"We are not anti-Hindi." On January 25, Chief Minister M.K. Stalin stated, "We oppose solely the imposition of Hindi." Anti-Hindi Martyrs' Day was the occasion. The fierce anti-Hindi protests, led by E.V. Ramasamy, better known as Periyar, during the freedom struggle and later by C.N. Annadurai and others in the DMK in the 1950s and 1960s, not only drove the Indian National Congress out of Tamil Nadu, but also made a powerful statement about the nature of Indian federalism: that the principle of unity in diversity, enshrined in the Constitution, should not be taken lightly.
Nonetheless, the practise of viewing language variety as a problem has prompted successive central governments to try to 'solve' it by prioritising Hindi — which isn't the same as really teaching it. Even as authorities spout platitudes about protecting 'mother tongues,' the two-language formula has been echoed like a mantra for decades.
Finally, the bitterness caused by linguistic double-talk appears to be giving way to a constructive and creative approach in one state – Tamil Nadu. In a federal, egalitarian India, language is viewed through the prism of 'education for all.' "We like Tamil, but it doesn't imply we dislike any other tongue," Stalin continued. Those who want to impose Hindi see it as a symbol of power. They believe there should be only one religion and only one language, just as they believe there should be only one faith."
Approximately 41% of the population speaks Hindi as their first language, with Hindi speakers accounting for only 53% of the population. However, how many languages does India have? 'In India, no fewer than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken as mother tongues, with 21 of them spoken by 10,000 or more people,' according to the 2018 Census of India.
The Constitution's Eighth Schedule lists 22 official languages, but the People's Linguistic Survey, conducted by Bhasha Research and Publication Centre with a team of linguists, social historians, and volunteer-activists led by G.N. Devy, estimates that there are 780 languages and 66 different scripts.
Given this fact, it is difficult for any Indian who travels, migrates, works, or interacts with people in any capacity to maintain a language-blind perspective. For in the Indian subcontinent, multilingualism is not merely a cultural quirk, but an artless and entirely natural means of surviving. "Languages flow into each other," Rama Kant Agnihotri, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Delhi, argues, emphasising that language is essential to humanity. That is the very nature of language, and that is how languages grow and thrive. When a language is isolated or attempts to become more standardised or 'pure,' it degenerates..."
Of 170 textbooks on engineering, medicine, law, agriculture, and veterinary science selected for translation into Tamil by the TNTBC, 50 will be made available by June 2022 under the Muthamizh Arignar project. Simultaneously, TNTBC is bringing out new and existing translations of classical and contemporary Tamil literature. Besides, scheduled over the next few months under the Thisaithorum Dravidam wing of the project, are several translations from Tamil to English, to other Indian languages (beginning with south Indian languages), as well as translations into Tamil from English and other languages. In addition, children’s books have been given a fillip: noticing that kids haven’t been reading much during the pandemic, TNTBC has commissioned 50 Tamil storybooks for various ages.
While raising literacy and learning levels as well as promoting literature, this project should also send the message of multilingualism as an educational resource across the country. India’s unity is based on multiple tongues, a common feature of all dynamic human societies. When people not only speak and understand many languages but are also taught to read and write in them, it can sharply ramp up the educational potential of linguistic diversity.
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The Hindu. The original article can be found at https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/how-indias-many-languages-can-be-used-as-an-educational-resource/article65187037.ece