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Language cannot be a barrier

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K S S Pillai

In a large country like India, with so many languages and their variations in use, it is easy to ruffle feathers by attempting to introduce Hindi as the sole link language. A prominent central minister did it recently, forgetting the adage to let sleeping dogs lie.

One wonders why, especially since no important election is around the corner. Several politicians were quick to denounce the minister’s ‘agenda of imposing Hindi’. As the constitution of India assures the continuous use of English, along with Hindi, as an official language, the commotion was unnecessary.

When the anti-Hindi movement was at its peak in the southern states, irate mobs defaced everything displayed in Hindi, including the names of railway stations. Hindi signboards were hurriedly replaced, but the movement allowed some politicians to don the mantle of protectors of the interest of non-Hindi states. People believed that the introduction of Hindi as the sole official language would give undue advantage to those from Hindi-speaking areas.

Common sense dictates to leave the learning of a language to the people according to their needs. Those who settle in north India learn the local language without any murmur. Like the large number of people migrating to other countries learning English.

Hindi movies have played a prominent role in the spontaneous spread of that language. People from the so-called ‘anti-Hindi’ states enjoy singing melodious filmi songs of yesteryears without compromising their stand on Hindi. In the distant past, the cinema houses of my home state of Kerala used to exhibit Tamil movies most of the time, as very few were released in Malayalam. They had good attendance, and the audience had no difficulty understanding the dialogue. People even enjoyed repeating the dialogues of the films fluently. No one spoke about the imposition of Tamil on Malayalees.

Hindi is extensively used by our armed forces. People from different parts of the country join them voluntarily and learn the language quickly without raising any phobia.

I had a relative in the Indian railways who was frequently transferred to various parts of the country. He used to live with his family in railway staff quarters. The staff came from all over India. The language of communication was usually Hindi. His son spoke Hindi at home, never using his mother tongue while talking to the other members of the family. All efforts to make him speak Malayalam failed, till he married a girl from Kerala. She did not know Hindi well, and the boy was found talking Malayalam in a few weeks!

Most state governments insist that their employees, who have not learnt the regional language at school, should pass proficiency examinations in that language. The employees comply with the requirement voluntarily as they are likely to lose their employment otherwise.

No one will deny the importance of English as the language of modern technology. Now, thanks to the spread of the internet, computers, and social media, learning English has become inevitable. While there were few English-medium schools in the past, they have mushroomed in all parts of the country.

Schools with fancy names like public schools, international schools, global schools etc. have sprung up everywhere. Most of them are managed by the private sector, charging exorbitant fees. Even the poor spurn government schools and wish to send their children to these schools. Parents are seen sleeping overnight outside prestigious schools to get admission forms for their kids.

Experts have suggested that the mother tongue should be the medium of instruction at the primary stage. It has also been suggested to use the equivalent English words while teaching technical subjects. Hindi or English can be introduced as the medium of instruction at a later stage. People, on the whole, have agreed that it is a sensible suggestion and have not raised any objection.

(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have been published by various national and international publications)

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