Wednesday 18 June 2014

The Language Question

When I was Chief Justice of the Madras High Court I was invited to a function in Gulbarga. which is in northern Karnataka. I took a flight from Chennai to Hyderabad, and from there travelled to Gulbarga by taxi. A Professor of Gulbarga University had come to Hyderabad to accompany me to Gulbarga. The mother tongue of the Professor was Kannada, while the mother tongue of the taxi driver was Telugu, but they started talking to each other in Hindi. I was a bit surprised, and asked the Professor why he and the taxi driver were talking to each other in Hindi, when both were South Indians. He said that he did not understand Telugu, while the taxi driver did not know Kannada, but both knew Hindi. So the only way to communicate with each other was in Hindi.

I am relating this incident to say that in fact Hindi has become the link language of the whole of India. Even in the states where Hindi is not the mother tongue, it is known to people in these states, and that makes it easy to communicate. Thus, almost all Bengalis, Kashmiris, Punjabis, Gujratis, Oriyas, people of North Eastern and even most southern states can speak manageable Hindi.

The only problem is in Tamilnadu. There, too, Hindi was spreading due to Hindi films and the Hindi Prachar Sabhas, upto the 1960s when due to the anti-Hindi agitation Tamils stopped learning Hindi. There was a feeling among Tamils that Hindi was sought to be imposed on them, and this caused a reaction. 

However, that is past history. I have been telling Tamilians that what has happened in the past has happened, but now they should start learning Hindi as it was in their interest to do so. This was because Tamilians face a lot of difficulty in communicating when they come out of Tamilnadu.
When I was saying this some time back in Anna University in Chennai one elderly Tamil gentleman stood up and said that Tamils knew English, and this was enough to communicate, so why should Tamilians learn Hindi ? I replied that it is not true that everyone in India knew English. It was only the 5% upper class who could speak English. If a Tamilian came to Delhi and took a taxi or auto he would not be able to communicate with the driver since the driver knew only Hindi.

I said I was opposed to imposing Hindi on the Tamils or anyone else. This was the age of democracy, and nothing should be imposed. However I was appealing to Tamilians to voluntarily learn Hindi, as that was in their own interest, and in fact many Tamilians told me that they made a big mistake by stopping learning Hindi in the 1960s. I said that they should now start learning it, or at least tell their children to do so, and most agreed with me.

While advising all Indians to learn Hindi, however, I wish to add two points :
(1) The local language should be promoted. For instance, I see no reason why the local language cannot be used in the High Courts. I myself often spoke in Hindi when I was a Judge of Allahabad High Court, and I see no reason why Tamil should not be used by lawyers when arguing before the Madras High Court, or other local languages when arguing in High Courts in states where that language is spoken. Of course if a Judge from another state has come to that High Court ( and Chief Justices all come from outside under the government policy), then English should be used, otherwise the Judge will not understand the argument. Also, judgments should all be in English, since all law reports are in English, and this enables lawyers and Judges in other states to read that judgment.

(2) Everyone in India should learn English. This is because all scientific literature in India is in English, and knowledge of science is essential for the country's progress. If one goes to an engineering college or medical college he will find that all the text books are in English. If one goes to a lawyers office anywhere in India he will find that almost all the law books in his library are in English. Similarly, books on history, geography, zoology, botany etc are almost all in English. How can one do without English ?
In this connection I may mention that when I was a Judge in the Allahabad High Court, the office bearers of the High Court Bar Association would invite me to the Hindi Diwas function which is held every year. I would tell them that it is better that I do not attend the function as I would say things which some people may not like. However, they would insist that I attend, and I ultimately agreed. When I would come to the function I heard some lawyers saying 'Angrezi dasi hai' (English is a slave girl), or 'Angrezi hatao' ( abolish English). When my turn came to speak I said that my mother tongue,too, is Hindi, but that does not mean that I should behave like a fool. I asked the audience whether they would like their children to prosper ? If they did, they must make them learn English, because scientific knowledge, and even knowledge in other subjects, is almost entirely in English. I said that it was silly to say 'Angrezi hatao' or 'Angrezi dasi hai'.

