Curbing English; Not Promoting Hindi!

Mulayam Singh’s Fallacy

Samajhwadi Party leader Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav has demanded that no English be allowed during debates in Parliament. He is inspired by the late Ram Manohar Lohia who stated that unless democracy is conducted in the mother tongue it will remain flawed and distorted. It would disallow the vast majority from fully participating in it.

The flaw in Lohia’ reasoning was of course that although Hindi is the national language it is not universally understood or spoken in many parts of the country. Not surprisingly after such demands a fierce language dispute erupted in some southern states and English was recognized as the link language of India . If Mr. Yadav’s demand were to be implemented it would require simultaneous translation facilities of a dozen languages during proceedings in parliament. However beyond these glitches there are substantive reasons why Mr. Yadav’s demand is not only impractical but also undesirable.

The world has changed since the days of Lohia. We live in a global system and in the days to come the world will continue to shrink. English is the lingua franca of the world. Due to historical circumstance India is in great advantage among non-English speaking nations to have wide knowledge of the language. China is working overtime to spread the knowledge of English among its people. Nevertheless Mr. Yadav’s main concern flowing from a vast majority of Indians still remaining outside the system remains relevant. But to overcome this deficiency the solution does not lie in curbing English but in promoting Hindi. What has government done to help Hindi become a truly national and even international language? Precious little!

After Independence when nationalist fervor was strong the proponents of Hindi went on an overdrive to popularize the language. Alas, they were purists who thought that by inventing new words derived from Sanskrit to make up for insufficient vocabulary of Hindi in the modern world they would strengthen the language. Thus absurd new words were coined. A necktie was translated as “kanth-langoti” (diaper around the neck); cricket was translated as “gend-balla-matbhed” (conflict between ball and bat). Today a billion people in India revere cricket which has become a household word. English reached its position of pre-eminence because it uninhibitedly incorporated new words from all languages. Thus a ‘cushy job’ indicates a well paid and easy job. I thought the word ‘cushy’ was derived from ‘cushion’. I was wrong. It is derived from the Hindi word khushi (happiness)!

That should give us an indication where the future of Hindi lies.

Its future lies in widening its vocabulary through incorporating words from all languages that find common use among people. Bollywood films have partly helped that process. Language after all is only the means to communicate thoughts. It should be nothing less and nothing more. The power of language ultimately rests upon the power of thoughts and how accurately these can be transmitted by use of appropriate words. To create an exponential growth of Hindi I had proposed the following measure through these columns (Language Policy and Globalization) on March 19, 2013. I take the liberty of recalling it.

I wrote:

“A simple device suggests itself to promote the spread and growth of Hindi. The government could consider introducing Roman as an alternate script in all Indian regional languages officially acceptable. Adequate work has been done in developing the Roman script as a substitute for Devanagari by retaining the alphabet and phonetics but merely changing the script. The International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST) has done adequate work in this direction. Others such as the Department of Classical Indology at University of Heidelberg have considerably furthered this task…

If on a strictly voluntary basis the Roman script were made available to all school children as an alternate script, which script would their parents choose? By opting for the Roman script, without in any way diminishing knowledge of Hindi as a language, the doors to English would be opened to children at an early age. Roman Hindi would at the same time greatly facilitate foreigners to learn Hindi… The artificial difference between Hindi and Urdu would disappear and synthesize into Hindustani. Words from all regional languages would easily and inevitably be co-opted into official Hindi. Both the vocabulary and the geographical reach of the language would immensely expand. Already a smattering of Hindustani is spoken from Kashmir to Kabul, from Baluchistan to Bangladesh.

Purists would of course deplore such change and consider pristine Hindi to be mutilated. The purists should be ignored…

Should not Hindustani be developed as a language spoken and recognized by the world as one of the leading global languages?”

If Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav and other Hindi proponents are genuinely committed to promoting Hindi as a universally spoken national language they would have to adopt some such radical and courageous approach. Curbing English is not the answer.

Related Articles:
Language Policy and Globalization
Mind Your Language: Needed, A National Script!


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

Top | Analysis

Views: 3409      Comments: 9

Comment Gr8 article Rajender. Bharat varsh ko hindi bhasha mein pirona ja sakta hain!

Terence Verma
27-Nov-2013 20:43 PM

Comment By not adopting an a universal language in India, India is all set to loose all of its languages including Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali, and Hindi.

However, this is (opposite of what is required) precisely many people in India have conceived as a necessity.

However, if India discourages doing its business in English, which need not be a forceful act by govt, then all Indian languages will be set to be preserved and prevailed for long.

I gave an example of Finnish because the population speaking Finnish is smaller than population in Chennai and Delhi. By the way, Finland has two official languages - Finnish and Swedish. Scenario of multiple languages prevails in many countries and not only India. Yet those countries are able to promote their native languages, they are able to effectively do business with the world without making English as second language. Example of Israel is given because it overcame this challenge of multilingual people effectively.

I am for any Indian language to be made universal in India but not English. Those who think that India's GDP, job scenario, Industries, exports etc. will be in danger, better take examples of numerous nations that are flourishing without English.

