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Language barrier: Given India’s rich linguistic diversity, compulsory Hindi is a bad idea

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New Delhi | Updated: January 11, 2019 7:02:34 AM

In a nation where 600 languages are at the risk of dying out—250 have already died out over the past 60 years—focusing on one language is linguistic hegemony of the worst kind.

There is no doubt that the current dispensation has tried to push Hindi as part of its cultural governance.

In a country that is home to 121 and 270 distinctly identifiable mother tongues, pressing for compulsory teaching of any one language at a pan-India level is a fraught proposition. A report by The Indian Express that the K Kasturirangan panel, on framing the New Education Policy (NEP), had advocated continuing with the three-language formula, but while making Hindi compulsory till class 8, therefore set off a storm. But, the government came out and refuted the report before the Twitter storm could hit the real world. Even though Hindi, in all its variations, is the most commonly spoken Indian language—over 40% Indians speak some or the other form of it—any move to impose it in, say, Tamil Nadu, is akin to language chauvinism.

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There is no doubt that the current dispensation has tried to push Hindi as part of its cultural governance—be it the decision to have milestones on national highways in Tamil Nadu written in Hindi or the advice given by the Central government that all its ministers should make their speeches in Hindi. This Hindi-centric push at all levels handicaps those taught in other languages—even their mother tongues. Also, it is not as if Hindi has not been given its due; it remains the official language of the Union of India in addition to English. A push towards compulsory Hindi-learning in a three language format—against the backdrop of English’s advantage in white collar employment—would essentially rob a student of the choice of learning an Indian language other than her mother tongue since most students are likely, in such a scenario, to opt for the English-Hindi-mother tongue combination. Also, a country’s linguistic diversity is part of its cultural heritage. In a nation where 600 languages are at the risk of dying out—250 have already died out over the past 60 years—focusing on one language is linguistic hegemony of the worst kind.

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