India - Interviews
Watershed - The Hindi-Urdu Controversy in 1867, when Hindi went to replace Urdu as the official language, was already a first sign of a future partition of the Indian subcontinent?
Austin Pinto-Lobo - If one looks back to the History of India, during the British rule, Urdu was born out of the socio-administrative requirements of Muslim conquerors who preferred to settle down in the regions around Delhi. Urdu emerged as a synthesis of Khari Boli, Braj Bhasha Rajasthani, Punjabi and some Persian and Arabic vocabulary. Thus Urdu was considered a mixture of different languages used for convenience (LINGUA FRANCA). Till 1837, Persian remained the language of administration and Urdu was used only for literary discourses amongst the urban elite. Urdu was used in the literary courts of Muslim rulers, thereby making it a status symbol for the elite sections of Muslims. In 1837, when the East India Company started exercising executive powers, they decreed to abolish Persian from its official use and replaced it with English and native vernaculars. They however accepted Urdu, as lingua franca, to be the language of the courts in northern India. This boosted the morale of the Muslims and some Hindu elite. However the Hindu masses were restless and demanded the official status of Hindi. This was the beginning of communal overtones. Urdu enjoyed commanding status in the literary courts of Muslim rulers and Nawabs and flourished under their patronage whilst Sanskrit was pushed to the wall. This remained as a source of irritant for the common Hindus, as it disturbed the homogeneity of Indian society. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, although being a strong supporter of Hindu/Muslim unity was obsessed with the idea of having Urdu as a symbol of Muslim domination over the cultural and linguistic identity. He founded the Aligarh Movement and confined it exclusively for Muslims. When he realized that the Hindus had launched a movement to revive Hindi as the second official language of the North-Western Province, he originated the Muslim Renaissance Movement after the failure of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1867. This sparked a full-fledged Hindi-Urdu controversy. His observation before the British Education system was that Urdu was the language of the gentry and Hindi, that of the vulgar. However, the Hindi protagonist Babu Harish Chandar retorted that Urdu was the language of dancing girls and prostitutes. The Hindus and Sikhs of Bihar, United Province and Punjab along with organizations like Arya Samaj, Sat Sabha, Punjab Brahmo Samaj and Sikh National Association joined the Hindi movement against Urdu. The introduction of Hindi with the Devanagari script in Bihar in 1880 quickened the pace of the Hindi Movement. Hence, during the Freedom Movement, the language controversy kept the Hindus and the Muslims divided. Even the coined vibrant slogan “Inqilab Zindabad” would not help to keep the Muslims and Hindus united after the Partition as the language controversy had deeply engraved the following thoughts in the hearts of the majority struggling for freedom: “Hindi – Hindu – Hindustan”, “Urdu – Muslim – Pakistan”. Thus in my opinion, the Hindi-Urdu controversy was the first sign of a future partition of the Indian subcontinent.
WS - Can Hindi and Urdu be considered the very same language, since only the script system allows one to differentiate the former from the latter?
APL - The word Hindi is of a Persian origin which means “Indian” comprising “hind” – “India” – and the adjectival suffix “i”. The word was originally used by Muslims in North India to refer to any Indian language. In the 17th century “Hindi” existed in two different styles:- (i) Amongst the Muslims it contained a larger component of Persian derived words and was written in a script derived from Persia. (ii) Amongst the Hindus, Hindi included words influenced by Sanskrit and it was written in the Devanagari script. However Hindi would be used for both the styles. Around 1780 the Persian scripted Hindi was changed and came to be known as Urdu. The primary difference between the two systems is the way in which they are written with Hindi using higher registers of the Sanskrit vocabulary and the Devanagiri script, while Urdu is written in the Urdu script, a variant of the Semitic Perso-Arabic script, and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic vocabulary. To the common man if the two languages are written in the scripts of each other they will be considered as one and the same. It is basically the politics of ethnicity and religion that portrays them as two different languages.
WS - What is the impact of the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, which shaped the political map based on linguistic criteria, on the modern Indian State?
