While presiding over the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee, Union BJP Home Minister Amit Shah stressed that Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages. 70% of the agenda of the Cabinet is prepared in Hindi and time has now come to make Hindi an important part of the unity of the country, he added. He has thus deliberately raked up an old controversial issue, clearly with a view to diverting people’s attention from the burning problems they are reeling under, and buttress a sinister bourgeois agenda of curtailing scope for cult of modern knowledge by the common masses while aggravating nationality oppression. Two years back also, he twitted that ‘‘India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance but it is very important to have a language which should become the identity of India in the world. If one language can unite the country today, it is the widely-spoken Hindi language.’’ (The Quint-22-10-22) It is pertinent to point out that immediately on assuming office in 2014, the BJP government issued an official order that ‘‘government employees and officials of all ministries, departments, corporations or banks, who have made official accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube or blogs, should use Hindi, or both Hindi and English, but give priority to Hindi.’’ (ibid) Thus, from day one, the BJP is raising the motivated slogan of ‘Hindi Hindu Hindustan’ and driving a wedge into the unity of the oppressed countrymen along communal, lingual and regional lines.
Official Language Act 1963 stipulates that ‘‘Notwithstanding the expiration of the period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used in addition to Hindi.’’ According to Article 344(1) and the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, there are 22 official languages including both English and Hindi. There is no mention of a national language in the Constitution. As per census 2011, 56.37 percent Indians do not identify Hindi as their first language. Hindi is spoken only in ten North Indian states. So there have been repeated backlashes whenever this Hindi issue has been raised with the slogan ‘‘Stop shoving Hindi down our throats. It is just one of the languages. NOT the national language.’’
Rational approach to the language issue
No sane person can accept any proposition that has no rational basis. Chauvinism or assertion of so called majoritarianism cannot be the fulcrum of justification. So, we need to delve into the issue from a correct socio-historic perspective and based on scientific method of analysis. So, there is no room for great Hindi-chauvinism or narrow local nationalism in deciding the issue as both are detrimental to the unity of the toiling masses of India. Great Hindi-chauvinism ignores the difference of language, culture and way of life of various nationalities inhabiting the country and delegate to other official languages including English a position inferior to that of Hindi. On the other hand, essence of narrow local nationalism is to isolate and segregate oneself within the shell of one’s own nationality, withdrawing oneself from the general current of fusion of all nationalities into one nation and not taking into account the necessity of drawing together the labouring masses of all nationalities speaking different languages.
So, what should be the language or languages for official purpose, i.e. for intra-state, inter-state communications as well as communications among various departments of the government, in the works of Supreme Court, communication between the Centre and the states and debates and discussions within the legislatures. In bourgeois parliamentary democracy, the administrative apparatus as well as other state and other public organizations need to use a particular national language for communication. Otherwise, it would be tantamount to denying the vast masses of the people of access to court, administration, public and other organizations in their own language and depriving them of the right to understand and participate in the affairs of their state. So, it is advisable that intra-state official work as well as works of the court should be conducted in the national language of the people of the concerned state, duly safeguarding, of course, the interest of the linguistic minorities. But when it comes to the question of inter-state communications or communication between the Centre and the other states, between different departments of the Central government and the works of Supreme Court, we need to take a correct decision free from any chauvinistic or narrow sectarian provincialist outlook.
Role of English in development of our indigenous languages
The protagonists of Hindi argue that English is a foreign language. So, it cannot be the lingua franca of the country. So, they contend that continuation of English would be against the national interest and sovereignty of the country. Unfortunately, both the arguments are fallacious. Is it that the place of origin of a language is the sole determining factor in judging whether it is foreign or not? Most of the Latin American countries speak Spanish. Spanish originated in Spain and not in Latin America. There are more examples like this. Has that undermined the national interest or sovereignty of any of those countries? Secondly, is not English the mother tongue of the Anglo-Indian community of India? Moreover, many educated persons and intellectuals interact among themselves on various issues in English, publish their opinions on various critical subjects in English. So, there are so many English magazines and newspapers which carry those articles and opinions which contribute to intellectual development. Can, therefore, English be dispensed with so easily just because there is whipped up passion about Hindi from motivated quarters?
