Don't impose Hindi, learn bitter lessons from Pakistan
While Pakistan was created for Muslims in 1947, it was split in 1971 mainly due to their extremely flawed language policy
The creation of Bangladesh and neglect of Punjabi in Pakistan are an eye opener for us too. We must not impose any language on any particular group. Those who try to impose Hindi on non- Hindi speaking people must think twice
Punjabi neglected in its own land since 1947 in Pakistan. A silent but a powerful movement is spreading thick and fast there under the banner of 'Punjabi Prachar.' It is an apolitical movement. Those who are in the forefront of the movement are demanding compulsory education of Punjabi in schools. Further, they argue if Punjabi as a subject is not introduced in schools, the language of the land would vanish.
Can you imagine Punjabi can't be spoken even in the Punjab assembly of Pakistan? While Pakistan was created for Muslims in 1947, it was split in 1971 mainly due to their extremely flawed language policy. Thus, it is all the more important for Pakistan to wake up before it would be too late. Can you believe that the seed of split of Pakistan was sown by none other than Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself on March 21, 1948 in Dhaka. Less than one year after Jinnah managed to carve out separate nation for Muslims of India, he consciously or unconsciously divided Pakistan on language issue. Of course, it took around 25 years for actual division of Pakistan.
On March 21, Jinnah announced in Dacca's Race Course Ground, "Urdu, and only Urdu" embodied the spirit of Muslim nation and would remain as the state language.
This was absolutely unacceptable to people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). And after Jinnah's announcement, unending protests against imposition of Urdu became part of East Pakistan life. Dhaka university campus was the bastion of pro-Bangla protestors. Like any other day, they were making protests although peaceful on 21 February, 1952. And then suddenly, Pakistani police started firing on those young guys, killing dozens of students. That was the day when East Pakistan decided to snap ties with rest of the Pakistan. And to commemorate the supreme sacrifices of lovers of their mother tongue, United Nations has decided to celebrate February 21 as International language day.
Arguably, language is a very emotive issue and we have seen even in India lot of acrimony mainly in Punjab. And if we talk about Punjabi, it has suffered in its backyard. Punjabi did not receive a proper status even under Maharaja Ranjit Singh time. Persian was the court language of Maharaja's time in Punjab. And in the later period, Urdu became the official language of Punjab though Punjabi was spoken by one and all. To cut the long story short, the Punjabi got its legitimate status in India once States were carved out on linguistic basis. Of course, very acrimonious events took place in this journey. Hindus of Punjab under the influence of Hindu organisations like Arya Samaj and RSS have started claiming Hindi as their mother tongue in various censuses though they speak Punjabi. Same way, Muslims used to identify with Urdu though they speak Punjabi in the pre-partition days. Arguably, it was only the Sikhs who identify with Punjabi. Unfortunately, languages became integral part of different religious groups in Punjab.
The real trouble in Punjab started with the census operations of 1951 and 1961 when, after independence, the Hindus of Punjab decided to record their mother tongue as Hindi instead of Punjabi. The Punjabi language became an instrument of political struggle.
It is good that now we have settled the issue of our languages thanks to founding fathers of our constitution. The Indian constitution declared Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e., on 26 January 1965. The prospect of the changeover, however, led to much alarm in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, especially Dravidian-speaking states whose languages were not related to Hindi at all. As a result, Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, 1963, which provided for the continued use of English for official purposes along with Hindi, even after 1965.
In late 1964, an attempt was made to expressly provide for an end to the use of English, but it was met with protests from States such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Puducherry and the then Andhra Pradesh. As a result, the proposal was dropped, and the Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not be ended until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every State that had not adopted Hindi as its official language, and by each house of the Indian Parliament. The position was thus that the Union government continues to use English in addition to Hindi for its official purposes as a 'subsidiary official language'.
As we know, language question was most debated in the Constituent Assembly of India. As many as twenty-two major (including only two tribal ones) language were recognized either as state official languages in the regions where they are spoken by the majority population.
And it speaks volumes about the sagacity and far-sightedness of authors of our constitution for giving official status to Sindhi language even though there is no State where Sindhi speakers are in majority. Sindhis had migrated from Pakistan after partition. That shows our commitment in terms of giving space to all the major languages. The creation of Bangladesh and neglect of Punjabi in Pakistan are an eye opener for us too. We must not impose any language on any particular group. Those who try to impose Hindi on non- Hindi speaking people must think twice. They are doing disservice for the country. As somebody who loves Hindi and writes in Hindi for my livelihood, I strongly feel that if Hindi is imposed on others, it would create huge issues for the country. Let us give fair deal to all the native languages.
(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)