APL - The political leadership in India under their first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, reorganized the States of the Union in 1956 with a view to consolidating their vote banks. These Congress leaders very well knew the historical background of each state and they had leaders, in all these places, who had a clout on the people who could be controlled by money or muscle. Though India had achieved political freedom in 1947 the people of India did not enjoy economic freedom as millions were below the poverty line. And this situation of a feudal pyramid in almost all states was pregnant with chances of getting easy votes in all states. Under the above prevailing conditions Democracy was a farce, as most people - the bulk of the poor - did not know their legitimate rights under the Constitution. Nehru was the undisputed king in the political arena till his death but these political leaders did not foresee the problems they were creating by reorganizing the states on a linguistic basis. This reorganization led to border disputes among the states that led to loss of life and property. Historically India was overrun by ethnic groups over the centuries that had led to the presence of different castes and creeds. And the reorganization of States on linguistic basis was the icing on the cake to strengthen regionalism. The already heterogeneous Indian society took advantage of the situation and began idolizing the state. No wonder each state emphasizes on their language and even the government forms are printed in regional languages that need the help of interpreters and translators for the people of other states or foreigners to do their work. The language issue in each state is so acute that even the schools have to teach the state language compulsorily. All signboards on shops, industry establishments, educational institutions must be written in the state language side by side with the English version. Even to get jobs a certain quota is kept for the sons of the regional soil and there is a special quota for the backward castes and tribes to get employment. There were more states of the Union created subsequently. In 1966 Haryana was created out of Punjab. Also the Union Territories of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh that were created out of Assam got statehood. The Union territory of Goa also got statehood and in the year 2000 three more states were created namely Jharkhand created from Bihar, Chattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal out of Uttar Pradesh. The kingdom of Sikkim was also annexed in 1975 and given statehood. There is a lot of inequalities among the States that is causing acute problems. The recent shifting of the Tatas Nano car from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat is a case in point. This is because of the political leadership of the State of West Bengal, which prefers the rights of farmers of the land to the general industrialization of the State. Mamata Bannerjee favoured the farmers whereas the leadership in Gujarat under Narendra Modi favoured the Tatas. There is also the problem of literacy in various states. Whereas the northern states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are less literate the southern states of Kerala, Madras (Chennai), Goa and Karnataka are highly literate. Recently the planting of bombs in all the premier cities of India like Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi was done by the boys hailing from a place called Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. These boys belonging to the minority community but nevertheless unemployed were easy prey for the subversive elements to use their services at a good remuneration. So the government has to take care of these inequalities in various states for the greater glory of India. Jai Hind.
WS - What role did the standartisation of Hindi - after the Independence - play in terms of national unity?
APL - India is a land of approximately 1652 spoken languages. After Independence in 1955, the Official Language Commission was appointed, and in 1957 the Joint Parliamentary Committee recommended, that the principal official language should be English till 1965, and there after Hindi becomes the principal official language and English continues as the subsidiary official language. This was published in 1958 and received sharp criticism from the Southern States. To overcome such a situation Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, in 1959, made a statement that Hindi would not be imposed on the non-Hindi speaking states without their consent and that English would remain an associate language for the Union of India. This was to be implemented for an indefinite period of time. In 1963, the Official Language Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, that provided the use of the English language in addition to Hindi as an official language. In 1965, Hindi was made the Principal Official language of India. This led to anti-Hindi riots in Southern India and Bengal, in 1967. The agitation was so strong in Tamil Nadu, that it almost separated from the rest of the country. Therefore in 1968, Parliament passed the Official Language Amendment Act which gave a statutory guarantee to the Non-Hindi speaking states that English would not be replaced by Hindi, unless the States were ready for a switch. The adoption of the bill led to Anti-English riots in North India and in repulsion anti-Hindi riots in Southern India. No definite stand was taken by the Indian National Congress as sad to say, they were only interested in vote bank policies. This gave birth to regional parties, which were an opposition to the Indian National Congress who already had a foe in the Indian Muslim League, which originated during the Hindi-Urdu controversy. Thus the adoption of Hindi as an official language divided National Unity in an already diversified India where regionalism causes a division. Loyalty of people to a particular state is always characterized by language, common culture and social backgrounds.
WS - In a period of strong globalization, which languages do Indians need to master besides English?
APL - India is flooded with foreign business setting up shop in affluent metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and so on. Moreover, multinational companies in India, send their employees to their branches abroad and the knowledge of a foreign language other than English is a big asset. Spanish, German and French, are some of the popular languages the Indians try to learn and Hindi is the language the foreigners try to master in order to have a better foothold and understanding of Indian metros. Besides, when the Indian employees are transferred for a longer period say 2 or 3 years their wives have the problem of communicating with the local maids and even the everyday life gets unbearable if one cannot communicate or socialize. Globalisation and advances in transport and telecommunications has made the world a small place. Institutions like Opus Dei teach Spanish in India and a lot of Indians know the language, which is spoken by a great multitude of people in the United States, Mexico and many European countries. People in the hotel, tourism and hospitality industries need the knowledge of an additional European language and as such it is a criteria to secure jobs in those fields and move up the ladder. So many Indians make it a point to learn additional language like French and German, Spanish or Japanese at the school and college level. Those people who know Portuguese can easily master Spanish. French, of course is on the Indian schools curriculum for many years now. There are institutes that teach foreign languages as well as dances like samba, salsa and so there is no dearth of opportunities for the Indian youngsters who have a great enthusiasm to learn and who chase a dream to attain maximum knowledge as modern jobs are profit oriented and the more knowledge one has one can be an asset to the organization where they work. Indians working as television journalists and those engaged in the human resources development need the knowledge of more languages as they have to deal with personnel coming from various climes. No wonder, that tourists feel at home in India and the shortage of accommodation in hotels is made up by families whose hospitality, knowledge of languages and culinary prowess makes the tourists visit India more often. Indians hold prestigious positions of responsibility the world over. There is a lot of brain drain and this is a proof that they meet the international requirements. And anything in roman script, and many Indians who have a will can master it.
