Of late, there have been concerted efforts from a section of the society to promote Hindi throughout India in a bid to unite the country and free it from the clutches of a foreign language, namely English.
“Hindi has the potential to unite the country,” Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) organ ‘Panchjanya’ recently opined in an editorial on September 10 coinciding with the Hindi Diwas.
“Hindi’s ability to unite India is a threat to all those forces which want the country to remain enslaved to English. Hindi is not against India’s regional languages. This is a myth being perpetuated,” the editorial said.
Language has always been a sensitive issue in India. Tamil Nadu witnessed violent agitations in 1965 over the official status of Hindi in the state and the Indian Republic. As the day of switching over to Hindi as sole official language i.e. 26 January 1965 approached, the anti-Hindi movement gained momentum in Tamil Nadu, with students leading from the front.
Riots continued for over two months and were marked by acts of violence, arson, self-immolation, looting, police firing and lathi charges, to the extent that the then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had to intervene and give assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long the non-Hindi speaking states wished. Thanks to his intervention, the riots subsided, as did the student agitation.
It is important that in order to make India a unified nation, we broke the linguistic barrier, but this could not be done all at once. It is a pity that even after 68 years of Independence, a foreign language like English remains the lingua franca for north and south Indians. Recently, I met a Tamilian young man in New Delhi who had come to the national capital for a job interview while having supper at a restaurant. As I did not know Tamil and he was ignorant of Hindi, we had to communicate in English, an embarrassing situation for both of us. The big question is – how long are we going to endure this linguistic limitation?
It is a pity that even after 68 years of Independence, a foreign language like English remains the lingua franca for north and south Indians.
If it is not possible and desirable to adopt one language for the whole of India at the moment, we should at least adopt one script i.e. Devanagari that is used for over 120 languages in India. In this manner, a Tamilian and Punjabi would be able to learn each other’s languages in just one script with ease, breaking the linguistic wall that has worked as an impediment towards national integration.
“We have to adopt one language, one script, one literature, one ideal and one nation,” Indian freedom fighter Shaheed Bhagat Singh wrote in an article for Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in 1923, elucidating why Punjabi should be taught in Devanagari script.
It is to be noted that, out of India’s 22 official major languages, 13 use Devanagari or Nagari script including Hindi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali, Bodo, Sindhi and Maithili among other languages and dialects, making it one of the most used and adopted writing systems in the world.
‘Devanagari’ is a compound word with two roots: Deva means ‘deity’, and nagari means ‘city’. Together it implies a script that is religious as well as urbane or sophisticated. Having roots in the ancient Brahmi script family, it is an abugida (alphasyllabary) alphabet of India and Nepal, written from left to right and has a strong preference for symmetrical rounded shapes within squared outlines, and is recognizable by a horizontal line that runs along the top of full letters. It is also used for classical Sanskrit scripts.
Interestingly, the Devanagari script is not that different from other Indic scripts such as Bangla, Oriya or Gurmukhi, for a closer examination reveals they are very similar except for angles and structural emphasis. Many more languages throughout India use local variants of the Devanagari script.
Here’s a look at 13 major languages out of 22 listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India that use the Devanagari script.
- Bodo spoken in Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya – Devanagari script
- Dogri spoken in Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and northern Punjab – Devanagari, Perso-Arabic script
- Gujarati spoken in Gujarat – Gujarati script, a variant of Devanagari and Arabic
- Hindi mostly spoken in north and west India – Devanagari script
- Kashmiri spoken primarily in the Kashmir valley of Jammu and Kashmir – Perso-Arabic script, Devanagari script, Sharda script (not in use)
- Konkani spoken in Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka – Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Perso-Arabic
- Maithili spoken in Bihar – Devanagari script
- Marathi spoken in Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu – Devanagari script, Modi script (not in use)
- Nepali spoken in Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam – Devanagari script
- Sanskrit spoken in Uttarakhand and other north Indian states – Devanagari, Brahmic script
- Santali spoken by Santhaltribals of the Chota Nagpur Plateau (comprising the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha) – Ol Chiki alphabet, Oriya, Devanagari, Bengali and Roman scripts
- Sindhi spoken in Sindh (now inPakistan, Rajasthan, Kutch, Gujarat) – Arabic, Devanagari, Khudabadi alphabet, Laṇḍā, Sindhi Roman, Gurmukhi
- Urdu spoken in Jammu and Kashmir,Telangana, Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh – Perso-Arabic script, Devanagari script, Kaithi, Roman
Here’s a look at nine official Indian languages that don’t use Devanagari script.
- Assamese spoken in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh– Assamese script
- Bengali spoken in West Bengal,Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Jharkhand– Bengali abugida script
- Kannada spoken in Karnataka – Kannada script
- Malyalam spoken in Kerala, Lakshadweep – Malyalam script
- Manipur or Meitei spoken in Manipur– Bengali script, Meitei (not is use)
- Oriya spoken in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh – Orya alphabet and Oriya Braille
- Punjabi spoken in Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand – Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts
- Tamil spoken in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicoba Islands, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh- Tamil alphabet (Brahmic), Arwi Script (Abjad), Tamil Braille (Bharati), Vatteluttu (historical)
- Telgu spoken in Andhra Pradesh,Telangana, yanam (Puducherry), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka – Telgu script