News / Asia

Hindi or English? Contentious Language Issue Resurfaces in India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks after the successful launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C23) in Sriharikota, India, June 30, 2014.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks after the successful launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C23) in Sriharikota, India, June 30, 2014.
Anjana Pasricha

The contentious language issue, of whether to use Hindi or English, has resurfaced in India, where the new government is proposing giving Hindi primacy in official communications. India’s southern states, which do not speak the language of the north, have rejected such moves, but the bureaucracy in the Indian capital is scrambling to brush up its Hindi skills.

Whether speaking in parliament, with Indian officials or foreign leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has communicated in Hindi since taking office five weeks ago.

Independent political analyst Neerja Chowdhury points out that the Indian leader, the son of a poor tea seller, is far more adept in Hindi than in English - the two languages recognized as the official medium for federal government communication.

“We have got used to our leaders, many of whom have been Western-educated, speaking in English. But Mr. Modi, he is representing a different India. He has also come through the ranks, you know, his humble beginnings and he has made his way up. So this is the language of comfort for him in so far as expression goes,” said Chowdhury.

FILE - A Hindi-language signboard which reads "Mumbai" is seen near the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai.FILE - A Hindi-language signboard which reads "Mumbai" is seen near the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai.
x
FILE - A Hindi-language signboard which reads "Mumbai" is seen near the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai.
FILE - A Hindi-language signboard which reads "Mumbai" is seen near the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai.

Although no one is questioning the prime minister’s personal choice of language, there is resistance to his government’s plan to nudge English aside in favor of Hindi in the corridors of power.

Political leaders in southern states voiced loud protests when his government recently ordered officials to prioritize Hindi over English on official accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and on government websites.

The government quickly clarified that the diktat was meant only for northern states.

Hindi is widely spoken in the north, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has won most seats. But southern and eastern states have always opted for local languages or English. Five decades ago, efforts to impose Hindi as the country’s only official language triggered violent riots in the south.

And so Prime Minister Modi, a pragmatic leader, who wants to build his party in southern states, gave a subtle message that he is not only familiar with English, but has no aversion to it.

After witnessing the launch of a satellite in the southern Andhra Pradesh state, he surprised many by making his first speech since becoming Prime Minister in English. It was clearly an effort, but an astute move to reassure the south, from where many of the scientists hail.  

Although the south may be sticking with the language bequeathed by India’s British rulers, officials in New Delhi continue to be under pressure to opt for Hindi. And many are clearly unhappy.

India’s upper middle class, which includes many senior bureaucrats, largely has grown up speaking English in their homes. Most have studied in schools that use English for instruction, and some have gone to Western universities. Although they still speak Hindi, their written communication skills are often labored. And in an effort to cope with the language now in favor, many bureaucrats are scrambling to deepen their knowledge of Hindi, particularly words used in official communication.

Subhash Kashyap, a former official in parliament, said the colonial model, based in English, is a long-running habit with the bureaucracy. He said there should be no resentment if Hindi - the language that is more widely understood by the masses - is promoted, but it should not be pushed.

“The bureaucracy, simply because they have been used to certain things, that should not be an argument against it. But it should be a slow, natural process. It should take its own time, there should be no feeling of being compelled, or no feeling of any language being forced,” said Kashyap.

Critics agree that the government should not favor one language over the other in a country that has benefitted from its knowledge of English. It links a diverse country with 22 official languages, and many dialects, and serves as the language of commerce.

The English language skills of Indian engineers gave momentum to the growth of the country’s famous information technology industry. Most Indians from low-income groups are opting to send their children to English medium schools to give them an edge in the job market.

Chowdhury said that in a globalizing world, India’s familiarity with English is a huge benefit.

“The world is moving on, look at the way the Chinese are learning English. And why should we give up a natural advantage that we have had all these years?” asked Chowdhury.

The push to end the primacy of English in official corridors is partly seen as an effort to break away from the traditions set by the erstwhile Congress Party, which dominated India since independence and whose top echelons are drawn from the elite.

Prime Minister Modi and the BJP want to reinforce their credentials as a Hindu nationalist party that will represent the swelling ranks of those joining the middle class, who may not be as conversant with English.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Aqeel Qureshi from: New Delhi
July 07, 2014 6:58 AM
Why do we Indians at times seem to forget one of the greatest philosophers of modern times Swami Vivekananda?

He always preached the harmonious marriage of the scientific advances of the west with the rich heritage of the east. How can such a marriage happen if we are jingoistic about something as petty as language.

Language is just a medium not the content. As far as it limits itself to its objective, there should not be any objections.


by: RAM from: TORONTO CANADA
July 06, 2014 2:12 PM
I think India has great traditions, spiritual wisdom keep those traditions Hindi is a much more complete and poetic than English so English can be your 2nd language. Just remember we in the west honor true traditions, in Canada there are 2 languages English and French, it takes time best wishes

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid