India: Common script can unite
By Shankar Sharan
(December 17, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Hindi has a lot in common with Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and other Indian languages. What makes each alien to the other is the script that is used. If we were to switch over to Devanagari then the apparent differences would disappear and Hindi would be more acceptable to all
Thinking of Hindi, we invariably start with a wrong definition. There is no Hindi region in this country. Hindi is not exclusively or even mainly linked to any particular area as Tamil, Bengali or Gujarati are. The so-called Hindi region has several languages in use, such as Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magadhi, Angika, Braj, Awadhi, Chhattisgarhi, Marwadi, etc. These are truly regional languages, more or less on par with Gujarati, Punjabi, etc, insofar as they are regional languages.
The mistake occurs because of the script being the same for Bhojpuri and Hindi. However, if you write Punjabi, Bengali or Gujarati in Devanagari script, these languages would look as near or far from Hindi as Maithili or Awadhi are.
If all Indian languages adopt Devanagari script, the situation of Hindi would be obvious. Then Bhojpuri-speaking and Gujarati-speaking regions would be on equal distance vis-à-vis Hindi-speaking regions. We tend to forget that common people in Patna district do not speak Hindi, but Magadhi. Similar is the reality in Bhagalpur and Allahabad regions. They speak distinctly different languages, but have no problem with Hindi because it contains a common vocabulary to a large extent.
The same is true for Bengali or Punjabi. Written in Devanagari, every person who can read and speak Hindi will understand these languages to a fair extent. Because, again, the vocabulary is quite similar and common. Marathi is a case in point. It is written in Devanagari, so no Hindi-reading person will be bewildered with a Marathi text. He will understand the subject and message without much effort. May be in a week, he/she would find no difficulty in reading and understanding Marathi.
This is true from the other end as well. A Maharashtrian or a Bengali has no difficulty in understanding or reading Hindi. We have two good examples prove this point: Sri Aurobindo and Yashwant Rao Chavan. They said they never learned Hindi, but could read and understand it almost fully. How? Because Hindi shares the maximum common vocabulary with most other Indian languages. It has no exclusive region, nor an exclusive vocabulary.
This points to the easiest solution to the problem of national language. Having a common script for Indian languages will solve the trouble instantly. Then in a short time, Gujarati, Telugu, Bengali regions will feel being part of the ‘Hindi region’. It would happen so because of the script, not because a particular language would cease to be the language of the region. Just as Bhojpuri and Maithili do not cease to be the language of their respective regions.
We should remember that Devanagari is not the script of Hindi to begin with. Basically it is the script of Sanskrit, unquestionably the language of whole India, not of any region. So, asking for a common script is not for the sake of Hindi. It is for the whole country. In order to easily follow many languages all at once, without any extra effort. It will make all us Indians recognise each other having more in common than in difference.
Now, we can begin to understand the nature of Hindi. It has no region and it is understood and used more or less in every part of the country. This is due to its genesis. Its whole creation over a period of time by the people has been as a lingua franca for the entire country. People of every part have contributed to make it what it is. Before the advent of the British, how did the people of this country interact for all purposes? Not only the learned ones (they might be doing so in Sanskrit also), but the traders, pilgrims, wanderers, warriors, sages, etc, all had a means of communication.
What we call Hindi today was simply the ‘bhasha’, the language. It has been changing, ever renewing itself under the need and effect of time. If today it carries a number of English words, so it did a number of Persian words two centuries ago. All because it was used everywhere for practical purposes. Every quarter contributed to keep it ever-usable. It is a continuous development over centuries, sustained by interaction among people of every walk of life in every region. Hindi also worked as a clearing house of new ideas and discoveries. Whatever new appeared in a region, it reached every part of the country through Hindi. Not through any other means. For these cultural and historical reasons Hindi is easily found everywhere in the county for common purposes.
Thus, Hindi has the whole country as its region or it has none. Just like Sanskrit.
What about the opposition to ‘imposition of Hindi’? We would do well by recalling that the demands for Hindi as the national language arose during the freedom movement. Behind it was the nationalist urge, not a regional wish. This is why the call was made not from Patna, Lucknow or Bhopal (now mistakenly called the Hindi region), but from Calcutta, Bombay and Ahmedabad — the centres of national awakening and movement. Because of their nationalist sentiment, people there felt the urge for the national language. It was to oppose foreign rule and a foreign language.
The situation remains the same today. The opposition to Hindi is not great in the country. It is there in quarters corresponding to the degree of low nationalist feelings. If you are not concerned with the fate of the country as a whole, you will not feel any need or respect for Hindi. What is the point? Those having regard for the country will not demean the role and place of Hindi, which connects the largest number of people.
As for English, arguments for its continued use in education, administration, etc, have not changed a bit for a whole century. All have been rebutted by scores of great, learned men and visionaries — Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore, Lokmanya Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Mahatma Gandhi, for instance. But quoting them at length or arguing afresh would be futile. Because English in India represents, above all, a deeply entrenched vested interest, despite being sought for in education even in remote villages. It is not perceived as the language of knowledge and culture in any real sense of the words, but as of power and fortune. So, arguments will convince nobody.
As for those who are nationalists and still support, English in India as the language of education, research, science and as the country’s ‘link language’, they are pursuing a chimera. They don’t realise the relation of human beings to language. They seem to use English as a tool. Language is not a tool, it has a living power — power to mould a person’s attitude.
A foreign language will shape a person’s nationalist urge into something else without his or her knowing it. All great people of language and culture all over the world always knew this. If our nationalists fail to perceive this, the fault lies with our education, a chief component of which is its total disconnect with the great Indian classics of knowledge and wisdom. And, not incidentally, a total disconnect with the real lives of real people of this country.
- The writer is an author, educationist and a well-known columnist in various Hindi publications. -Sri Lanka Guardian