Elaborating a bit on the question of freedom struggle that resulted in the birth of India as a sovereign national state, did not English play a crucial role in that struggle? Language is the gateway to knowledge. Language develops through man’s conscious efforts to provide adequate articulate expression of the higher thoughts derived out of his life struggle. A developed language not only acts as a repository of higher thoughts but also as a vehicle to transport that to people not familiar with those enriched thoughts. Therefore, it also helps in cultivation of yet higher thoughts and knowledge. The language which is able to maintain its pace of development with that of the progress of the society and thereby is attuned to give appropriate expression to emerging higher thoughts in unequivocal terms, stands the test of time and reigns supreme in the world of knowledge. English in course of development in definite historical context has no doubt been internationally acclaimed and recognized to have acquired that standard.
It is a historical fact that with our motherland succumbing to the foreign invasion, the language of English entered our soil by virtue of its being the mother tongue of the invaders. It is true that the British rulers with a view to running their administration in colonial India introduced English education in this country. Their intention was to produce a band of clerks and bureaucrats who being conversant with English would be equipped to supervise the work for the colonial regime. But the power of a rich language is not confined to a geographical boundary. Transcending all the so-called barriers and limits, the English language brought in its wake the message of Renaissance, the news of latest scientific explorations, the emerging new democratic values of life, the higher concepts of ethics and morality. The language of English had been the corridor to this new social outlook calling for smashing of the obsolete reactionary feudal order, freedom of individual and placing reliance on rational scientific bent of mind as against obscurantism and religious bondage. A new horizon of awakening dawned on those who could enlighten themselves with the thoughts of Western Renaissance through the medium of English. Even the very thoughts of nationalism, nationalist movement and parliamentary democracy have been transported to this country through the medium of English language. The doyens of the Indian Renaissance emerged with promise. Infused with the advanced thoughts of bourgeois humanism in the then condition, the pioneers and stalwarts of our Renaissance movement who were all products of English education came forward to transform an inert hunch-backed society—a society trampled under foreign oppression and lying in stupor of religious superstitions, age-old creeds and bigotry. In this specific socio-economic situation of our country with the urge for emancipation inherent in it, the impact of the advanced thoughts of Western Renaissance ushered in a new epoch. Grasping the essence of the higher bourgeois humanist ideology, our luminaries sought to apply the same in the concrete situation of our country. Leading lights in the days of the dawn of Renaissance in our country were never blind to the fact that as the relatively far developed language English has the immense potentiality to convey higher and intricate thoughts of modern knowledge so, through the dissemination of the teaching of English they wanted to open the windows to the people at large of the world of science and epistemology. In fact, the language of English had been instrumental in developing our anti-British imperialist freedom struggle.
Spurred on by the new thoughts of bourgeois humanism, the nationalist movement and freedom struggle surged forth in every nook and corner of our country. All our nationality languages including Hindi developed, albeit with variance of degree, during the course of our Renaissance movement in meeting the social necessity of that time. Association with English has been a great contributory factor in the process of development of the indigenous languages. Only those oblivious of history or poised to distort history can deny this historical role of English language in generating Renaissance movement and freedom struggle of our country.
Process of development of language
The advocates of Hindi as lingua franca try to mislead the people into believing that retention of English will jeopardize the development of our vernacular languages. But does such an argument have any leg to stand upon? True, every one of us has strong and deep feelings for our mother-tongues, everybody should have it. But if we have true love for our languages, can we shut our eyes to the present state of affairs prevailing in our regional languages, including Hindi, and the process which may lead these to rank with any other advanced language like English? No, we cannot do it. Who can quell the instinctive aspiration for induction of these higher thoughts through one’s own vernacular? But then what is the process? Everyone having a modicum of knowledge about the development of language should know that it is through constant and continuous contact, intermingling and intercourse with a relatively developed language that a less advanced one can be immensely benefitted. None can deny the contributory service English went on rendering to the development of regional languages. Take for instance the case of Bengali. Prior to Rammohan Roy and Vidyasagar, by Bengali was meant a language bereft of any potentiality to produce tracts and articles, prose and fictions, epics and dramas. Nor was there a well-knit system of punctuations like coma, semi-colon; note of exclamation and interrogation etc., so that none could have free play of expressions according to one’s liking. It is only after coming into close association with the English language that Bengali succeeded in reaping these benefits. Same has been the case with the other regional languages in our country. So, there is an endeavour, a conscious cult for expressing higher enriched thoughts in the mother tongue. As a sequel to this struggling process, a relatively less developed vernacular also ascends the height of richness and enrichment. This is the accepted truth of philology. In other words, development of language is a law-governed process. Neither can a language be created overnight nor it can be destroyed by the stroke of a pen. Similarly, neither can any language be forcibly imposed nor be arbitrarily exiled.
