Hindi is India's national language

Hindi as India's national language? A minister sits down in the nettles

The cultural diversity of India comes under increasing pressure under the Hindu nationalist BJP. But the citizens do not allow everything to be offered.

India is a wonderland of languages. The 3214 kilometers from the northern border to the southern tip and the 2933 kilometers from east to west span a linguistic diversity that goes far beyond the 22 “official languages ​​of the Republic of India” named in the constitution. In addition, most Indians speak two or three languages; Monolingualism, which is the norm in many other countries, would be a curiosity in their eyes, and three native languages ​​are usually on the curriculum in state schools.

Conversely, this also means: every Indian knows only a small part of the whole language diversity. Our horizon in this regard is therefore both wide and very limited, and no language has a monopoly when it comes to "Indian" as such. The interaction between Indians from different regions often does not take place in the mother tongue of one of the speakers, but in a third language that both are familiar with, such as English or Hindi.

Regional identities

Language is also a central aspect of regional political identity in India. Since gaining independence in 1947, it has generally been the basis for the administrative reorganization of the constituent states, each corresponding to the major geographic linguistic areas: Tamil Nadu is the region where Tamil is spoken, West Bengal the home of Bengali, Gujarat that of des Gujarati.

Certainly: What is a reason for pride and joy on a social level can sometimes drive the state to despair. For example, which working language should the central government in Delhi choose? The Constituent Assembly devoted numerous heated debates to this issue between 1947 and 1950. Finally, an agreement was reached on Hindi, the language which is spoken in a standardized form and in a wide range of dialects in a large part of northern India and also in the east and which ranks fourth among the most widely spoken languages ​​in the world. Hindi should be the official language of the state of India, while the member states were allowed to use the respective regional language as the official language.

This system has mostly proven itself in practice; but as languages ​​change over time, so do ideas about how to use them. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power in India since 2014 and not only has a clear predilection for Hindi, but also believes that in a nation worthy of the name, everyone should speak the same language. The dream and the long-term political project of the BJP is ultimately to transform India into a political and linguistic monoculture.

Sting in the wasp's nest

India's belligerent interior minister, the BJP politician Amit Shah, recently sparked a storm of indignation when he posted the following tweet - in Hindi, of course - on September 14th (which is celebrated as Hindi Day in India): “India is a country with many languages ​​and each of them has its meaning, but it is very important that the country has a language that represents its identity to the rest of the world. If there is one language that Indians can speak one today, it is the one that is most widely spoken in the country: Hindi. "

Many Indians saw this as a characteristic of the BJP government's strategy of making a coercive measure palatable to the people by disguising it as a celebration of an aspect of Indian culture. And it is not too far to assume that Shah wanted to sound out public opinion with his tweet before attempting to upgrade Hindi in the constitution from an official language to a national language.

If the presumption is correct, the interior minister must soon have realized that he had stung a wasp's nest - especially in the south, which has always felt set back by the Indian state and its Hindi-speaking capital Delhi. Thousands of replies to Shah's tweet were posted on social media in the following days - in all languages ​​of India, but united by the hashtag #StopHindiImposition.

If it needed a prime example of how to turn people against one another on the pretext of uniting them, Shah's idea of ​​imposing a national language on the country would not be bad. If so, then India should not assert its identity to the world with the banal label of the "country where people speak Hindi". Rather, it should present itself as an example of how a people consisting of many ethnicities, cultures and language groups can legitimately unite to form a nation.

Chandrahas Choudhury, born in Hyderabad in 1980, lives as a novelist and journalist in Delhi. Translated from the English by as.