Let’s set a few things straight upfront:

  • No, I don’t hate Hindi. That’s not why I’m writing this. I have studied the language in school till 8th standard, grew up listening to Hindi songs – from classical to ghazals to film music, love to watch good Hindi movies and in fact, my handwriting is best in Hindi.
  • No, I am not a Kannada activist, at least the type you get to hear. I support Kannada, not at the cost of some other language. I hate the typical Kannada activists – goons who think they’re fighting for Kannada, but they hardly think.
  • No, Hindi is NOT the National Language. I repeat it’s NOT. Don’t try to say otherwise. It’s pure propaganda.
  • No, I don’t hate North Indians. Or, for that matter any Indian from any part, not on the basis of language, race, color, creed etc. In fact, I have more friends who belong to the northern parts of India, from the ‘Hindi hinterlands’.

So why say No to Hindi? Because it’s only fair to do so.

The protest against Hindi imposition is being met with equal hatred from different parts of India. In fact, what’s happening in Bengaluru, is being compared with what happened in Tamil Nadu in 1960s – violent events that led to scrapping of Union of India’s decision of making Hindi its sole official language. The ongoing fight hasn’t turned into a full fledged social movement and only time will tell if it will. I don’t think Karnataka has a mass crowd mobilizer like the late actor Rajkumar who essentially gave fillip to the Gokak movement by drawing large crowds. And I don’t think this ongoing fight will turn violent like the Tamil movement because Karnataka hasn’t ever demanded to break away from India.

The fact that India is defined by its diversity – racial, linguistic, religion included, has been beaten to death already. A sense of Indianness lies in the deep rooted cultures and traditions that set us Indians apart from other peoples. Yet, the majority perception of India is just, well, majority’s perception. Just like Hinduism can’t define modern-day India, Hindi cannot.

I did my schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya. I speak fairly good Hindi, I don’t have a “South” accent and I have done pretty well in the language during school days. More than half of my schooldays were spent with Hindi speaking population since the schools were catering to the defence sector, primarily.

I’ve never believed in linguistic discrimination. Never in the past have I supported language extremism. And that’s why when a group of Kannada activists brought down Radio City’s stage in Garuda Mall in the year 2006, I felt ashamed of my fellow Kannadigas. ‘What picture of Kannada and Karnataka are we painting?’ I asked myself.

Around 2009, when I visited Mysore for the first time in close to 10 years, I found black smeared on every single billboard in the city. Activists had blackened every English word one could see on the streets of Mysore. I cringed.

At the same time, I couldn’t believe it when my brother told me there’s a lot of Kannada favoritism that happens at his workplace. I couldn’t comprehend why Kannadigas attacked ‘outsiders’ for not speaking Kannada. I was angry at my people, because Kannadigas had always claimed that they are peace -loving people.

It was when I joined the IT industry that I realized the extent of damage that our society had taken. From a vegetable vendor to an auto-rickshaw driver assumed me to be a North Indian and spoke to me in broken Hindi. Not that I have “fair” skin like a North Indian, something many from those parts believe. ‘Gajar saab, dus pe do’ a vegetable selling woman in her 40s had once called out. ‘Kannada barutte, Madam’ I had exclaimed. Why would they think that I am North Indian? May be because I prefer T-Shirt and Jeans, drive down in a car and wear a goatie! Poor villager’s prejudice!

Our cafeterias use Hindi terminologies for the vegetables on the menu. Sample this – Tindly Kootu for Tondekai Kootu, Bhindi Sabzi for Bendekai Palya (Okra). As a Kannadiga working in Bengaluru, I have to lookup Google to know what Tindly actually means! (It’s Ivy Gourd, by the way).

Hindi has also become the primary language for unofficial communication in Bengaluru’s IT companies. If you’re not writing something in an email and if you’re not discussing HR policies and if you’re not in an official team meeting, Hindi becomes the de facto language. Why?

It doesn’t stop there. Even as I am writing this piece, a news report of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike blackening Hindi and English signboards of a restaurant in Bellandur hit the headlines. The media reported saying Kannadigas now have an issue with English too. What no one observed is that the board had Telugu, Hindi and English on it but no Kannada.