Question of medium of instruction
In this backdrop, certain specific issues need a brief dealing. First of all is the question of medium of instruction in schools, colleges and universities. It is strongly felt that in the interest of both quality and quantity, education should be imparted from the lowest to the highest stage in the mother tongue of the student pursuing the study. Any Indian language other than mother tongue, like any foreign language, not only limits the spread of education among the masses but also stands in the way of proper assimilation of the thoughts and ideas, acquisition of knowledge, in short, of education proper. The very raison d’etre of education is frustrated if the natural urge for learning through one’s own mother tongue is artificially restricted by imparting education in any other language. Hence the question of English as the medium of instruction or replacing it by Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states does not arise at all. Non-Hindi speaking states should have their respective vernaculars and Hindi-speaking states should have Hindi as their respective media of instruction at all levels of education.
But then imparting education in mother tongue presupposes that proper infrastructure must be built up, for example text books and reference books. For that also, interaction between various languages and their continued association with English are imperative. In this connection what needs to be kept in mind also is that English is the window to the world. English has become the international language of science and humanities and is increasingly used throughout the world in country after country. Hence to keep pace with and in touch with the constantly advancing knowledge in the different branches of science, and humanities like economics, etc., knowledge of English is essential. But what is happening today? Neglect of English at the school levels right from class I, is creating a growing void at the higher level where English, for obvious reasons, is even now, for many students and teachers the preferred medium of instruction. Moreover, with jettisoning of English at lower level in government schools, private English medium schools are mushrooming throughout the country and the guardians who can somehow afford to bear the expenses of those schools are sending their children to those schools. Because, they know that unless their children are proficient in English right from inception, the door to worldwide advancing knowledge would be closed to them. A probe would reveal that even those who are creating an uproar against English and preaching for Hindi, are themselves sending their boys and girls to English medium schools. Most of the protagonists of ‘‘Angreji Hotao’’ slogan earlier had got their own children educated in English even overseas. Is it not a reality that can hardly be overlooked? It would be the height of folly if in the name of gradual replacement of English, a psychology of neglecting, if not abandoning English is created. So, right from the lower school level, while the mother tongue should be the first language, English should be compulsorily taught as the second language. That will make the students proficient in imbibing advanced knowledge in science and humanities at par with international standard. Hindi speaking people should not therefore be so easily hoodwinked by the sophistry that English can be substituted by Hindi.
Issue of language of inter-state communication
No matter whatever height of development the national languages may attain, the question of communication among the people of India speaking different languages would remain. Without such communications for exchange of ideas, opinions and conveyance of higher thoughts and ideas, there cannot be advancement of learning at highest level, and development of our country in the fields of science, philosophy, technology, art, literature and above all, quality of thinking and rational approach. Communication, conflicts and interaction of ideas accelerate their development. Absence of that engenders stagnation. So, in so far as inter-state communications as well as government level works and language of the judiciary are concerned, we are of the firm opinion that it should be English and not Hindi. As we have already said, over 56% of Indians do not speak Hindi. Secondly, further development of Hindi is also contingent upon its exchanges with English and other Indian languages. English has also developed in the same process of exchanges and inter-mixing with other languages rich in every sphere of knowledge. Hindi-speaking people who do have emotional attachment for their mother tongue in the natural course, need to imbibe this truth dispassionately and free from any pre-conceived notion. Had the historical condition led to acceptance of any Indian language as rich as English, we would have recommended acceptance of that language as lingua franca. But such is not the case. So, undermining importance of learning English at this juncture would be tantamount to shunning the path of mental and intellectual development of the whole people apart from closing the window of access to the world of advancing knowledge at large.
Language of international communication
India cannot remain isolated from the rest of the world. She also needs a language to communicate with different countries and different people. If English is taught as second language right from the beginning, it can serve as the medium of international communication as well. One must have seen that our BJP Prime Minister, in order to pretend his affection for Hindi, often addresses international conferences and summits in that language. But he requires someone to translate that into English simultaneously to be intelligible to the audience. Likewise, many non-Hindi speaking persons work in the government departments and other spheres of administration. Imposing Hindi on them would prove disastrous and is bound to invite strong resentment which might jeopardize the very functioning of the government. If all these factors are taken into account, there ought not to be any two opinions about retention of English as official language for inter-state, administrative and international communications.
Feature of nationality oppression
Why then the BJP and for that matter the advocates of ‘‘Angreji Hotao’’ (Remove English) movement, both now and earlier, have been preaching for introducing Hindi as the only national language? Is it out of their love for Hindi? Never. Their call for banishing English is only meant for the toiling masses whom they wanted to remain ignorant so that the existing ruthlessly oppressive capitalist system faces no genuine crusade. It is true that some confusion is prevailing among a good number of common Hindi-speaking people. Through experience and rational analysis of the objective condition, the Hindi-speaking people would also come to understand that this devoutness for Hindi is nothing but a dissimulation. It is actually a subterfuge to work out a sinister design of nationality oppression—a feature of a multi-nationality capitalist country like ours. Monopoly tycoons like Birla, Goenka, Singhania etc. are all Hindi speaking. Other monopolist giants like Ambani, Advani, Tata—i.e. the dominant faction among ruling monopolists, are complicit in nationality oppression to divide the people which can serve their purpose of staying in power unscathed. So, Hindutva or Hindi chauvinism come handy to them in trying to reaffirm or consolidate their domineering role. Since language constitutes a vital part of our national and social life, the obvious choice is to suppress other nationalities by enforcing the language of dominant nationality on them, creating a smokescreen of pseudo-nationalism and peddling penchant for an indigenous language. The attempted imposition of Hindi on all is a step in that direction. It would dupe both Hindi as well as non-Hindi speaking people at large. The normal development of all nationality languages including Hindi by way of free and fair exchanges amongst each other would be seriously affected and there would be perpetual disunity and poisoning of mentality among the masses on this score. Repudiation of English would further aggravate the situation by closing window to international communication and knowledge.
It is pertinent to mention that socialist Soviet Union was also a multi-nationality socialist state consisting of 194 nationalities with Russians constituting 58.41 % of the total population. Most of these nationalities differed radically from the corresponding old, bourgeois nations of the old Russia both in class composition and spiritual disposition and in social and political interests and aspirations.
For example, as great Stalin had mentioned in his pamphlet titled ‘‘Marxism and National Questions’’, ‘‘…in Georgia there is anti-Armenian nationalism; but this is because there is still an Armenian big bourgeoisie there which, by getting the better of the small and still unconsolidated Georgian bourgeoisie, drives the latter to anti-Armenian nationalism’’. ‘‘A minority is discontented not because there is no national union but because it does not enjoy the right to use its native language. Permit it to use its native language and the discontent will pass of itself’’, he further added (ibid). Then, he concluded that ‘‘equal rights of nations in all forms (language, schools, etc.) is an essential element in the solution of the national question. Consequently, a state law based on complete democratization of the country is required, prohibiting all national privileges without exception and every kind of disability or restriction on the rights of national minorities’’. (ibid)
This is the crux of the problem. In Soviet socialism, concrete measures were adopted to accelerate the process of democratization of society based on proletarian internationalism. So, it was possible to handle the nationality question and instill confidence among all nationalities that there is no coercion or interference with their rights. Not only that. Equal scope was opened for all nationality languages to flourish in the scientific way. Even alphabets were created for some dialects so that those could also be a part of the overall language development process.
In our country, the task of democratization of the country remained unfulfilled during the course of our national liberation struggle due to specific socio-political reasons. After establishment of capitalist India following attainment of political independence through compromise, the task continued to be neglected as the ruling Indian national bourgeoisie never wanted and still does not want the divides amongst the various nationalities to go away. Because the more capitalism is crisis-ridden because of its own laws, the more it is haunted by the fear-complex of anti-capitalist revolution. To somehow stave off the inevitable revolution, the ruling bourgeoisie makes every effort to fuel and exacerbate divisiveness of the toiling people along nationality, ethnicity, religion or language. Because when downtrodden labouring masses, to quote Stalin once again, ‘‘are organized according to nationality they isolate themselves within their national shells, fenced off from each other by organizational barriers. The stress is laid not on what is common to the workers but on what distinguishes them from each other’’. (ibid) And if this divide persists, the feature of nationality oppression also not only prevails but becomes intensified in various forms. Imposition of language of the majority nationality language is one of such forms and hence a part of cultural suppression by the rulers.
