Hindi Diwas: The Twisted History of a Lingua Franca!

Whether it Ram Prashad Bismil’s words ‘mera rang de basanti chola’ or Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s slogan ‘Swaraj mera janmsiddh adhikar hai’, Hindi has been a language of unification and mobility. 

As the government again marks the occasion of Hindi Diwas, it is more of a discussion than a celebration. The lingua franca of India – Hindi, originated from the Persian word ‘Hind’, was adopted as an official language along with English on this very day in 1949. 14th September 1949 was also the 50th birth anniversary of Beohar Rajendra Simha who is a notable figure rallying in favor of the language along with other prominent figures like Hazari Prasad DwivediKaka KalelkarMaithili Sharan Gupt and Seth Govind Das

This day celebrates the contribution of all those Hindi laureates who lobbied pan-India to make this language an official state language and a national language as well. Since the diverse country of India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages, making Hindi the state language certainly witnessed huge effort and great contributions. The day is annually marked by the central government and mostly by government institutions to promote the language and its use nationwide. However, making it an occasion, by saying it ‘diwas’, is entirely a political move which initiates a long discussion and debate about the language.  

Hindi Diwas is a long journey of struggle rather a revelry occasion, a struggle of all other Indian languages along with Hindi. The language even questions the understanding of ‘lingua franca’ – a bridge language. 

It was during the freedom struggle that the prominent leaders and the father of the nation himself used the language for freedom slogans, conversations, letters and speeches to unite the mass – precisely northern population. Mahatma Gandhi even supported the debate of making Hindi the national language of India which became an unsuccessful mission. 

The prominent leaders and freedom fighters used the language to mobilize people and if we study the data, the major population under the British Empire was from Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand which is around 123 million people. The ‘Apbhransh’ Hindi was undoubtedly a bridge language for people from the northern region. That is the reason to say that this day has to be understood as more of a struggle of the language. 

It is important to note that the capital of the British Empire from 1858 – 1910 was Calcutta and from 1911-1947, it was Delhi. As the freedom struggle evolved to use literature, poetry, nazm, songs, parodies, ‘Hindustani’ gradually became the bridge language or the common language for the people in and around the capitals. 

Hindustani is a fine blend of Sanskritised Hindi and Persianised Urdu which was Gandhi’s preferred tongue. Slogans like ‘Inqalab Zindabad’ and songs like ‘Saare jahan se accha Hindustaan hamara’ beautifully shows Urdu’s influence and the grace of the language blend. After understanding the population distribution and their language influence during the freedom struggle, it is not difficult to infer why Hindustani was given prominence over all other languages. 

In the December of 1946, the Constituent Assembly met for the first time and initiated the discussion over language, deciding that Hindustani to be the national language. A member from Jhansi, R V Dhulekar, even stated that those who did not know Hindustani ‘has no right to stay in India’, undeniably such extremism and outrage for one identity has always existed in the country. 

The language selection became a huge debate seeing the partition of the country even in 1947; Sanskrit and Bengali were too proposed as national languages. Amidst the chaos and partition, the Hindustani language supporters were now favoring for Hindi, without the Persianized Urdu as the anti-Muslim sentiments had emerged. Amidst chaotic discourse, KM Munshi and Gopalaswami Ayyangar came up with the idea known as “Munshi-Ayyangar formula” which proposed for Hindi in the Devanagari script to be the “official language of the Union”. 

However, during the outrageous discussion to choose one language from the diverse country, the assembly had been ignoring the presence of Southern states where Hindi or Hindustani was neither a mother   tongue nor a lingua franca during freedom struggle. 

Hindustani was essentially the common language for northern parts; however, English played the role of bridge language to unite all the parts of India. This brings us to the discussion of ‘idea of India’; the creation of Union of India, was a process of struggle, outrageous debates, compromises and adjustments to fit into the idea of ‘a country’. It was the dissent for Hindi by the members from south which compelled the Hindi speaking leaders to include English as well as an official language. 

India had finally understood that it cannot follow the European model of nationalism mandating one religion and one language; the colonial hangover of the English language, however, is still dominant in the country. 

As it is said, ‘Hindi samaveshi bhasha hai’ (Hindi is an inclusive language), the journey of the language itself is very interesting to note. Apbhransh (500 AD-1000 AD) was modified, took turns and changes and eventually, Khari Boli (900 AD-1200 AD) came into existence. It was through Khari Boli that Hindi started taking birth in some way. The language was influenced by Persian, Mughals and includes multiple English words as well; hence binding it into the shackles of standardization to represent one identity or one language is a contentious matter in itself. 

Languages have a psychological impact on people, and it is often used politically for emotional impacts on voters. Since seven decades, the country has been ruled by the majority of Hindi speaking leaders and there is no doubt that the current government with an agenda of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ would promote the idea of one language for their political interest. There Hindi Diwas discussion can be done in merrier way as well or maybe the deterioration of language is also an issue to be discussed, although it is imperative to discuss the real agenda behind the celebration of this day. The language which has undermined the importance many other languages is being politicized as a ‘Diwas’. People have lost their languages to Hindi and would soon lose even their identities, if we fail to understand the politicization of issues. The journey of Hindi from an ‘official language’ to ‘Hindi Diwas’ is certainly huge, debatable and political.

Sugandh Priya Ojha

Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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