It's now or never.

However for politicians it's an opportunity to create polarisation and vote gathering. And because of this polarisation influenced people believe Hindi is a foreign language.

So, Mulayam Singh fired a fresh bullet and we are debating !

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
26-Nov-2013 02:19 AM

Comment This is in reply to Bohra's comment about adopting Hindi as a necessary and national language.
Comparing India to Finland and other mono-lingual countries is certainly not valid comparison. India has too many languages, cultures, sub-cultures, states etc...
One must understand that for a person living in the south india, Hindi is as much a 'non-native' and 'foreign' language as English and French. Atleast by learning English , today's generation have access to better education and jobs/career prospects.
Adopting Hindi as National Language does not really serve any practical purpose apart from giving temporary boost to our hurt ego and self respect that we are no more under the influence of the British. Apart from that it could also lead to Hindi chavinism. As it is we have enough lingual problems in India. We certainly dont want to make it more complicated.
Every Indian language has its own originality beauty and flavour. Istead of stamping them out we need to preserve and nurture them.
My suggestion is make English and the local state Language compulsory in all schools and all states. There should be another optional 3rd language offered which could be Hindi, Sanskrit or anything else which the student or student's parents prefer.(For example in Tamil Nadu Tamil and English should be compulsorily taught as subjects in all schools be it ICSE or CBSE or state boards etc The optional third language could be Sanskrit, Hindi etc). Adopt common English words like Computer, Television etc into every language.
As of now India is slowly n gradually moving towards harmony ,acceptance of other cultures and tolerance towards other llingual communities. There is no need to change or upset this momentum by having Hindi as the Sole language !

25-Nov-2013 04:03 AM

Comment Dear Sir and fellow readers,

I beg to differ and challenge the views expressed in the article and in the comments...

Not back so far in past, just 10-12 years ago, only 2% population of India could understand and speak English, today the % is much higher mainly because the newly born children are being sent to English medium schools more and more and almost any respectable job in India demands knowledge of English.

Further, may I refer to a private telephonic conversation with Mr. MR Venkatesh a few year ago, upon expressing concern over necessity of knowledge of English in India which posed danger to Indian languages including Hindi, Mr. Venkatesh mentioned that if the trend continues then English would become the main spoken language in India in another 2 generations. So, if the forecast is true, then by 2030 majority of Indians will have replaced their mother tongues with English.

CONSIDER the dramatic shift of use of language in year 2000 vs the use in 2030, from merely 2% to 30-50% is a huge jump. Such major shift otherwise could be achieved only by a forceful implementation under colonization under a foreign rule.

So, there is some serious danger about the subject of language and current politicians are not bothering enough about it. Surely, history will not record current politicians as heros.

Now consider the other non-English-speaking nations, the below facts should open up eyes of those favoring use of English in India:

- In Israel, where more than half of the population is 'imported' from across globe, where the people are highly dependent upon trade, export and services to the world to be able to earn living, DOES NOT TEACHES ITS KIDS IN ENGLISH. Half of the population does not know English enough to be able to fluently talk in English, and those who know English in order to be able to work with people across world in their job or business, DO NOT TALK AS FLUENT as Indians DO.
The above example alone should establish the limit of Introduction of English in India.

- None of the south American nations and Latin American nations talk or do business in English, from Argentina to Mexico, less than 5% people read/speak English and those who can, are much less fluent than Indians.

- Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Middle East Asians are similar to South Americans when it comes to the use of English. If Chinese govt is promoting English in China, let's also understand to which extent it is being promoted, a common man in China does not understand a simple sentence in English such as "Where can I get water". Apart from this, also worth knowing that China is also promoting use of Mandarin in the world.

- The Europeans except the United Kingdom, the Russians and Central Asian nations do not use English as main language, they do not teach kids in English. Even though there are tiny nations as compared to large of India, even a small nation such as Finland having just 5.5 million population that depends upon external world even for essential commodities, do not teach its kids in English. Knowledge of English is just an added advantages in a few jobs there, whereas knowledge of Finnish is a necessity to be able to business on day to day basis even for personal work.

English is only prime in few countries where British ruled and where the subsequent rulers after independence did not take strong decision on the use of Language.


If English is so much required, there would have been a complete wipe-off of the native national languages in many smaller nations by now. But, what we see is those nations are successfully able to preserve and promote their own languages. One can have a hint of this by trying to download some software from internet, such as SKEYPE, one will come to know this, one can see the many options for languages including languages spoken by much smaller population than population of an Indian state such as Tamilnadu, Karnataka and W. Bengal, leave along large Hindi speaking part of the nation. Why would others bother to respect your language if you yourself do not respect it ?

So, I conclude as:

Firstly, the reason for not having Hindi as a universal language is not about having some flaw in Lohia's reasoning, but because the enforcement is missing, in absence of a strong and capable governance.

