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The needless controversy over Hindi presence in Bengaluru Metro signboards

There seems to be a narrative building to bring back the old anti-Hindi tirade. The attempt is to show that the Narendra Modi led union government is “imposing” Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states, especially the states in southern part of the country. This is a sensitive and emotional topic that easily gets takers.

However, it’s important to distinguish facts from narratives to let people take an informed stand on this subject.

Take for example, the recent outrage on Hindi signages in Namma Metro, Bengaluru. Now let’s try to look at some facts. Namma Metro opened in 2011. I did a Google search of Mahatma Gandhi Road Station between 2011-2016. The 2nd photo in the series has English, Kannada and Hindi written on it. So, Hindi signages don’t seem to be a new thing on Namma Metro i.e. something Modi government introduced.

MG Road, Bangalore Metro Station
Hindi signs were already there, but the controversy has erupted now.

Now let’s talk about the legality and technicality of having Hindi on the signboard. Namma Metro is a JV (joint venture) between the Government of India (GoI) and the state government of Karnataka. GoI has two official languages – Hindi and English. Don’t confuse it with official languages of India. Read up Article 343 of our constitution  before outraging.

Hindi is official language of the Union as per the constitution

And no, Hindi is not our Rashtrabhasa (national language) but it is one of the two Rajbhasa i.e. official language of the Union government. In fact, Hindi would have been the only official language in the modern times (imagine the outrage) as the the founders of nation had proposed English to be our official language for a period of first 15 years only (see the image above), however, an act was adopted to continue usage of English beyond that original period.

Further, as per Article 351 of the constitution, the Government of India is constitutionally duty bound to promote the usage of Hindi.

Constitution calls for promotion of Hindi language

So Namma Metro being a GoI property and GoI being duty bound to promote Hindi, what is wrong in having Hindi on signboards? How do you promote a language? Some say, through art and culture? How far reaching is art and culture among Indian diaspora? Will it yield the desired result of “promoting” Hindi.

Well, you may be against the idea of promoting Hindi itself, and you may have some valid arguments, but that’s a constitutional amendment you are seeking. Till the article exists in the constitution, the union government is duty bound to take steps in that direction.

Apart from the legality, technicality and reality, let’s explore the validity of this argument. A simple search on Merriam Webster on “Impose” tells me that, it means forcing upon something without your will.

In the case in point, can one argue that GoI is forcing Kannadigas to learn Hindi? Kannada signages are still present and rightfully so. Both because it’s a government of Karnataka property as well, and because it’s also the local language. You can very well ignore the Hindi signages and still get the information in English or Kannada. So, is it the mere presence of Hindi signages that makes one feel being imposed upon?

Imposition is, when the government forces you to learn Hindi; when without learning Hindi, you can’t access a public service. Is it the case here? Are you being denied any service for your lack of knowledge of Hindi?

Indian Railways for time immemorial has their signages in 3 or more languages. Indian passports have both English/Hindi labels from the time I can remember. So, why this sudden outrage? Passport is a GoI document as well. You are free to ignore the Hindi part if you don’t wish to.

Outrage makes sense when addition of Hindi is done “at the cost of” a local language. But in absence of any order against wishes or denial of services, if merely presence of Hindi is opposed, it’s language chauvinism and not activism. If adding Hindi can kill your language and culture, you have similar threats from English as well.

I will end this piece with this photo from a station in Odisha, which respects local sentiments by having the station name written in Telugu as well considering the Telugu population in the town. Let’s language be the uniting factor, not dividing.

Railway station at Odisha

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