Monday, September 21, 2009

Hindi Hai Hum?

Kapil Sibal with his basket of reforms, whether good or not, has done one great thing. It has brought education back into the public debate. Though his proposed educational reforms were released a few months back, the discussion on We the People yesterday brought to forth different perspectives on the 'three language formula' proposed by Kapil Sibal. He has urged the state boards to follow the three language formula with the vernacular-Hindi-English subjects at the school level.

This has instigated the age old debate - the one that was started in the 1930s. The two viewpoints are - the Hindi speaking states in India think that Hindi should be the langua franca. While the non-Hindi speaking states (especially Tamil Nadu) do not agree to that point. The first such conflict was seen in 1937-38 when the Congress Government of Madras Presidency under Rajagopalachari tried to make Hindi a compulsory subject in schools. Anit-Hindi imposition protests, finally, led to withdrawal of compulsory teaching of Hindi in 1940

Take two. After the independence, in 1950, Hindi was chosen as the national language of India by constituent Assembly. But, again, because of the protests of the non-Hindi speaking states, the resolution was deferred for 15 years.

Take three. In 1965, protests from the DMK and other regional parties, led Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister, to give up the agenda of making Hindi as THE national language. [source]

Take four. It's Kapil Sibal now - who is, in a way, trying to reiterate 1938, 1959 and 1965. So, essentially, what Sibal is proposing is nothing new. We have seen this many times in the history. One of the arguments against Sibal's proposal is that why should only the South learn Hindi? Why shouldn't the North learn a South Indian language? Hindi is just another regional language just as Tamil, Telugu, or Bengali is. The 'hindiwalas' argue that since the majority of the population in India speak Hindi, the others should also learn the language.

While being jingoistic about the language, we are forgetting the purpose of having a language: to communicate our thoughts and ideas. Sure, there are very strong cultural connotations to it, but the basic function remains the same - to communicate.

Our school followed three language formula - even before Kapil sabil proposed it. So, I studied English and Hindi till class XII and Bengali for two years - VII and VIII. Despite two years of formal education in Bengali, i was not very fluent in it. This is because, apart from the 45 mins class, i never felt the necessity to communicate in Bengali. In Kolkata, one doesn't need to know Bengali. But, when i joined the university, there was suddenly a need to learn Bengali as most people around, especially the 'babus' spoke Bengali. And that was it. I picked up the language in the first few months itself. The point i am trying to make is that what i couldn't learn in two years, i learned in a few months because there was a necessity. Of course, my two years of formal education made it easy.

When I was in Hyderabad, where again, one doesn't need to know Telugu, I picked up a few words of Telugu. This was because of my social initiative, Vriddhi. We go to schools of the under-privileged and conduct various workshops. Now, these children do not know Hindi or English well. They know only Telugu. So, i learned a few frequently used words to get by. Again, the point i am trying to make is that i learned Telugu (though just to get by) to help me in my social initiative (Vriddhi).

The resident 'Hindiwalas' don't feel the need for learning a South Indian language and south Indians don't feel the need to learning Hindi. However, both feel the need of learning English. This is strange because, English was brought to us by the Britishers who made India their colony and were not particularly liked by the Indians. Nevertheless, we still learn English. This is because of the immense opportunity it brings in. We forget about our past experiences with the British and learn English. So, clearly, it's more about demand and supply than about culture. If there is a demand for a particular language, one would definitely learn it.

For the non-Hindi speaking states, it make sense to adopt the three language formula. There is no harm to learn one more language. And, if given a choice to select the third language, Hindi would have been the obvious answer as Hindi would empower a person from a non-Hindi speaking state to connect to more people than any other language would. Pranab Mukherjee said that he cannot become the Prime Minister because he cannot speak Hindi. Also, his broken Hindi, perhaps caused a rift between him and Laloo.

Having said that, which language should a 'hindiwala' learn? If i were in a position to influence, i would propose the following:

Map a Hindi speaking state to a non-Hindi speaking state. The mapping, of course, would not to one-to-one. Now, these states should help each other in various aspects - like in trade, education, governance, etc. It's like the 'buddy program' in various universities. The Hindi speaking state, then learns the language of the buddy non-Hindi speaking state. This will boost cultural exchange, trade and travel between the states - which in turn would aid in development of India.

Indian are comfortable with plurality. And this plurality, if not replaced by narrow jingoism, can help in making India not only a more developed country but also a model of others to learn from.



Shaan September 21, 2009 at 8:13 AM  

Hi, your intent is good. But that is not the intent of Kapil Sibal. The Congress people simply want to rake up this issue so that they can assemble all Hindi speaking states behind them and win the next elections.

However there is no need to impose any particular language on anybody, people must learn a language only if it is necessary for them and voluntarily. Force will only breed hatred. I am a Tamil and I learned Hindi till 8th standard as it was compulsory in the school I studied but I could only say that I just managed and still I can hardly understand the Hindi that is spoken by my north Indian friends. However my English is good and I am here in London today. We are now getting multibillion dollar orders in IT not because of Hindi but because of English. No wonder that majority of India's IT professionals are south Indians. If we learn additional languages like French, German etc it may be more useful.

Krishna September 23, 2009 at 11:20 AM  

Good analysis!!!
Well,Hindi speaking people living in a particular state should learn local languge as the third language,it will help in effective communication with the local people.Likewise local people in state should learn Hindi as the third language to ensure good communication with non-local people(Hindi Speaking)

Lavanya September 23, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

Prashant, you've come a long way wrt your writing skills.
I liked your mature analysis.
psst psst: Whats your GRE analytical writing score? Or is this a prep for that ;)

Prashant Mehta September 23, 2009 at 8:51 PM  

@ Shaan,

Exactly this is what i am proposing. Create a necessity to learn another Indian language. That can be done by fostering trade and commerce between the states - as suggested in the 'buddy program'


What you said works for the NRX - non-resident-x - like a Bengali staying in Tamil Nadu

I haven't taken GRE yet, fortunately or unfortunately :)

abhishek September 23, 2009 at 9:25 PM  

Mehta your views are good.
There are people who tend to learn languages out of their own interest.
but their numbers are very less.
If people are forced to do so something they have to do it.....
So your idea is not bad....

Leon September 24, 2009 at 2:11 AM  

We should all learn GREEK ...

Tejaswy September 24, 2009 at 2:34 AM  

Here is my take on hindi.
I work as a linguist here at UWA. I speak read and write Hindi Teluge, Oriya.And to an extent speak Punabi.

Now the trouble with North Indians (Hindi Speaking) is that there is no unified language that they can learn and go about in the South.

The ease hindi carries is that if you speak Hindi you can go about Rajasthan, Delhi Haryana, Jammu Kashmir, UP, UK MP and Bihar and to an extent Orrissa and Punjab.
The language (Hindi) does not change here but the dialects change, you can pick it up with ease.

There are 4 different languages in the four different states of the South. Telugu, Tamil, Malyalam and Kannada and each of them is very different from each other.

So if you want the north indians to learn a south indian language please tell me which one would you like to suggest...telugu perhaps or tamil or malayali or Kannad.?

I live in perth and we have 3different desi groups here
Hindi, tamil and telugu.

Hindi compromises of all the North Indians who speak hindi.

Tamil and Telugu as the name suggests.

I am baised towards hindi as it is my first language (Telugu being my mother tounge).
Hindi gives me a sense of being an Indian and a comfort of being close to India.

If I was to talk to a tamil chap here, i have to converse with him in english as he does not speak hindi that well( he can understand it very well...Bollywood@work)

I would say that make hindi a compulsary language in school around india.It is important and about time.

Isn't hindi taught as a compulsary language in CBSE schools in India.?

It is the state boards that we are having troubles with.

let there be one thing common to Indians. apart of calling ourselfs Indian, if not the religion color caste and creed. Let us all be able speak read and write hindi.

More over I think this is one of those issues which will resolve with time itself. NO need to worry.

Mustaf September 24, 2009 at 12:42 PM  

First of all,

I never knew you were so good at History!!Wow...and who are those "babus" in JU? the teachers teaching in bengali or the students?

Now coming to the post, you learnt Bengali because you needed it. If you had found some other guys comfortably speaking in english, you would have not learnt Bengali. And while doing so, you are unconsciously nurturing groupism inside you. I know it is their fault not to welcome you and asking you to adjust, but had you not learnt bengali and stayed separately, you were indirectly doing the same as they were. Haven't you seen in our prev organization also how people got together just based on the language they are speaking.

The need you are talking abt is absolutely correct,but unfortunately unlike English, there is no such need to learn any other language until you apply for a local govt job and for that job, always locals are preferred only even if you know that language better than that local guy.

In all logic, it makes sense to learn that language which most of the people are speaking and that is Hindi other than English. But in India, always our language, religion,color appear before being Indian and that is the greatest tragedy. Will write some post on how mocking this sound which we heard in school life "unity in diversity"..what an utter lie!!!

Prashant Mehta September 24, 2009 at 9:55 PM  


My idea is not to force people to learn a new language - my idea is to give them a reason and benefit of learning languages.


I agree with you when you said that learning Hindi would help interacting with 0.5 billion people. But one cannot really force someone to learn Hindi.


