January 1965. In the streets of Madras, the tires burned everywhere. Delhi had decided to make Hindi the sole official language of India. And this was the answer of the South. Hindi was lingua non grata. It would not be accepted. And the agitators had decided that the tires would burn until Delhi changed its mind.
Hindi-speaking people are often puzzled by this virulent opposition to their language. Wasn’t Hindi the language of India? Just as Mandarin was in China or English was in England. Why are South Indians not willing to accept this simple fact and get on with life?
The Sangh has a phrase for this : Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan. To the Sangh, this is their life’s breath. The touchstone of their Hindutva. Without realizing this combination, their ideological project would be finished. A Hindu Rashtra that spoke in 15 different languages would be a parody.
But South India is about to deal a death-blow to their dream project. And this time the banner of opposition has been raised not just in Tamil Nadu. The #NammaMetroHindiBeda hashtag from Bangalore and Pawan Kalyan’s tweets from Hyderabad are just precursors to the avalanche of protest from southern states that is waiting to pour over the Sangh ideology .
What is the South’s opposition to Hindi?
Let’s take Tamil – in many ways the mother language of Dravidians. Tamil is one of the oldest languages in the world. A classical language that has sung the story of human history for well over 2500 years. Not many Indians realize that Tamil Nadu as it exists today is one of the few geographical areas in the country that has rarely been defeated or occupied in history.
The pride that Tamilians feel for their language is the product of achievements over centuries. Achievements in literature, trade, culture, music, sports and arts. Chola kings sailed the oceans to South East Asia and established kingdoms there. The Cheras established trading routes to Europe, China and the Arab lands. Such feats have put Tamil on the official language list in two foreign nations – Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Independence brought a cluster of cultures together to form a sovereign nation. With it, an unspoken contract that each would be given equal space in the new nation. The denomination of each of those cultures would be its language. No language, however big, would be given pre-eminent position over others. Only then would everyone feel equally Indian.
That unspoken contract was rubbished by north Indian leaders of the independence movement, who said that Hindi must be the national language. Other Indian languages did not have the numerical superiority of speakers that Hindi had. Hindi would be the lingua franca.
History has recorded the violent protests that followed, forcing the then Central government to tone down their Hindi chauvinism. Unfortunately, since the Sangh leaders played no part in the Independence movement and in the subsequent drawing up of the Constitution, they have not had the opportunity to learn any lessons from those protests.
In their bid to extend the Hindutva hegemony all over the country, the Sangh has over-played its hand. It has run into what will soon be the Language Waterloo. The Sangh ideology of Hindutva will be defeated in the towns and villages of South India at the hands of Dravidian languages.