Every company officially says English is their lingua franca. Why don’t people follow that? I remember one of my managers explicitly asking people to not converse, even casually, in Hindi because he didn’t understand the language. Companies should switch to English nomenclature in the cafeterias too, so that every employee is at a disadvantage of not knowing what Ivy Gourd is.

An Odia manager at my first company had spent 17 years in Bangalore and hadn’t learnt the local language. He said he didn’t find the need to, ‘Hindi works wherever I go, and I don’t go to a shop where it doesn’t work!’ he said. I was aghast! How can he not even try to learn the language after being here for 17 years? 6 out of 10 people I met didn’t show any interest in learning Kannada. 3 out of 10 showed interest, but that interest fizzed out eventually. 1 in 10 genuinely picked up a few words.

What I learnt, instead, was how ignorant people are, in general. ‘Do you eat Idly-Dosa for dinner?’ asked a colleague. It was 2011, not 1967, that you watch Mehmood depicting a ‘Madrasi’ stereotyping the term ‘South-Indian’ forever. Not that we Kannadiga, or South India and, don’t have our prejudices. Yet, the awareness levels in the urban dwellers in the South are much higher than those from the North. A colleague from UP once told me ‘Tum baaki South Indians ki tarah kaale nahi ho, isiliye poocha kahan se ho?” (You’re not dark skinned like other South Indians. That’s why I asked where you’re from) And I’m not even half as fair as anyone else in my family. In fact, thanks to such stereotyping, we southerners lost our individual identities in the national scheme of things long back. It’s just that our economies were too strong to be ignored.

The level of ignorance among my fellow North Indians is appalling. They make me question the kind of education they receive in school. Being a CBSE student myself, I realized how biased our NCERT textbooks used to be. I had rote learned “Khoob ladi mardani thi woh, Jhansi wali rani thi” and always recited it proudly. I fell in love with Premchand’s “Do bailon ki katha”. I took a strong liking for Akbar, Chandragupta Maurya. At the same time, the history textbooks never taught me about Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna or Kittur Rani Chennamma or Onake Obavva. Only a Tipu Sultan garnered some interest and the Hoysalas and Kadambas were passing mentions. The legendary story of Rani Abbakka questioning a Portuguese merchant on the demand for taxes, almost 200 years before Jhansi Rani Laxmibai was born, made the line ‘Nimageke kodabeku Kappa?’ famous in the region here. The queen herself was never mentioned in any textbook. So I can’t even blame the ignorance of my North Indian friends when our textbooks hardly touched upon anything that had to do with South India. Even if you could find some content there it was around Nizams of Hyderabad, some Tamil kings, poets and temples, and something about a matriarchial society in Kerala.

Our central textbooks ignore the southerners. The only other region that probably fares worse is North East, you only know that they are tribals who celebrate Bihu and practice terraced farming in the hills. Every textbook published by NCERT under every government has been biased towards to the larger Hindi narrative and has paid little attention to the specific regions. CBSE didn’t even teach the regional languages in schools. It was almost as if Being Indian meant Being Hindi.

It’s not limited to schooling. Everyone talks about Malgudi Days, a programme aired on Doordarshan in the late 80s and early 90s. Ask its viewers if they know it was directed by a South Indian, stories were written by a South Indian, the cast was South Indian, was shot in South India and even the famous music was composed by a South Indian. But my friends in North India know only Rajnikanth and not Rajkumar.

Let’s move beyond textbooks and films. I was watching a news channel debate where a BJP spokesperson went on to declare that over 50% Indians are speakers of Hindi and over 80% of Indians understand Hindi. I was surprised at his statement. Not sure where he sourced his statistics from. Just a week back, when all this started I had read somewhere that there are only 25% of native Hindi speakers and around 40% Indians actually speak Hindi or declare that they know Hindi. Fudging facts to support their stand is common among politicians.

Well, it has a lot to do with the language we call ‘Hindi’. What is Hindi? Is it the language that evolved from Khari Boli? Is Urdu considered to be Hindi when people throw these stats at us? Do they including Rajasthani, Marwari, Marwari and Bhojhpuri? Who should be counted as Hindi speakers, really?