Secondly, Indians need to understand that the Hindi is not language of some region of India, it is evolved in recent centuries and adopted by large part of India. It looks distant from southern languages because its origin was near Pali and Prakrit, the languages which flourished in north India. Citizens of non-hindi speaking area, along with all Indians, need to realize that only one language can be universally adopted. Whether English is adopted or Hindi is adopted or a newer version of Hindi closure of Southern language is adopted, the non-Hindi languages have to be adjusted amidst vast usage of another language in India. So, why cant be the 'other vastly used language' be Hindi ?

Thirdly, about the ability to adopt vocabulary from other languages, the examples given in the article are not so strong. One can refer to the high school text books of schools of various states and CBSE on various subjects, such as Math, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, Commerce etc. there are very nice examples of adopting and creating new words.

Finally, all Indians better understand that there is a language war going on, imposed by the Globalization of Industries. We can be Ostrich and adopt English at expense of all Indian languages (that is the current direction), or we can realize and take appropriate and wise actions immediately. No business will be lost, no advantage will be missed by teaching our kids in Hindi and regional languages. Advantage of India lies in capability of Indians who are smart, hardworking and loyal which is a great advantage in terms of resource manpower to any Industry.

Language defines identity and by adopting a foreign language our identity will be in danger. Let's adopt Hindi or a mix of Hindi-Sanskrit to make it closure to southern languages in grammar. It's the grammar that gives tougher time than the vocabulary to the people learning a language. Simultaneously, let's adopt common devnagiri alphabets to all the Indian languages rather than roman alphabets. Language defines identity, let's preserve it by uniting all the Indians.
Do it the THAI-ways and not the Malaysian-ways !!

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
24-Nov-2013 07:06 AM

Comment Language is like a free flowing river. It gets created out of a necessity of intercourse of people's day to day living and affairs. Nobody should try to revive any language. Languages get created and languages die. It is best left to the people, the masses. The learned should observe and record and give it some grammatical structure. Hindu rashtravada, Israeli homeland, attempts to spread Christianity and Islam worldwide all these impede universality of society, culture, brotherhood as well as local requirements. European nation state concept is creating problems all over the world today. History of the world is progress of knowledge and its translation into technology. So languages should be allowed free flow and growth. That language will have an upperhand which will purvey knowledge of the time. State intervention will be futile.

Sharbaaniranjan Kundu
23-Nov-2013 09:12 AM

Comment India is a federal country. Debates in Parliament should be preferably be in English as that would show no bias towards Hindi. It is preposterous to presume that every Indian should know Hindi. Proceedings of the Parliament then can be translated into Indian languages and distributed the very next day like a newspaper. In Parliament it is the lawmakers who debate amongst themselves all of whom study law in English. Problem is that politicians try to play to the gallery rather than address problems. Most of the time politicians try to rip apart another political party's intentions rather than tell people what really they want to do. These politicians are all the time serving themselves rather than the people, else they would not be wanting to win every election. Every political party looks all the same today and sectarian politics is having a field day. A corrupt tells the other corrupt! Really sordid. We should not get into this Hindi business. This will take our country backward and fragment our country.

Sharbaaniranjan Kundu
23-Nov-2013 08:53 AM

Comment The roman script for hindi is an interesting idea.Nevertheless what protagonists for hindi failed to understand is that it can never be a classical language like sanskrit or tamil.Our founding fathers should have taken a leaf out of japanese who have accommodated large number of english words like xerox,telephone,computer into japanese vocabulary making it easier for japanese to be in tune with the rest of the world.Hindi already is a kitchadi language with words borrowed from sanskrit,urdu why not borrow many more from english so as to easily become the language of India if the zealots are smart.India need to have its own language which will bring in lot more solidarity,pride and a sense of belonging.If it were left to me, i will propagate sanskrit learning to all .Sanskrit along with ayurveda and yoga are the treasures of india which will last for thousands of years.But then our intelligentsia are used to the idea of the white skin supremacy.

21-Nov-2013 06:10 AM

Comment It is unfortunate that language scenario of the country has never been addressed honestly by our leaders as well as intellectuals. A complex situation of a multilingual nation has been veiwed in a simplistic way right from the days of freedom struggle to post independent india resulting in the alienation of non Hindi speaking people from Hindi.

The result is that English continues to be the link language, Indian languages and scripts are receding into oblivion.

21-Nov-2013 03:07 AM

Comment Hi,
I would like to bring to your notice that Hindi is NOT the naional language of India. India does not have a national language. For conducting government activities n proceedings , Hindi and English are both used as official languages. Along with that Languages like Kannada, Tamil, Telugu , Marathi etc are also considered valid official languages and recognized regional and state languages.
In the 1960s The South Indian states along with Bengal and other non-hindi speaking states rebelled and did not accept Hindi as the National Language.
The central goverment then, considering the demands of non-hindi speaking states, decided not to implement Hindi as the National language . Thanks to the government and thanks to the Non-hindi speaking states.
India is multilingual and multicultural and there is no need for a sole language being called National language.
I would also like to mention that that India has only four languages with 'classical language' status. They are Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. Hindi is NOT one of them.

21-Nov-2013 02:23 AM

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.