How Hindi vs Tamil Pride Became a Political Tool to Divide

Politically speaking, it is impossible for the DMK or the AIADMK to take a pro-Hindi stand.

4 min read
How Hindi vs Tamil pride became a political tool to create a divide. (Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)

‘Black Day’ for the then Madras State, fell on 26 January 1965. It was the day Hindi was to become the sole national language (along with English, which was to be used indefinitely), at the end of the 15-year transition period that was written into the Constitution of India in 1950.

Thanks solely to the agitations in Tamil Nadu, which resonated and rippled across to Andhra and Kerala, India recognises 22 official languages today. Across many parts of the country (most vociferously in Tamil Nadu), Hindi isn't considered the 'Rashtra Bhasha’.

Politically speaking, it is impossible for the DMK or the AIADMK (all other parties are but clones) to take a pro-Hindi stand. Their very inception is based on an active rejection of the language. What started off as anti-Hindi-imposition, very quickly became an anti-Hindi movement.

This was similar to how the pro-Hindi outfits like the Jan Sangh turned anti-Congress when the Congress relaxed its stand of making Hindi the sole official language after the 1965 riots in Tamil Nadu.

Ignorance, Social Media and Stalin’s Revamped Wardrobe

Much like the Jallikattu protests, where the majority of the protestors barely knew what they were protesting for (or against), let alone the sport’s connection with indigenous cattle; the anti-Hindi agitations of 1965, headed by Annadurai (who later became Tamil Nadu’s first Chief Minister), centred on a vehement rejection of Hindi as a language, and as a link to the ‘North’.

On 28 March, The New Indian Express broke a story about how Hindi replaced English in milestones along the National Highways in Vellore and Krishnagiri districts. This sparked a rash of tweets and Facebook posts with the #StopHindiChauvinism hashtag.

What started off in Tamil Nadu found resonance in other states as well, with tweets from Keralites, Odiyas and Maharashtrians condemning the centre’s slow ‘killing’ of regional languages.

MK Stalin (working President, DMK) has of late turned to social media and to a younger dress code (he sported jeans and a shirt for his 2016 election campaign. He lost). He used the moment to condemn the change in road signs, and also made a YouTube video accusing the BJP of systemically destroying the unity of India from the day they came to power.

Most Political Leaders in TN Have Functional Understanding of Hindi

The video is actually a way of reminding the people of Tamil Nadu of the historic anti-Hindi agitations that his forerunners carried out.

Funnily enough, leaders of most political parties in Tamil Nadu, as well as their children and grandchildren, have a functional, if not proficient, knowledge of Hindi and English. It is only the cadres who are encouraged to reject these languages on the basis of sentiment.

The sentiment of the average Indian on the street is diametrically opposite. IT professionals in Chennai, taxi drivers in Madurai, and the entire gamut of the workforce between the two understand the need to know a language other than Tamil.

The problem with the anti-Hindi stand of the state is that it is now impossible to learn any other language in state-run schools, though the people themselves are willing.

ALL private schools offer Hindi and Sanskrit (many even French and German) as additional languages. This again puts students who study in state-run schools at an significant disadvantage in terms of opportunities.

Divide Sparked on the Basis of Language

In the absence of even a basic ability to speak English (which still seems an impossible ask in state-run schools), even government jobs beyond the state are missed out on. This explains the burgeoning 'Speak English in 1 Month!’ and 'Rashtra Bhasha Seekho’ centres across Chennai, Madurai and other cities across the state.

Sadly, in the absence of a level platform for rational dialogue, such criticism too is meted out in harsh tones, further stoking a cauldron that has been bubbling for well over eighty years.

The cartoon on anti-Hindi agitations in an NCERT textbook. (Photo Courtesy: NCERT Textbook)
The cartoon on anti-Hindi agitations in an NCERT textbook. (Photo Courtesy: NCERT Textbook)

The cartoon on anti-Hindi agitations in an NCERT textbook is a prime example.

Many students, even in private schools in smaller cities and towns in Tamil Nadu, opt for Tamil as their second language. It is the absence of this ability to choose that is stifling talent and opportunity in state-run schools. Incidentally, Tamil Nadu is the only state that does not have Navodaya Schools, for fear of the spread of Hindi.

But with the success of the Jallikattu protests, and the perilously loose definitions of Tamil pride floating around, it might be just too easy to spark a divide on the basis of language.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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