The figure's mind-boggling. There are as many as 1,700 languages spoken as mother tongue, in India. These languages, aside from the 18 officially recognized in the Constitution, evolved through the millennia by the broad-spectrum of races that came into our ancient land, from other parts of the world. And, as maybe obvious, Indian languages of today have sprouted, as it were, from various language families vis-a-vis ethnic peculiarities. They maybe classified into six major groups: Negroid; Austric; Sino-Tibetan; Indo-Aryan; Dravidian; and, miscellaneous speeches. Their meaning, in whole or part, is self-explanatory.
Paradoxically, this statistical rigmarole has always been a mirage, because, India has never had a common language, intelligible to every Indian. Agreed, that the "language of the gods," Sanskrit, was a common medium, in ancient India; it wasn't, thereafter. Like English, under the British, which is now restricted to the educated. Which is why the crux of the entire problem, so far as our lingual conundrum is concerned, lies in India' own helplessness to having a common language, acceptable to all. And, add to this the scepter of linguistic divide and fanaticism around and, you've a mess.
Who is to blame? All of us. Here's a general hypothesis:
Over 22 years ago, Karnataka took a major step. In the wrong direction. It introduced Kannada as its official language, giving it the first slot in status. Government records, correspondence etc., were ordered to be conducted in Kannada, the state"s own language. Officials were even advised to get conversant with it for their own good. While private firms were asked to foster this policy, typewriters, in the language, were procured, and put to use in offices. If this isn't Kannadigas, otherwise the most tolerant and cultured populace, who don't even give a hint that they know the language outside the state's borders, at times - linguistic fanaticism, what is?
For the past few years, Kannada zealots have gone a step further. They have been compelling non-Kannada speaking minorities to accept the regional language as the sole-first language in schools, knowing fully well that this would affect the mother tongue of various groups of state inhabitants, interfere with their desire, freedom and adherence to their language and culture. While this emotional phenomenon seems to be the order of the day, Tamil Nadu may very well take the cake from most, thanks to its linguistic extremism.
It would also be interesting to note that many of the votaries of Kannadisation - from eminent writers, poets, and even film stars - have taken up the cudgels against the growing trend of Hindi jingoism by their north Indian counterparts. Which is a paradox, in spite of the fact that non-Hindi speaking citizens have a good case, as this very transgression has already resulted in brandish discrimination against them as appointments and promotions depend practically on their passing examinations in Hindi.
And, while Kannada fans plead with gusto that Hindi 'imposition' is a violation of the guarantee that the Constitution has bestowed, they just don't see and realize that they, as Kannada enthusiasts, are doing the akin, immature unconstitutional injustice to linguistic minorities in Karnataka vis-a-vis their northern friends to non-Hindi speaking citizens of India. Which is a tragedy. Unless every citizen - at least those who claim to possess leadership qualities, culture, education, and wisdom - thinks that India is one, and that every other citizen as having that inalienable right to equality, irrespective of mother tongue, caste, creed etc., these fissiparous, separatist and autocratic ways are bound to raise their ugly, poltergeist heads, again and again.
After all, what does one lose or does the regional language suffer if some want to take their own mother tongue as the first language in schools? And, why should they be denied the freedom to have the language of their choice as the first language in education? Secularism, in India, must be universal in application - even if a few concessions are given. A language group could be allowed to develop its own mother tongue as much as it likes, provided this does not hamper the rights of other groups, who have equal citizenship rights.
No language should be considered superior to others. All languages prevalent in India should be treated as equal. At the same time, no language should also be thought of as inferior to another. That would be linguistic discrimination, and as ignoble as treating a group of citizens as inferior and another as superior.
The insistence on the exclusion of English has become, as of now, a sort of status symbol, a touchstone of supremacy and learning, to many of our linguistic torch-bearers, not to speak of their avowed predilection for regionalism. When Russia and China have started taking the language seriously as being of global importance, why should we suffer from symptoms of a 'post-colonial' hangover? We should remember that Marathi or Oriya is not as advanced as German or French. Only a few scientific, legal and technical equivalents exist in all of our 18 official languages. Automatically, people specializing in these fields would be at a loss in communicating with foreign researchers. Imagine this spectacle. What would one coin a decipherable Konkani equivalent for a medical term as simple as sinusitis?!
Our linguistic gaucherie has by and large influenced and inflamed the passions of our excitable masses and students, who under the present dispensation of fulsome grievances and gross indiscipline, seem to be wanting and even capitalizing on such diversions without any thought of damage to their own future. The country is already in turmoil. From terrorism and communal backlash to other somber and inhuman acts. Let not the language issue create another dissonant field for social evil, and benefit only the exploiter, omnipresent as s/he maybe.
Mind Your Language: Needed, A National Script!
Rabindranath the Linguist