English-Vinglish, Hindi-Shindi: India doesn’t need a national language. Plus, Hindi is growing & English is no longer elitist

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Context: Should India have a national language? And if not, then why not. The article discusses the reasons as to why India is better off without any national language and why it must not try and impose Hindi on non-hindi speakers.

Global examples

In theory, a national language is a nice idea, but imposing it on a multilingual country can be disastrous.

This can be easily seen from the following examples:

– Pakistan: When Pakistan was born, Jinnah declared spiritedly that Urdu would be the national language.

At the time, the mother tongue of 55% of Pakistanis was Bangla; only 7% understood Urdu. Resentment soon built up among the proud Bengalis, and it eventually led to Pakistan breaking up and the birth of Bangladesh.

– Sri Lanka: Similarly in Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike implemented in 1950s the ‘Sinhala Only Act’, disenfranchising the Tamil minority. Riots followed, followed by civil war. Once a model South Asian nation, Sri Lanka was brought to its knees.

Many countries have managed well without any national language, including India.

Switzerland is another multilingual nation without a national language. It has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and ranks high on the Happiness Index. A successful nation doesn’t necessarily need a national language.

What is the most prevalent argument against English and why it doesn’t hold any longer?

In India, there is a deep-seated resentment of English as the language of the elite that has ruled for the past 75 years. English is not just a language in India, it is a caste.

However, three changes make this argument less powerful.

One, English has quietly become an Indian language, just as cricket has become an Indian game. Whoever speaks a language owns it, just as whoever plays the game possesses it. English is now the most widely spoken language in India after Hindi, with 130 million speakers in the 2011 Census.

The second change is that Hindi is the fastest growing language in India, spreading rapidly thanks to Bollywood. If English is our language of opportunity, Hindi is our language of entertainment.

The third change is the rise of a confident hybrid, popular among young, decolonised minds. For instance: Youngsters in Chennai comfortably mix English with Tamil as easily as they mix Tamil with English.

– It has the makings of Indian English, a language that may one day aspire to become a national language.

Way forward

India’s language policy should focus on the future, not on the past. It should help create opportunities for the young.

The New Education Policy is basically correct. It is a good idea for children to begin learning in their mother tongue. However, kids should simultaneously learn English from KG onwards.

English is the global language of opportunity. It is why many government schools are emptying, and why more than half of India’s children attend non-elite private schools.

So, why try and force Hindi down the throats of non-Hindi speaking people when it is already the fastest growing Indian language? Hindi, English, Hinglish are spreading on their own.

If India has managed without a national language, why fix something that isn’t broken? Why risk the break-up of our country or a civil war?

Source: This post is based on the article “English-Vinglish, Hindi-Shindi” published in The Times of India on 12th June 22.

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