Saturday, 8 July 2017

On the language divide in India - part 2

Continuing with my earlier post here I want to address the potential reasons for the anger against the "imposition" of Hindi.

  1. The theory that is easiest to discount is the Aryan-Dravidian divide. Just to give one example of the long-standing unity of the country - Agastya who is said to be the father of all things Tamil is an "Aryan" rishi. Tamil Sangam Era literature talks about the Ramayana. Adi Sankara who was from what is today Kerala was the key figure in rallying together Hindus after the impact of Buddhism. The strongest constituency for this reason would be Tamils who are steeped in the ideology of "Dravidian" politics. On the other hand there are Tamil scholars like Dr. Nagaswamy who themselves are debunking this divide.
  2. The second reason is to put it simply, money. There is no monetary incentive for a non-Hindi speaker to learn the language. English on the other hand is today the lingua franca not only in India but across multiple developed nations. It is felt to be one of the few positive outcomes(?) of the British Raj. I do not need to dwell on the importance of English in the contemporary world. Let me give you another example. For reasons best known to them a lot of people mistake me for a north Indian (at least till I open my mouth, and occasionally even after that - I am grateful to my BIT Mesra batchmates who taught me the language!). When I had newly moved to Chennai on work, one day I hailed an auto. Even before I opened my mouth the much-maligned Chennai auto driver, started speaking Hindi! Further in places frequented by tourists, and in Marwari enclaves I am sure you will find local shop keepers speaking the language even in non-Hindi areas.
  3. A very, very important factor that I feel is a reason is that the imposition, perceived or real, is one-way. Nobody can dispute this fact. I do not think there is any school in north India which offers a south Indian language as an elective. Our leaders need to remember that our states are formed largely or completely around languages, and that is good. We need to nurture the diversity that we have. However, in this scenario, where only non-Hindi states have Hindi imposed on them there is justified anger on why a non-Hindi language is not offered in the north. 
My personal sympathies lie with the third point. Hence let me dwell on this point. 

  1. First of all people staying north of the Vindhyas seem to be utterly, and I mean Utterly ignorant of those to the south of the range. I am sure all my south Indian friends, especially the non-Tamil ones will agree that being called a Madrasi is one of the most irritating things. Why? Because the ignorant person calling me that is erasing an identity that I am proud of and is confusing with something that I am not! Many north Indians probably may not even be able to name the four major south Indian languages. And for crying out loud, the linguistic basis of statehood that we have today, is because of the south Indian states, especially (erstwhile) Andhra Pradesh. Even for those who know a little, my mother tongue is "Telegu". For God's sake, it is TelUgu. Hence if Hindi is made compulsory unilaterally consciously or unconsciously the government is furthering ignorance and possibly giving rise to a (potentially) false sense of superiority as well.
  2. Further, our languages are wonderful and logical. How many people know that the consonants in our languages form sounds from the back of the mouth, the throat to the lips? Try pronouncing ka, cha, Ta, ta and pa if you have not tried this earlier. I am not sure if anyone knows why the English alphabet extends from A to Z in that order with vowels randomly thrown in. There is a lot that our languages can communicate to one another. For example only two languages (in my knowledge) - Sanskrit and Telugu have an event/performance called an avadhaanam. This is a fantastic feat of scholarship and memory that I am not even sure how many other languages can reproduce. How many non-Telugu speakers have even heard of this? I myself have very little knowledge. I am sure the current generation, even in Telugu families are not aware of this. By giving greater and greater importance to one language we risk giving a quite burial to some of these fantastic inheritances of ours.
I respect the sentiment that is often cited - it is better to learn a common or widely spoken Indian language than English, which is a foreign tongue, that too of an oppressor. I agree to that. In fact if I know the other person knows Hindi and English both, I would like to speak Hindi. However, I have one request to anyone who gives this reason to me. You show equal respect to something which is not your own and learn a language. It need not be mine. But this removes the feeling I have of something being pushed down my throat without reciprocity.

Now I move to the third part of this topic. What can the government do? There is no short term solution to this. I would suggest that in every state there must be an elective to learn make the student learn a language that is NOT the student's mother tongue and one that s/he is familiar with. Benefits?
  1. Students get to know firsthand the diversity of our country and can gain new respect for other cultures. We will hopefully have less usage of Madrasi and Telegu.
  2. Learning a new language is one of the things scientifically proven to improve brain function and keep it active. And I do not need to say this is important to a kid.
For those who will blame me for further loading, burdened students I do have a response. Let this not be a single year language. There is no use to doing that. Let it be spread over a few years. Let the child understand the language in its majesty and beauty. Let him not fear it as another subject to be learnt by heart. Also, I understand there are multiple approaches to teaching any language. Learning by starting with grammar is definitely going to be painful. Let us try to find one that is not painful, by teaching use first, and hardcore grammar later.

In choosing electives, at whatever level it may be, we suffer from the tyranny of large numbers. I cannot choose to learn an elective I like unless there is a certain minimum number of students who also want that. This need not be a constraint in today's world where video conferencing/lectures and learning apps are increasingly becoming the norm. NPTEL is already present. Why can't we have something like that for languages?

So to summarize the last section:
  1. Make the student compulsorily learn a non-familiar language.
  2. Do not restrict it to one year, let the child take time to learn it.
  3. Give the child the freedom to choose any language of his or her choice.
  4. Instead of every school maintaining a dedicated pool of teachers for all languages, these can be taught remotely.
This concludes this topic. I look forward to writing more. I eagerly await the vistas that the train of my thought will unravel in the days to come.

Edit: I just read an article on Swayam. This further strengthens my point above about teaching languages via video lectures - real time or recorded.

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