Saturday, August 19, 2006

Should the Indian government spend money on promoting the HIndi language?

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reports from New Delhi on 19 August 2006 a statement from Mr Anand Sharma, the Minister of State for External Affairs, to the effect that Hindi should be included as one of the languages used by the United Nations "as it is spoken by a substantial percentage of the world population".

China has been able to get away with arguing similar rubbish because, even though there is no such language as "Chinese", some Chinese language or other is spoken by substantial minorities in practically every country in south-east Asia, as well as by sizable numbers in many other countries.

The proper Hindi language, regretfully, is spoken almost nowhere outside India - though some variety of Hindi (or more precisely Hindustani or Creole) is spoken in Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, South Africa and Trinidad/Tobago, as well as in Pakistan (where a variety of the language, called Urdu, is written in a different script but is otherwise basically the same language). In any case, I make that a maximum of eight countries - and even within them, there is not one country (including India) where Hindi is the principal language.

Since the primary job of the United Nations is to facilitate interaction not between people in general but between its member-nations (192 of them), India only makes itself look foolish by making such patently absurd requests or demands.

Minister Anand Sharma is also reported to have said that an international Hindi conference will be held in New York early next year as part of efforts to popularise Hindi in the world. Apparently, regional Hindi conferences are held every year in different countries. In 2006, these conferences have been held in Australia, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo. One wonders how much is spent on these activities and what criteria are used to assess their effectiveness.

Nor is it clear whether any analysis has been undertaken to evaluate the benefits of holding such conferences verses those of teaching our own people basic literacy - or computer skills or English or medicine or any number of other essential things.

The more significant matter to consider is why India's elite is pushing Hindi, when the majority of Indians (the Dalits and associated oppressed classes) regard the "standard" languages such as Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati as part of the web of oppression by the upper castes, and work hard at learning English which they regard as the language of liberation.

If the government genuinely wants to liberate the oppressed people of India, of course, it should be pushing neither Hindi nor English, but the regional variants of these languages which are closer to the hearts of the masses (such as Bhojpuri and Bundelkhandi). Dalit-speak is not the same as elite-speak.

However, I welcome the initiative because it will certainly make our foreign policy available to, and encourage debate on it from, a much wider proportion of our populace.

The Ministry's Hindi website is at Sphere: Related Content

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