I don't think it's anyone's fault. It's just that an interface layer is required when two systems running two different protocols want to communicate.

In most cases - there is nothing right or wrong. It's the way it is :)

Nevadita September 28, 2009 at 10:44 AM  

Prashant you have taken out a really good topic for debate. A topic that I face in my day todays life.

Being a bong bought up outside West Bengal. I speak hindi more than bengali. When I did my MTech I was all surrounded with people speaking in telgu, that time I felt the need to learn telgu, as it would have been unpractical for me to ask all others learn hindi. I asked them sometimes to speak in english but then slowly I realised by myself that english is not giving the sentences, real meaning that would have been easily conveyed with ones own language. To be able to do fun with all others and enjoy good times with them, I made sure I understand the language, though today also I can`t speak the language.

While attending the classes faculty members made it sure that they speak in english, so that they can treat all the students equally (the natives and the outsiders). That is the time I tought, it was good that we were ruled by Britishers otherwise I would have never made it to a university in south.

Today I have a tamilian roomate and I am helping her to learn hindi, so that she can interact with all other people in office, who mostly talk in english or hindi.

What I feel personally, language is a personal choice of a person and should not be imposed. We should be free to learn a language we want, usually we pick up the language from our surrounding and how much we want to learn the language should depend on the individual not on the rules imposed by government. But for educational institution having a common langauge is important and english is doing that job well, other than that its all individuals choice.

nick September 28, 2009 at 3:11 PM  

“Express yourself”- Airtel tagline (which happens to be my favourite as of now) explains the basic function of language i.e to communicate(effective communication)... Communication is never one way, so we have to communicate in a medium in which everyone can “express themselves”. Languages are immaterial. “Hindi can well be made compulsory as 3rd language” But what purpose will it serve.. will it provide effective communication..well I just hope.
The urge to learn a language is based on two basic needs, firstly to be more lingual and connect to other people, secondly to understand literature and cultures of a particular place (only if Ur interested). Taking my example, I learned Bengali for both of them. I wanted to be more lingual whereas on the other hand I wanted to read and understand the Bengali literature (dominated by likes of gurudeo, sarat Chandra, satyajit ,bankim,shahdut hussain and many more). So, people must be given full liberty on what they want to learn and how they want to learn. (after all we are democratic)
Just to take the discussion a bit haywire, I will give it one more dimension.
Silence connects us all. If are able to understand the silence of the heart, probably there is no better way to communicate. We should look beyond languages and understand the communication based on emotions. Music provides another dimension to communication.
So, why are we looking at only languages to facilitate effective communication? Look beyond them and you will find ways to “Express yourself”

@ Topic:- India is a culturally enriched place with over 50 languages. So let’s language not become the barrier of cultural exchange and trade relations between the country.

Prashant Mehta September 29, 2009 at 7:36 PM  


You have a point. Why do we need another langua franca (Hindi) when that role can be played by English? I think, English still has the elite tag attached to it. We have dearth for good teachers in local languages. Looking for good teachers who (or providing training to existing so that they) can teach (in) English may not be an easy task.

Prashant Mehta September 29, 2009 at 7:38 PM  


You have a point. If one can express one self in silence, then why have languages. But that is not always the case. Human beings always seek improvements. It's not about communicating - it's about (relatively more) effective communication.

Music, silence, etc. don't seem to work in today's work place.

☥ ѕωαмι ηανєєη September 29, 2009 at 11:53 PM  

Nice topic to write on.
I personally prefer the formula of English (for a globle use) cos we have benefited a lot from probably the biggest english speaking work force in the world making us a leader in BPOs + the regional language (to keep cultural links intact)
+ any optional language one wants to pick .. preferably hindi cos its most widely spoken in india (though it has many dialects )

This is the formula i would like if used by Mr. kapil sibbal. This is also leaves an option for a person to change his resident n still be well adjusted in the new area

Prashant Mehta October 2, 2009 at 6:45 PM  


The concern here is when regional language is same as Hindi - which is true for about 10 states in India.

xylene October 7, 2009 at 9:25 PM  

That's a good post. So ultimately Hindi is not an 'official' national language? Shashi tharoor's take on the same topic.

Prashant Mehta October 7, 2009 at 10:16 PM  


Hindi is an official language just as English is. But Hindi is NOT the only national language.

vivek November 21, 2009 at 12:58 AM  

I cannot understand what you are trying to say. at one point you seem to say that hindi as 3rd language is not necessary. again you say hindi is ok you didnt learn bengali and later learnt it quickly. then you say india is comfortable with plurality. if hindi must be imposed then certianly india is not comfortable with its plurality. you are saying if they spoke same language then trade and culture exchange will take place. are they not taking place now ?
if southern states speak hindi as 3rd language. what 3rd language are hindi states going to speak ?

you go to any non hindi major north indian state and look into small towns or villages they dont speak hindi. it is only certain cities they speak. it is a myth that all north indians speak hindi. now maharashtrians are finding how it is diminishing their own language. people with rich linguistic history like tamil or marati wont accept other language.

one point i certainly agree is english brought opportunities so people accepted it.

lot of gujjus dont speak hindi. thoughg they do business in bombay. they learn only when it is needed.

vivek November 21, 2009 at 1:12 AM  

tejasvi , your point doesnt hold alot of water. i am tamilian, i can speak hindi little bit, speak english fluently.

even me and my tamil friends go out we go out in our group and not go with other southies because we have to speak in english. same would be even if knew another commonn language.

plus language barrier doesnt bother me having north indian friends. plus the kids of north indians like to speak to me because i speak in english fluently. while most of their north indian uncles speak in hindi.

is there anyone complaining that language problems ? lot of north indians are working in bangalore , chennai and hyderabad. they just want to speak in their own language. cant they speak in english ? how hard is that ? people in tamil nadu barely get educated let alone learning hindi.

Prashant Mehta November 22, 2009 at 12:12 AM  


You got me right. I do say that Hindi as a third language is not compulsory. But, learning Hindi is good - Hindi is not 'must know' - it is 'good to know'. Hope i am clear now.

Indians, certainly, are comfortable with plurality. They can be working in the US for two generations but still be Indians. They can be executing HiTech projects but still would fast on a Tuesday. That's plurality. Language wise also, most Indians, at least the urban Indians, speak a minimum of 2 languages. That's what i call plurality. So, a Tamilian would speak both Tamil and Hindi.

On trade and cultural exchange - I think the cause and effect are not very distinct - increase in trade increases incentive to learn the language and vice versa. In fact, i recommended that we couple these two things - Tie two states and make them learn each other's language and facilitate trade and commerce.

"what 3rd language are hindi states going to speak ?"

I have suggested a solution to this in the post.

I agree with you about villages in North Indian states not speaking Hindi.

deicider March 8, 2011 at 1:09 PM  

Hmm...language,one of the things that gives us identity,but is it the only thing that identifies us? Hopefully not,not if we dont subscribe to a myopic view of what defines us.I guess it is actually a good idea to learn one language out of your coomfort zone.Infact most engineering colleges should try to teach their students Telegu,Kannada and Marathi since we eventually end up in Hyderabad/Bangalore/Pune.(pun intended)Why is it "good to know" a local language? Because most of us donot have the luxury of talking to autowallas or bhajjiwalas who speak our language!And without atleast having a basic understanding of what they are saying our lives would come to a grinding halt.And no,not all of them can speak english or hindi ,nor shud anybody expect them to.Indians are comfortable with plurality,yes.Majority maybe but not everybody.I have observed many of my north indian frnds making fun of south indian ones and vice versa.I think it comes from not understanding each others language and in extension culture and though the fun is light and meant in good spirit,it nevertheless shows that we accept plurality but dont work hard to inculcate it in our lives.Probably with everything else going on in ur lives it is hard to.But knowing someone's language is definitely an advantage.Whether it is an advantage that you want to take ....well as with everything else in our wonderful democracy the decision rests solely with you.

pallav March 14, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

sorry for the late comment, read the post now itself, but glad that read it now after having experienced this problem 1st hand in a more intense fashion than non hindi speaking chennai autowalas. so once traveling in a bus in tamil nadu hinterland, i struck up a conversation with a person who had migrated to maharashtra for work and had picked up his words (paraphrasing) kaafi log yaha se bahar jana chahte hai kaam ke liye par hindi nahi malum kya karein! likewise i have seen a few north indian truck drivers struggle to ask for directions when driving through tamil nadu

so, it would be just this section of people who go to a new state, face difficulties but pick up the language eventually who do not need to be taught hindi but as prashant said, it would make lives of people wishing to migrate i do not say it has to be hindi, it can be any language...make it greek, but given the practicalities involved hindi makes the most sense since majority of the population speaks hindi or a small variant of the same. besides most people in india do not know english so that would be slightly difficult to implement across all types of schools (though it is a big aspiration).so if for nothing else there has to be a common language for the sake of economics...of course the higher pursuits of national integration, culture, literature, knowing more languages making one more intelligent etc are huge huge value adds

Prashant Mehta March 16, 2011 at 12:47 AM  

deicider ji

Agreed. Really liked your comment on teaching one of Telugu, Kannada or Marathi in engineering colleges.

pallav ji

I agree. The advantages of knowing a popularly spoken language is immense.

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