The very fact that all these dialects have been subsumed by Hindi to a large extent shows how a language can effectively eat into other languages around it. Marathi is pretty much eating Konkani in Goa. In contrast, Tulu, Kodava and Konkani in Karnataka have still survived because of their protective communities and a little support by the government.

Language is one of the most important pillars of a society and its culture. Every society has a right to protect its culture, language and interests. If it feels a foreign language is invading too much into its territory, artificially affecting its own growth, thereby causing its devolution than evolution, the society can work towards stopping such invasions. Kannada borrows a large number of words from Hindi / Urdu and Persian apart from Marathi, Greek, Sanskrit and Tamil and it shows that Kannada is an accommodative language that has historically evolved.

This evolution, however, is now muted given that it’s seeing lesser and lesser usage in day to day business. Since Kannada vocabulary hasn’t evolved enough to serve the fields of medicine and science, English has effectively replaced its usage. However, in the fields of commerce, trade and administration, the language is still in use, but is under threat. The imposition of Hindi in offices owned by the central government has slowly put Kannada out of business in these territories. Examples like absence of Kannada in railway tickets and application forms in nationalized banks have been cited in the public domain.

Till a few years back, even the private sector for oblivious to local needs. The call centres were run in English and Hindi. I have seen my father feeling frustrated trying to manage a conversation in broken English and Hindi. Slowly, the call reps started speaking Kannada. But, their accent made it obvious to us that they were not Kannada has – something we had to ‘Swalpa Adjust’ with.

The question that arises is why should a Kannadiga learn a language foreign to him to do business with his own elected Union Government? The Union Government of India, instead of imposing Hindi, should be providing its services in all the scheduled languages of each state in India. That’s true equality. As of today, the x percent of Hindi speakers have an unfair advantage in areas like UPSC examinations, Railway board, banking, army recruitment and many such examinations where they make it mandatory to know Hindi.

Many Hindi speakers and sympathizers see this anti-Hindi movement as a prestige issue, thanks to a prevalent privileged feeling among them. Their ignorant arguments around Hindi being the national language, the representative of Indian culture and in almost equating Hindi with Indian-ness collectively exhibit superiority complex.

The Delhi based media is also biased in its presentation of the topic. (There’s an interesting article on the rise of Hinglish in news channel, you can read it here.)  On the same news bulletin, the channel was running flash title of the ongoing debate ‘NammaMetro not SabkaMetro?’. What they should fundamentally understand is that Namma Metro is a Government of Karnataka project with some monetary assistance of Government of India. The project belongs to the city and it’s citizens first, then to the State of Karnataka and then to the nation. It happens so that Bengaluru is cosmopolitan in nature with 40% Kannada has, 26% Telugu, 18% Tamil and 11% Urdu speakers –  remaining being a mix of other languages. It’s only fair to provide services to Telugu, Tamil and Urdu speakers in their languages in Bengaluru, and in that order, than hypothetically helping businessmen from Delhi in reading Namma Metro boards by displaying them in Hindi. And what would that businessman do when he has to deal with BMTC? Why’d he do that when our auto rickshaw and cab drivers manage to speak as many languages as possible, right?

Coming back to the usage of Hindi on Namma Metro boards, there are many valid arguments to not use it. There are arguments that demand its use and arguments against all this protest. Many Kannadigas themselves don’t see a point in protesting the usage of Hindi. Yet, the one thing that people should understand is that even extremist organizations like Karnataka Rakshana Vedike have officially stated that they are only against such impositions where they are unnecessary and that even they are okay with people speaking Hindi in Bengaluru. Such organizations are not known to be so liberal otherwise.

And I’d like to reiterate it’s not just about Hindi. When J Jayalalitha was the railway minister in the UPA government, trains arriving in Bengaluru carried boards in English, Hindi and Tamil. Some Hindi boards had disappeared too. It only makes sense to keep the boards in the languages of the originating and termination stations, and if possible have some boards in languages of the states the train passes through. That’d be true equality.

Signboards in Hindi may seem too small an issue to the larger population of India. You may be wondering if it’s worth all the protests. Yet, as a Kannadiga, I can understand the basic tenets of this activism. The removal of Hindi from signages symbolize something more than what it seems. It marks the demand for true equality and justice for all languages of India.