Approach to language issue needs to be dispassionate, rational and socially purposive
Based on what has been discussed above, it is clear that approach to language needs to be dispassionate, rational and moulded in social purposiveness. No linguistic chauvinism, blunt opposition or blind affinity would lead one to the right conclusion and to act accordingly. Great Marx had pointed out that ‘‘language is the immediate reality of thought’’. (CW-Vol. 3, p. 212) Great Lenin had said that ‘‘language is the most important means of human intercourse.’’ (The Right of Nations to Self-Determination) What it also implies is that when a relatively less developed language comes in close contact with a rich language, it gets enriched and starts to shine in the kingdom of greater knowledge as well. Elaborating further, great Stalin, their worthy continuer, showed that ‘‘the reality of thought is further explained in language’’. (Concerning Marxism in Linguistics)
If language, which is the vehicle of thought, is not rich, higher thoughts, sense of right and wrong and power of judgment based on law of social development and the specific context in space and time cannot germinate in mind. In course of effort to express a higher thought, language develops. And then the developed language becomes a treasure-house of higher thoughts and derives capacity to convey those enriched thoughts to others. So, the language issue assumes so much of importance. It is pertinent to mention that there was no cultivation of English in China. But great Mao Zedong, realizing the necessity of knowing English, introduced English in education there.
It bears recall that when the CPI (M) government of West Bengal decided to abolish English at primary level, all front-ranking scholars, educationists, litterateurs, scientists, journalists, jurists and other sections of intelligentsia burst forth in protest movement. Our Party, guided by Marxism-Leninism-Shibdas Ghosh Thought took active part in that movement and continued it for 19 long years till the government was compelled to withdraw its policy. The CPI (M) government sought to create an impression that those who were opposed to banishment of English at lower school level were against Bengali, the mother tongue of the majority of the people in West Bengal. But attempt to arouse a fake passion for mother tongue did not work. Most of the revered intellectuals who came out on to the streets in opposition defying their age and failing health were known for their contribution towards enrichment of Bengali language. Moreover, it was shown that not a single Renaissance personality was against teaching English. Rather they were staunch advocates of teaching not only English but higher thoughts of Renaissance that enlightened the Western world. Even Rabindranath Tagore was of the opinion that ‘‘English should be taught right from childhood age slowly as corollary to Bengali. In that case, teaching of Bengali would help learning English. …If English is taught as a language, one can get more time to be linguistically conversant with English, can learn it with proper realization and develop a habit of rehearsing the learning through writing.’’ ‘‘As far as possible, the Bengali students should be imparted English learning by making a comparison with the vernacular. In other words, if they are taught another language on the premise of the language they know, the grasp of the other language would be better.’’ (Prasangakatha, Sadhana magazine, 1892 and learning English, Santiniketan Patrika, 1919).
Munshi Premchand, the most celebrated Hindi litterateur who wrote a dozen novels, around 3000 short stories, several essays and even plays in Hindi was well-versed in not only Urdu and Persian but also English. He graduated with English, Persian and History. He translated many foreign literary works into Hindi and thereby immensely contributed towards development of Hindi. He avoided the use of highly Sanskritized Hindi (as was the common practice among Hindi writers) because he knew Sanskrit would not enrich Hindi. He once observed that ‘the fools do not possess logic. They flex muscle to counter logic’.
That is exactly what we want to emphasize on. The fascist autocrats always shun true logic but use force and wield power to enforce what they want. That is the case with imposition of Hindi. It defies all logic. It is only a shrewd ploy to play with emotion of Hindi-speaking people so that they rally behind them in their effort to forcibly thrust Hindi on all. ‘‘The essence of Great Hindi chauvinism lies in the attempts of the government and the protagonists of the idea of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan to ignore the differences in languages, culture and way of life of the various nationalities that inhabit our country and constitute the Indian nation’’, Comrade Shibdas Ghosh, Founder General Secretary of the SUCI(C) and an outstanding Marxist thinker and philosopher of the era, pointed out 55 years back. (Socialist Unity, Vol. 2 No. 2 June 1963) Earlier the Congress government tried that but failed because of countrywide opposition of people. Now the BJP government is out to implement that with the same ulterior motive.
Our fervent appeal to all, particularly the Hindi-speaking people is not to be swayed by the deceptive overture of the BJP government, rise up against this most unscientific and undemocratic language policy and frustrate the conspiracy of the ruling dispensation to further breach the unity of the toiling masses by fomenting linguistic-chauvinism.