguistic impositions are often viewed as assaults on the self-respect of a community or race being subjected to this type of lingual torture." Sense prevailed as Shah Jahan loved Dara the most. He (Shah Jahan) made the learning of Persian optional for all.

Let's contextualise this in Tamil Nadu's perceived 'opposition' to Hindi. Tamils have no problem with Hindi. They aren't disdainful of the language. This is a very big misconception still prevalent in northern India, nay in the rest of India. Let me detonate this misconception. Years ago, when I went to Madras, I asked an elderly Tamilian about the directions to a specific destination. I told him that I knew only Hindi and had no knowledge of English. That gentleman was baffled for a moment. Then he said, "please, wait a minute." He called a man and told him to give me directions in Hindi as I didn't know English or any other language other than Hindi. There was no contempt or condescension or unnecessary pontificating sermonising that I must learn English or Tamil to survive in Tamil Nadu.

Never did I experience any problem in Tamil Nadu with my Hindi. I intentionally never resorted to English because I wanted to see and experience whether a Tamilian really 'hated' Hindi. No Tamilian ever did hate. En passant, All India Radio Urdu Service had one Malini Iyengar, who spoke impeccable Urdu and was an MA in Urdu from DU.

Imagine, a South-Indian conversing in flawless Urdu! Rangey Raghav, originally a Tamilian, wrote mostly in Hindi and is still a very venerable name in Hindi literature. I have a dear Tamil friend from Nagpur. His name is Dr Rajesh Iyer. He speaks English and Hindi with an enviable ease and has never looked down upon Hindi. In Poona, I have a friend Mr. Murli Chari. He loves Hindi and Urdu and speaks both the tongues fluently. Years ago, a mischievous Hindi cricket magazine, published from the North, wrote that India's famous off-spinner Srinivasaraghvan Venkataraghavan was scornful of Hindi and he deliberately talked to North Indian cricketers in English. It was a huge lie. Venkat indeed couldn't speak Hindi fluently, but he tried to converse in Hindi as much as he could and never condescended. When Venkat led India in a 4-Test series against England in 1979, Kapil Dev was relatively new and didn't know English well. But Venkat always spoke with him in his South Indian Hindi. He never criticised Kapil for not knowing English.

The North-South linguistic rivalry also plays a vital role. Hindi is believed to have originated from Sanskrit and is, therefore, an offspring of the latter. Tamil is an independent language that is older than even Sanskrit by nearly a millennium. It's thought to be 6 to 7 thousand years old, whereas Sanskrit's oldest texts are 'only' 700 years old (with Rigveda). So, North's imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu is an attempt to establish the superiority of Hindi (Sanskrit) over Tamil, one of the oldest existing languages. It's time we understood and saw through the political designs in this charade of linguistic browbeating.

(The writer is a professional columnist writing for world's premier dailies, but mostly in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Dari and Pahlavi)

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