Hindustani for English

Speech at a Conference of Prabasi Banga Sahitya Sammelan, New Delhi, 14 March 1949.

I am glad to be participating in the Bengali Literary Conference. Culture is a thing where there is room for cooperation for everybody and I congratulate the Bengalees for having organized a literary conference to which they have invited representatives of all Indian literatures. This is right and proper, and the most satisfactory way of dealing with problems. In the field of politics clashes are almost inevitable and an element of competition necessarily creeps in. But in the field of culture there is no room for competition but only cooperation. Here contributions by any individual or linguistic group does not in any way interfere with or minimize the contributions of others, but on the contrary enriches the common heritage. I am glad to come in to this atmosphere of culture and find a spirit of cooperation, especially as at present some people have imported a narrow chauvinistic outlook even into the question of culture.

I shall give only one example from the controversy over Hindi, Urdu and Hindustani. The whole quarrel seems to be pointless. But even supposing it is Urdu why should anyone object to the development of Urdu language and literature? After all Urdu is an Indian language which has been developed in one special region of India, namely, the United Provinces, and its chief centres are Delhi, Lucknow and Allahabad. Nowhere is it spoken outside India and the people, who have developed this language and its literature, are all Indians. Its basic structure and a large part of its vocabulary are also derived from Indian sources. It, therefore, seems to me rather odd that the language which is essentially a product of India should be opposed by some Indians while Pakistan, which has now become a separate State, has accepted it even though it is not the language of anybody in Pakistan. The languages of Pakistan are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushtu and Bengali. They might try to learn Urdu but Urdu in the form in which it has flourished will always remain something essentially Indian. I fail to understand why anyone should object if this language develops in due course.

The whole thing appears to me odd and a show of mere political narrowness. I find evidence of it from the fact that those who are opposed to Urdu do nothing to advance the cause of Hindi. Similarly in the past I have found that some of the protagonists of Urdu are not so much concerned about the development of Urdu language and literature but seem to be interested only in keeping down Hindi. Such an attitude whether of orthodox protagonists of Hindi or Urdu seems to be foolish.

For the real way of propagating one’s language is to create literature in it and develop it so that other persons feel attracted to study it. Thus language should be developed from the cultural point of view and not from the narrow political point of view.

Take the example of English. It is one of the most vital languages of the world and even today it is expanding. Its strength lay in two great traditions. First, the authorized version of the Bible, which has set the standard of English prose, and secondly, the work of Shakespeare, which has so profoundly influenced the development of the language that even today no educated man can use the language without borrowing from Shakespeare.

Protagonists of language in India should follow that example of English and build their language and literature in such a way as to give it a stamp and character of its own and make it so attractive that even people from foreign countries feel interested in it.

On the question of the medium of instruction, I can say that the Congress had decided long time ago that only the mother tongue can be the medium of instruction. In the past, people had complained and rightly so, that the burden of English taxed the intelligence and imposed too great a strain upon the energy and intellect of young children. Today if somebody tries to impose a language other than the mother tongue on small children, the same argument against English would be equally applicable. But then again Indian languages are so distributed that it is very difficult to divide sharply the people in border areas on a linguistic basis. It is inevitable that in such areas different languages should be spoken and any attempt to bring uniformity would only cause dissension and perhaps lead to new conflicts amongst people. If, for example, in the border areas between Bengal and Assam or between Tamil and Telugu, one group insisted that all children must be taught only in their language the people speaking the other language would perhaps be forced to migrate. We have seen terrible effects of such kinds of displacements of people and does anyone want that there should be any repetition of such incidents again?

Then the way in which the demand for linguistic provinces is being pressed, ill-will between the provinces is growing and subsequently this will lead to many more intricate problems. India has, since ages past, the unique quality of unity in diversity. Because of this, the country though politically downtrodden, was able to maintain its inherent force of Sahitya [Literature] and culture. I feel sorry that at a time when India has become politically free and is being consolidated into one political unit, the same forces are reacting and trying to reverse the course of events. Promotion of one language does not mean the suppression of others.

All the languages will be given equal opportunity to grow. But for various reasons Hindustani is bound to become the official language of India. This does not, however, mean that any of the provincial languages should suffer. They also must flourish and as I have already stated instruction must be imparted through mother tongue only. But at the same time there should be one language for inter-provincial intercourse. There should be a common language with one script and that script must be Devanagari.

In the past, English had served such a purpose and even today it is serving it. Whatever may be said, English will continue to be the common language for some time more. A resolution in the Constituent Assembly will not make a State language and even if stringent resolutions are passed these cannot make Hindustani overnight the language of administration. Nevertheless, the time must come when English should be replaced by an Indian language and this in my opinion will have to be Hindustani. There are, however, two things which should be remembered in the evolution of Hindustani. First of all it must take in all words which have already come into common use. Whether the word came from English, French, Arabic, Persian, Russian or German origin, a word commonly understood must be retained, and no attempts must be made to substitute it by some artificial, mechanical and high falutin word. Even a villager understands the words “station” or “motor” and any attempt to coin a Sanskrit synonym for them is foolish.

Language must be flexible and expansive and must always grow. A language, if it is restrictive and isolated, will prove to be artificial and subsequently dead. English with its tremendous vocabulary is yet accepting on an average about 5000 words a year. Hindustani also should show the same kind of expansiveness and not reject anything but try to assimilate everything.

Many of the scientific terms have become a part of international currency. Words like “oxygen”, “nitrogen” or similar other terms should be taken over. Any attempt to replace them by some word of Sanskrit or Arabic origin would not only be useless but it would impose an unnecessary burden upon Indian students. They have to learn these international terms if they want to keep their contact with the world outside. There is therefore no purpose in rejecting such terms in favour of artificial constructions.

I know that today there is a narrow outlook which wants to reject things from outside. This is one of the unfortunate effects of the partition of India. I am not referring to economic and political losses but even more than that. The partition of the country has resulted in cultural losses as well.

There is a tendency towards narrowness and exclusiveness. I am, however, confident that this is only a passing phase, for the genius of India is in the power of synthesis. Throughout the ages India had accepted freely whatever the world had to give and the peculiar contribution of India to the civilization of the world is the development of a spirit of toleration and synthesis. This is not only of high spiritual value but also is the wisest policy and I hope that this cultural exchange between literary writers of different regions of India will contribute towards the maintenance and development of the same wise and tolerant outlook.


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