Tamil Nadu is the only Indian state where the presence of Hindi is very scarce. If you know a little Hindi it would be enough to roam freely in the North of India, overcoming hurdles in communication. The Eastern and North-eastern states are no different. In the Southern states too, it is not hard to find an autoricksahaw driver, a street vendor or a petty shop guy who can reply to queries in Hindi, except in Tamil Nadu. Why Tamil Nadu has not much Hindi? Do Tamils disdain Hindi? Are they language chauvinistic? Or this Hindi bashing is mere jingoism?
To answer these questions one should have to look at the history of opposition to the imposition of Hindi in the state. In Tamil Nadu movements stemmed from historical and cultural concerns strengthened by political contributions have long been against the imposition of Hindi, not Hindi only the ‘imposition of Hindi’. The first anti-Hindi imposition agitation dates back to 1937 when the Congress government led by C. Rajagopalachari made teaching of Hindi compulsory in Madras Presidency. It was a very strong protest that included conferences, marches and picketing, and went on for three years. Eventually the government had to withdraw the order of compulsory Hindi education in schools.
Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu have consistently opposed to Hindi imposition. Post-independence the 60’s witnessed fierce protests against Hindi. A state-wide agitation was called in January 1965 by DMK in the wake of government of India’s decision to announce Hindi as the sole official language in the country. Many people lost their lives, including two police personnel, in the riots that followed. Due to the protests by DMK the Official Languages Act was amended in 1967 to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This had ensured the present ‘virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism’ of the Indian Republic.
The anti-Hindi agitations contributed to the electoral victory of DMK which rose to power in the 1967 elections and the Dravidian parties (DMK and AIADMK) continued to rule the state whereas the dethroned Congress is unable to regain its lost base till today. As political and social analysts claim it was not a blind, blanket opposition to Hindi by Tamil Nadu, it meant to resist the hegemonic designs of a central authority, which eventually would invade the cultural identity of a language-ethnic group. Given the rich historical and cultural heredity of Tamil it seems that all these anti –Hindi protests are justified and they have proved that lack of Hindi hasn’t caused any losses.
In Tamil Nadu people who are aware of the anti-Hindi agitations history and of the local atmosphere where Hindi has no significance tend to keep away from learning the language. Tamil Nadu placed English in the place of Hindi and the necessity to learn Hindi never arose. There might have been some disadvantages in some areas due to not knowing Hindi but generations have come through this with no grumble. Private schools and institutions teach Hindi in the state, but for many students it still remains a language of mere academic interest as there is not much exposure to the language in the environment. Since there isn’t any demand for Hindi within the state, especially in the sphere of job opportunities, the general public don’t bother about learning the language. We love Hindi as we love all the other languages of this country, but do not thrust it upon us is what the Tamils have to say.
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