WS - Since the Indian culture fascinates millions of people all over the world, shouldn´t the government create Hindi institutes abroad in order to spread the knowledge of the language?
APL -Indian culture is a mixed bag of customs and manners, hospitality, language, religion and morals. Hindi is only a part of the whole that is presented to the world at large. There are other languages like Sanskrit, Marathi, Malayalam and Telegu that are as popular in India and form a part and parcel of our culture. Hindi by itself is very popular and Hindi films are highly appreciated by the audiences in Europe and the United States. But the irony is that when India was divided on linguistic basis only the Hindi Belt of North India like the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh speak Hindi. Each of the other States like Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala speak their own language like Marathi, Punjabi and Malayalam respectively. So, for the Government to set up institutes abroad only to propagate Hindi will create a bias. Private parties from India can do it. Hindi does not represent India as a national language as English represents England. Also what fascinates the world is our culture that is not necessarily based on Hindi. It is based on so many other things with which we are grown like respect for elders, fear of the Almighty, love for studies, rich heritage and above all the customs and manners and morals of which we are proud of. The word ‘culture’ comes from the German word ‘kultur’ which means ‘growing’. In social anthropology ‘culture’ means ‘knowledge’. The knowledge that is acquired forms culture and this is not ingrained only in Hindi. Indian traditions have evolved over the years and have lot of values that are depicted in Indian movies that are so popular in the West. Our culture is visible in our growing knowledge and the way we conduct ourselves in international forums, always living up to high standards.
WS - How many Indians have Hindi as their first language?
APL - It is no wonder that Hindi is quite popular in many States of India, but its proliferation clashes with the other state languages that are also very much in vogue. Marathi in Maharashtra is made compulsory in Secondary schools and so also in various other states like Punjab, Kerala and so on the state languages Punjabi and Malayalam respectively are given pride of place. The 1991 census showed that 3372 lakhs of Indians had Hindi as their mother tongue compared to 695 lakhs who had Bengali, 660 lakhs had Telegu and 624 lakhs Marathi. Hindi films are very popular in India and abroad. But there are a lot of films made in other languages, though they have not hit the international circuit like the Hindi films. The international status of English language and the intrinsic linkage of Information Technology to English has made Hindi a little less enterprising for the Indian youngsters who are go-getters. The effect of dividing India on linguistic basis has led to border squabbles between the states and it has also lead to language idolatry to the extent that all government forms are printed in the state language and some outsiders have to take the help of interpreters to get the work done. Also all establishments in the State have to carry the name of the shop or institution in the state language besides the English name Hindi does not represent the majority of people in India though outsiders are under the false belief that Hindi is predominantly spoken all over India. Indian people are called ‘Hindustani’ but that is only in movies. Hindustani is the genus of other species in India. It is a connotation given to differentiate us from Pakistanis. But it has nothing to do with Hindi, which fortunately many Indians speak through constant practice when they rub shoulders with hindi-speaking hawkers and shopkeepers but cannot write.
WS - What is the best way for a foreigner to learn Hindi?
APL - Hindi is an Indo-European Language of the Indo-Aryan subfamily. It derives much of it’s formal and technical vocabulary from Sanskrit. Hindi is spoken in almost all the states of India specially in Northern and Central India. It is spoken exactly as it is written, so it is very easy to learn and read. There are 11 vowels and 36 consonants in Hindi. As a foreigner there are many different methods of learning Hindi. The BBC’s Hindi Urdu Bol Chaal is a beginners course in spoken Hindi. The book provides material for approximately 100 hours of study. The book is sold separately but can be accompanied by a set of two cassettes which contain conversations, listening exercises, pronunciation guides and listen and speak practices. Indo vacations conducts Hindi language courses in India. During the tenure you live with an Indian family and also learn the Indian culture and tradition. It also offers sight seeing to places of importance in India. Central Hindi Directorate, New Delhi offers a correspondence course in Hindi. The fees here are very nominal. The Indian Language School in Kerala, offers an in house course in Hindi. Friends abroad, an internet site, is another online language teaching school. Carla is another internet site for advanced language acquisition. Cosmic Volunteers offers to teach Hindi in India, where you live with an Indian family and simultaneously learn the language. In addition there are many tutor arranged classes in practically all metropolitan cities of India.