I would also like to add that simple Hindi, which is also called Hindustani or khariboli should be used instead of 'klisht' (literary) Hindi. In this connection I may mention that when I was a Judge of the Allhabad High Court a lawyer who always argues in Hindi appeared before me with a petition entitled 'Pratibhu Avedan Patra'. I asked him what 'pratibhu' meant. He said it meant a bail application. I told him that he should have used the word bail or zamanat, which everybody understands, instead of the word 'pratibhu' which no one, not even Hindi speakers, understand. Similarly, one day when I was on a morning walk near a military establishment in Allahabad I saw a board on which it was written 'Pravaran Kendra'. I could not understand the meaning of these words. I looked below where it was written in English 'Selection Centre'. I thought they should have written 'bharti daftar' which everyone would understand instead of 'Pravaran Kendra' which no one would understand.

It seems that after Independence in 1947 some people decided to remove Persian words which had become of common usage in Hindi, and replace them with Sanskritized words which no one understood. Thus, the word 'zila' (district), which everyone understands, was sought to be replaced by the word 'janapad'.

In my opinion this was wrong. A language becomes stronger if it adopts words from a foreign language, and it is a misconception that it becomes weaker. Thus, English has become stronger by adopting words from French, German, Arabic, Persian, Hindustani,etc. Hence one should not be intolerant in such matters, particularly when the foreign word has passed into common usage.


  1. No doubt your article shows that you are of very moderate ,rational and sober thinking .Language should not be imposed on anyone or any region .Link language will be automatically developed like Hindustani or Lashkari language without creating hatred against any community or language .The problem is that fanatics are Sanskritizing Hindi & Persianizing Urdu .But still Hindustani is common language in India .
    As far English is concerned it is very essential from higher education purposes .It's also international language as all international relations are worked out only in English .

  2. I think Hindi should be used everywhere in India along with the regional languages. And why not all the books are to be written in Hindi? As we all know China, Japan, Russia, Germany, France etc most of the developing and developed countries are using their mother tongue to study, work and all kind of works. So if they could develop with their own language why not India? English is official language of very few countries and we know they all are poor including India( I don not think India is a developing)

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  4. The use of Sanskrit based words (which you call klisht) makes it easier for other Indian language speakers to comprehend. This is particularly true of South Indian languages. On the other hand, the Persian / Arabic words are simpler for Punjabis and UP guys.

  5. //a Tamilian came to Delhi and took a taxi or auto he would not be able to communicate with the driver since the driver knew only Hindi.//
    a North indian came to tamilnadu and took a taxi or auto he would not be able to communicate with the driver since the driver knew only tamil.
    so better the north indian too should learn tamil as a third language

    1. And every Indian language before visiting any non-hindi language. Great thinking!

  6. வடநாட்டவர்கள் பிழப்பு தேடி தமிழநாட்டிற்க்கு வருகிறார்கள் அதனால்
    வடநாட்டவர்கள் முன்றாவது மொழியாக தமிழை படிக்கலாம்.

  7. india itself is a sub continent
    if you wish one nation one country then better leave us(Tamilnadu)
    tamil or tamilians are not less than hindi and hindians
    so if north indians expect tamilians to learn hindi
    then better they should start from their side by learning tamil as a third language.
    then tamil will learn hindi that will be the true equality.
    A derived language speaking people could accept a derived language hindi
    but tamilians can't accept a derived language like hindi it's an inefficient language (be in science, maths, scientific, IT, computer etc).

  8. The Article is pragmatic and very practical

  9. English should be the link language. Not only in India but also through the world it can be used for communication. With the ongoing strike against Civil Services Exams, it seems North Indians reluctant to learn any language other than Hindi. Please advise them to learn English.

  10. If a Hindu speaks Persian with mix of few Sanskrit words that is called Hindi where as if a Muslim speaks mix of few Turkey words then that is called Urdu.

  11. I read it!
    It is very helpful blog for all the gusy having problem with English. Today, Lots of people used to speak Hinglins it mean mixture of English and Hindi,
    can you suggest, which are the institutes provides Free English Speaking Course in India.