Do you know what is the national language of our Country?

a) Hindi
b) English
c) the 22 languages included in the Constitution

When this question was posed in class by Manojna the obvious choice of the majority was hindi. Little did they realise that they were wrong. This is because there is no single national language in our Country, all the 22 languages are national languages. English, is the official language and is used in the courts and Government functioning.
During the later half of the presentation a debate had started as to the usage of English as a link language. The voices were equivocal. There was a whole section belonging to hindi speaking states going against English and another section from South India and the North East for English.
Most of what is written above is merely class gossip. But the question asked by Manojna above lead me to reading Balraj Sahni’s Convocation address in JNU in 1972 about the usage of English Language. In a short critique I’d say that I haven’t got to read a better piece on the subject in ages.
He writes,

I was going by bus from Rawalpindi to Kashmir with my family to enjoy the summer vacation. Half-way through we were halted because a big chunk of the road had been swept away by a landslide caused by rain the previous night. We joined the long queues of buses and cars on either side of the landside. Impatiently we waited for the road to clear. It was a difficulty job for the P.W.D. and it took some days before they could cut a passage through. During all this time the passengers and the drivers of vehicles made a difficult situation even more difficult by their impatience and constant demonstration. Even the villagers nearby got fed up with the high-handed behaviour of the city-walas.

One morning the overseer declared the road open. The green- flag was waved to the drivers. But we saw a strange sight. No driver was willing to be the first to cross. They just. stood and stared at each other from either side. No doubt the road was a make-shift one and even dangerous. A mountain on one side, and a deep gorge and the river below. Both were forbidding. The overseer had made a careful inspection and had opened the road with a full sense of responsibility. But nobody was prepared to trust his judgment, although these very people had, till yesterday, I accused him and his department of laziness and incompetence. Half an hour passed by in dumb silence. Nobody moved.

Suddenly we saw a small green sports car approaching. An Englishman was driving it; sitting all by himself. He was a bit surprised to see so many parked vehicles and the crowd there. I was rather conspicuous, wearing my smart jacket and trousers. “What’s happened?” he asked me.

I told him the whole story. He laughed loudly, blew the horn and went straight ahead, crossing the dangerous portion without the least hesitation.

And now the pendulum swung the other way. Every body was so eager to cross that they got into each other’s way and created a new-confusion for some time. The noise of hundreds of engines and hundreds of horns was unbearable.

That day I saw with my own eyes the difference in attitudes between a man brought up in a free country and a man brought up in an enslaved one. A free man has the power to think, decide, and act for himself. But the slave loses that power. He always borrows his thinking from others, wavers in his decisions, and more often than not only takes the trodden path.

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Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has admitted in his autobiography that our freedom movement, led by the Indian National Congress, was always dominated by the propertied classes-the capitalists and landlords. It was logical, therefore, that these very classes should hold the reigns of power even after independence. Today it is obvious to everyone that in the last twenty-five years the rich have been growing ‘richer’ and the poor have been growing poorer. Pandit Nehru wanted to change this state of affairs, but he couldn’t. I don’t blame him, because he had to face very heavy odds all along. Today our Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, pledges herself to take the country towards the goal of socialism. How far she will be successful, I can’t say. Politics is not my line. For our present purposes it is enough if you agree with me that in today’s India the propertied classes dominate the government as well as society.

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Now, which language in your opinion would their successors, the present rulers of India, choose to strengthen their own domination? Rashtrabhasha Hindi? By heavens, no. My hunch is that their interests too are served by English and English alone. But since they have to keep up a show of patriotism they make a lot of noise about Rashtrabhasha Hindi so that the mind of the public remains diverted.

Men of property may believe in a thousand different gods, but they worship only one-the God of profit. From the point of view of profit the advantages of retaining English to the capitalist class in this period of rapid industrialization and technological revolution are obvious. But the social advantages are even greater. From that point of view English is a God sent gift to our ruling classes.

Why? For the simple reason that the English language is beyond the reach of the toiling millions of our country. In olden times Sanskrit and Persian were beyond the reach of the toiling masses. That is why the rulers of those times had given them the status of state language. Through Sanskrit and Persian the masses were made to feel ignorant, inferior, uncivilized, and unfit to rule themselves. Sanskrit and Persian helped to enslave their minds, and when the mind is enslaved bondage is eternal.

It suits our present ruling classes to preserve and maintain the social order that they have inherited from the British. They have a privileged position; but they cannot admit it openly. That is why a lot of hoo-haw is made about Hindi as the Rashtrabhasha. They know very well that this Sanskrit-laden, artificial language, deprived of all modern scientific and technical terms, is too weak and insipid to challenge the supremacy of English. It will always remain a show piece, and what is more, a convenient tool to keep the masses fighting among themselves. We film people get a regular flow of fan mail from young people studying in schools and colleges. I get my share of it and these letters reveal quite clearly what a storehouse of torture the English language is to the vast majority of Indian students. How abysmally low the levels of teaching and learning have reached! That is why, I am told preferential treatment is being given to boys and girls who come from public schools i.e. schools to which only the children of privileged classes can go.

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The complete speech may be read at Siddharth Varadarajan’s Blog.

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