WS - Is the English language actually a huge competitive asset of India in the global market?
APL - The Indians had beaten their colonial masters at their own game. And that was hockey. The Indians even excel the British in writing the English language. The Times of India is one of the best newspapers in the world, for instructive editorials, firebrand analysis of topical issues, constructive criticism and economic and political reviews. We have freedom of the press and India thrives on that. Our newspapers and journals fearlessly hit out against injustice, corruption, trampling of human rights and so on. Among the beauty queens that assemble at the international beauty pageants, Indian women excel in giving some of the best and wittiest answers in English, with poise and confidence. And this combination tilts the balance in favour of Indian girls as they display both beauty and brain. Indian girls have won the international crown at least 5 times. ‘Femina’, sponsors the Miss India event, but before the competition the girls are very well trained and groomed by professionals. Indian youngsters also do well at international spelling competitions. Indians are not lackadaisical about their writing and speaking as they pay attention to grammar, select their words with care so that they are listened to, with respect. Unlike the American way of English our spellings are more realistic like a ‘bank cheque’, is spelt by them as ‘bank check’. We have good writers in India like the Magsaysay awardees, Arun Shourie, Sombhu Mitra and so on. Finally we have our Information Technology experts in the Silicon Valley and various parts of the world. Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro are our IT majors and our software engineers have blazed a trail, leaving a legacy that Indian talent is the best. Also the Call Centers and the BPOs are buzzing with activity serving United States, Australia and Europe. All these businesses bring a lot of foreign exchange for India. All this, because of the English language that is spoken fluently and written with a gusto. Indians shine in the global market as we have capitalized on the only legacy left to us as a by-product of their advent in India. Even the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) has appreciated the participation of Indian scientists who have manufactured all the precision made jacks on which the Large Haldron Collider rests. And that was a real competitive feat.
WS - Is Portuguese still spoken in the State of Goa?
APL - When India annexed Goa in 1961, only the battleship Afonso de Albuquerque put up nominal resistance that was soon overcome when the Indian forces under General Candeth resorted to aerial bombing of the Portuguese frigate. Since that time the Portuguese language is phased out from schools and slowly it is disappearing even as a second language, as it comes handy only for those who intend making Portuguese passports to circumvent the trouble of getting visas for Commonwealth countries. There are others who learn Portuguese for visiting countries like Brazil, Spain and Mexico. There are people like Dr. L. P. Misquitta who teach Portuguese in Mumbai, and other Indian metros, as some Goans love it and would like to perpetuate the heritage that was so much cherished by their forefathers. But very soon Portuguese will be history as Spanish, Marathi, French and Hindi are taught in Goan schools. But the last generation of Goans, of the liberation era speak fluent Portuguese and it is very musical to the ears when the senior citizens try to make a point on the church patio, where they relax in the evenings on the circular cement benches there. Yes we can still hear good Portuguese being spoken in Goan households and the Portuguese spoken in Goa is very clear and sounds prolific, is easily understood and heard unlike the Portuguese spoken in Daman and Diu –the other 2 Portuguese colonies—and even in Portugal itself because the spoken words blur into each other and is difficult to understand. There are some youngsters who voluntarily want to learn Portuguese in Goa and even in the Indian metros but the lack of conversational practice puts the experiment on the backburner. But in the evenings as the sun goes down, some boys still serenade the crowds on the Colva and Calangute and other breathtaking palm-fringed beaches of Goa. With ‘Fados’ and nostalgic Portuguese songs like ‘Caixaca’ and ‘Encosta sua cabecinha no meu ombro e chora, e conta todas suas magoas para mim’. Portuguese is so ingrained in Goa, that it has made inroads in the konkanim language that Goans speak, as words like ‘malcriado’ and ‘malcurado’ are used frequently. Also, there are Portuguese translators who earn a lot of money translating property documents that are initially written in Portuguese and the modern day lawyers cannot understand the language and need translations. These veterans of the Portuguese days do a good job on allied birth and death certificates, baptism and marriage certificates that are all written in a beautiful calligraphy. During the Portuguese days there were professional calligraphists who did an excellent job and only time has yellowed the pages but the writing is intact Indeed the 450 years of Portuguese rule in Goa has left its imprint.
Interview by Lynus Paul Misquitta