The Hindi language became a topic of discussion and debate after Home Minister Amit Shah stirred up a controversy with his alleged ‘one nation, one language’ statement during the occasion of Hindi diwas the previous month. He later made a U-turn saying he never talked about imposition of Hindi anywhere in the country and that he had only expressed the wish to use it as second language. Vice President of India M Venkaiah Naidu doused off the fire a few days later by emphatically stating that “there should not be imposition of any language, nor should there be opposition to any particular language” while also calling upon the people to learn as many languages as possible. Then Prime Minister Narendra Modi was all praise for the Tamil language to the extent of talking about its heritage and richness while addressing a convocation at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras a couple of days ago. Interestingly, the sharpest opposition to Shah’s call for making Hindi the primary language in the country came from the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, while the north-eastern states were relatively silent on the issue despite of being home to dozens of tribal languages. It was good that the Central government backtracked on the controversy as it could have flared up into a major issue given the diverse cultures of the country.
According to the Census of India 2011, the country has 121 languages out of which 22 are scheduled languages and 99 non-scheduled. However, the number of mother tongues in India is a whopping 19,569. But there can be lots of unaccounted languages or those spoken by small communities. Northeast is home to many languages spoken by tribal populations. Nagaland has been ranked second in the list of states with the highest number of tribal languages spoken in India. It comes as no surprise as the state has many tribes each having their languages.
In being a pluralistic-lingual and multi-ethnic country, India is rich in languages. There is no need whatsoever to impose any particular language on the citizens of the country. In fact, the tribal population in the Northeast bears the brunt of a hegemonic policy of Hindi majoritarianism, with the government of Indian using the language in naming most of its schemes. It’s not easy to remember names of programmes and schemes named after some strange language. People belonging to other Indian states too will find themselves in a similar situation if such schemes are named using some tribal languages from the Northeast. While, millions of people are already having a hard time memorising the names of schemes, trying to shove a strange language down their throat will only add more salt to the wounds. It is important to respect and let all the languages flourish in a diverse country like ours. Nagas too should work on developing their respective languages lest a part of their culture will die with it because their history is passed down from generation to generation through oral traditions. If we continue to let other languages cannibalise our tribal languages, some part of our history will be lost in translation.