Ongoing fights for linguistic equality in India

Garga Chatterjee | Published: 00:25, Feb 21,2018 | Updated: 20:20, Feb 20,2018


A SPECTRE is slowly but surely starting to haunt the imperial forces of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology — the spectre of non-Hindi resistance under the banner of mother language rights, linguistic equality, state rights and federalism. All the powers of the deep Indian Union state have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the Delhi elite, the ruling BJP, the RSS and its associated organisations, Hindi-Hindu militias and vigilantes, Delhi think-tanks, pan-Indian Union corporates, Delhi ideology media, Delhi ideology academia of all hues, contractors, collaborators and pimps.

Where is the force against Hindi imperialism and for linguistic equality, mother language and state rights that has not been decried as ‘anti-national’ by its opponents in power in Delhi?

Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of ‘anti-national’, against any party that has stood for state rights and linguistic rights?

Two things result from this fact:

— The struggle for federalism and linguistic equality is already acknowledged by all Delhi gangs to be itself a power.

— It is high time that linguistic equality movements openly, in the face of Delhi, published their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tales of the spectre of banner of mother language rights, linguistic equality, state rights and federalism with a manifesto of the movement itself.

To this end, linguistic rights activists of various linguistic nationalities will be assembling in Bengaluru and draft the Bengaluru resolution for linguistic rights. And it will happen on February 21, 2018 for that date is a special day for all linguistic nationalities all over the world who face discrimination on the basis of their mother language. That day promises a future, a future when such discrimination will end.

The 2014 election of the Hindu-Hindu-Hindustan ideology party BJP at union power in the Indian Union has given a strong fillip to non-Hindi mother language rights movements in the Indian Union. And these are not fringe movements as multiple non-Hindi state governments have done in the past three years what they have not done since 1947. Since 2014, official announcements have been made making Bangla compulsory in schools of West Bengal, Kannada in schools of Karnataka, Telugu in schools of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and Malayalam in Kerala schools. They join Tamil Nadu that has been a beacon in such issues. What is important to note here is that they are all non-BJP states, representing a very wide political range — from states’ rights ideology parties like the Trinamool Congress to a strong states’ rights advocate in a weakening Delhi party like the Congress’s Siddaramaiah in Karnataka to a universalist ideology party with a strong local base in the Communist Party India (Marxist) in Kerala.

What these states have started doing in this short period between 2014 and 2017 is something that they have not done since 1947. Thus, one must look at the emergent realities of the 2014–2017 period to understand that this answers the questions why language in particular and why now. Across the non-Hindi states, there is a realisation that soft linguistic nationalism has the potential to effectively counter the BJP’s Hindi–Hindu nationalism. It is one of the last remaining strongholds against the all-round Hindi imposition, communalisation of politics, and the unprecedented attacks on, the erosion of and the interference in state rights, with NEET, the goods and services tax and Niti Aayog being just a few examples. It is this combination of factors that had led to this moment.

And like elsewhere in the world, the issue of linguistic rights is being associated with issues of frank discrimination in civilian government jobs, in army jobs, in terms of how non-Hindi states subsidise the Hindi states. Even N Chandrababu Naidu, chief of the tenuous BJP ally Telugu Desam party has raised concern about Hindi-belt migration and huge fertility rate differences between Hindi and non-Hindi states. Leader of the foremost Tamil party DMK MK Stalin has termed union government moves as being a threat to the integrity of the Indian Union. West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee has stated on the record that the union government should only have four departments — currency, external affairs, external defence and railways. In fact, under her regime, for the first time since 1947, the West Bengal government now has its own state logo. Karnataka chief minister and votary for Kannada rights, the mighty Siddaramaiah, is exploring the possibility of Karnataka having its own separate official state flag. Tamil Nadu already has a state anthem. While this democratic emphasis is there, Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan forces are busy pushing forward with their own divisive agenda. Currency notes have been Delhified and Hindified, passport has been Hindified, all union government web sites have been Hindified, all union government offices have been Hindified. Now even entry for science subject PhD in elite institutes require compulsory Hindi literacy.

Thus, February 21 this year is a milestone in the path of a long gathering storm that is rising out of discrimination to the point of annihilation. Since linguistic discrimination essentially means second-class citizenship, the backlash is natural. And this backlash is democratic, people-centric, bottom-up and not top-down, undemocratic and imperial government power centric as is in the case of Hindi imposition. What were language rights movements in various states are now working in tandem with political forces on the ground and also in coordination with each other. Because, this fraternal coordination between sister linguistic states is the best guarantee of the integrity of a federal democratic Indian Union whose unity is under threat from the divisive forces of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan.


Garga Chatterjee, an Indian brain scientist at MIT, writes columns from Kolkata for newspapers in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

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