Hindi is not the national language of the Indian Union. Neither is it their “rashtrabhasha” if you prefer that term.
There is nothing called the national language or rashtrabhasha in the constitution of India. Whoever told you otherwise is either ignorant or deceitful.
There is a way to distinguish which kind you are speaking to. If they are the ignorant kind and you tell them Hindi is not the national language and cite the constitution and Supreme Court clarifications on that matter, they will get enlightened and correct themselves.
But a deceitful one will continue peddling the lie that Hindi is the national language of the Indian Union even after you have shown the person all the evidence to the contrary.
That is because he/she is voicing a fantasy or a political intention when he/she says that Hindi is the national language of the Indian Union.
And this fantasy is exclusivist because typically those who insist on making Hindi the national language of the Indian Union are also those who don’t want any other language like Tamil or Bangla or others to share that space with Hindi.
Hence it is also the expression of a supremacist political mindset. That’s why non-Hindi speaking people have never supported the idea of Hindi being the national language in spite of constant promotion of that language.
Hindi has never been the rashtrabhasha of any rashtra ever in the past; whether Hindi will get its own rashtra in the future, only time can tell.
States have equal rights
The Indian Union is made up of states. The states were formed primarily on a linguistic basis. Thus, when we say the Indian Union is a union of states, what this essentially means is that the Indian Union is a union of linguistic nationalities.
Citizens of the Indian Union have exactly the same right vis-a-vis anything that has to do with issues dealt with by the Union government, regardless of their linguistic background.
While states are created on a linguistic basis, the Union was not created on the same basis.
The Union government cannot favour one linguistic group over another. It is, by definition, the government of the Union. There is no language called “Indian.” No language is more “Indian” than any other.
A majority of the citizens of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi. Discriminating against the majority, and pushing them into second class citizenship, has typically ended in disaster in other parts of the world
In a linguistic homeland, languages other than that of that land are foreign as evidenced by Gujarat High court’s statement that Hindi is a foreign language in Gujarat. Similarly, Tamil is a foreign language in Nagaland.
Language is a means of communication -- in fact, the most important means of communication. Thus, when a government communicates with the people in a democracy the idea should be to say it in a language people can understand. In a land where the government speaks in a language that is different from the people, it means that the government is distant from the people.
The closing of this gap can happen in two ways. One can close this gap by changing government policies so that it suits the people.
This is democracy where people are more important than rulers. One can also try to close this gap by changing the people to suit the government. That is tyranny where rulers are more important than people.
A majority of the citizens of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi. Discriminating against the majority, and thus pushing them into second class citizenship, has typically ended in disaster in other parts of the world.
I hope the Indian Union learns from the effects of Urdu imposition in Pakistan. There too, Urdu was imposed under the banner of unity.
There too, those who opposed the special status to Urdu were branded anti-nationals. There too, Urdu imposers thought that the promotion and imposition of Urdu as a link language would strengthen the ideological and political unity of Pakistan. But it never works like that.
Equality and dignity
A mother tongue is the most fundamental identity of a people. When the administration conspires against this fundamental identity by promoting someone else’s mother tongue, the result is likely to be what happened in Bangladesh -- a war of independence.
In this age of technology where live-translation is easy, content translation is easy, imposing Hindi and excluding our mother tongues is not due to some technological problem.
It is a political problem. It is an ideological problem. If the Indian government can send a mission to Mars but not provide Tamil or Bangla versions of all government websites but can do so for Hindi, it is because it does not want a Tamil or Bangla speaker to have the same rights as a Hindi speaker.
“Unity is Diversity” has two pre-conditions. They are equality and dignity. Unity at the cost of dignity is slavery. Unity at the cost of equality is imperialism.
Unity and equality, unity and dignity are not incompatible. For a multi-lingual federal democratic union like the Indian Union, unity with equality and dignity is the only peaceful way forward.
Garga Chatterjee is a political and cultural commentator. He can be followed on twitter @gargac.