Unifying Indian languages through a common script!

Prof. Rasal Singh
Time and again, Hindi has been projected as a symbol of imposition and a threat to the pluralistic identities of India. Recently, an online spat between two Indian actors from competing film industries has reignited the debate on Hindi as India’s national language. At the success event of KGF: Chapter 2, the Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep referred to the recent pan-India success of films from the southern region and said Hindi was no longer “a national language”. In response to his comments, veteran Hindi film actor Ajay Devgan through his Twitter handle asserted that Hindi is our national language and will remain so. He further asked his south India film colleague why regional films are dubbed in Hindi if it doesn’t have pan india presence. This twitter spat has off late snowballed into a major controversy with fellow actors, and politicians from south India jumping into the band wagon. They accused the Central Government of indulging in language politics. This not the first time that a celebrity from the South has spoken about language war, especially Hindi imposition. While the misunderstandings between the duo (actors) got sorted but the banter has made one question reverb in the entire country once again- Isn’t Hindi our national language? Earlier presiding over the 37th meeting of the Official Language Committee of Parliament, Union Home Minister Amit Shah also called for the adoption of Hindi as an alternative to English language. He further pointed out that nine tribal communities of the Northeast have adopted Devanagari as script of their dialects’. Apart from this, all the eight states of the Northeast have agreed to make Hindi compulsory in schools up to Class X. The minister also said that the development and expansion of Hindi should not be at the cost of other Indian languages, but as an alternative to English. Meanwhile, Amit Shah’s pitch for the Hindi language provoked trenchant criticism from a wide spectrum of opposition leaders and artistes. These include Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Kerala Chief Minister P Vijayan, AR Rahman, and Prakash Raj, to name a few. Opposition to Hindi is in the DNA of these people and their politics. It is a carefully cultivated political weapon stemming from hollow language chauvinism. It is unfortunate that the victims of colonial hangover are all for English, a foreign language; on the other hand, Hindi, an Indian language is considered as a symbol of imposition and a threat to pluralistic identity of India. The statements of AR Rahman and Prakash Raj are glaring examples of hypocrisy and demonstrates their lost connection with the soul of India.
NEP 2020’s strong focus on the mother tongue ensures that a child’s energies are spent on learning critical concepts rather than learning a new language. It also protects hitherto discriminated languages by inculcating them in the school curriculum. However, its implementation on ground seems to be a herculean task in the present socio-cultural scenario; wherein the Indian languages are suppressed, and vulnerable to the colonial language, English, which is slowly engulfing all the Indian languages except Hindi. The prominence of the 21 other Indian languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution is gradually diminishing in the intellectual world, while the dominance of the English language is gradually expanding. Apart from its prominence in socio-cultural life, governance-administration, trade-market, English has also made significant inroads as a medium of education. This undoubtedly poses the biggest existential threat for all Indian languages. But, with the efforts of the current Central dispensation, the situation has been somewhat circumvented by promoting, and giving adequate support, respect, and acceptance to Hindi and other Indian languages like Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Assamese, Dogri, Kashmiri and Punjabi; yet a lot of work needs to be done in this direction. Teaching in mother tongue is imperative as it not only results in maximum development of intellectual abilities of the learner, but at the same time leads to propagation of Indian languages. This is the foundation of the ambitious project to make India a knowledge super power. Indian languages are a sine qua non for educational and cultural development since they strengthened equity in education. Thus, interaction, dialogue, and organisation of Indian languages is the tip of the iceberg to understand and inculcate pride in India’s rich culture and knowledge traditions.
In the present context, there is a dire need for the Indian languages to come closer to each other to deal with English supremacism. Efforts should be made to strive towards eradicating their mutual unfamiliarity and separation. Devanagari script can play a decisive role in the development, propagation, and interaction of Indian languages. For this, the best literature of all Indian languages must be transliterated into Devanagari script so that it can be accessible to the vast majority and wider Hindi society.
Many great men like Raja Rammohun Roy, Lokmanya Tilak, Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati, Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Krishnaswamy Iyengar, Muhammad Karim Chagla and Bineshwar Brahm have advocated the adoption of Devanagari script for all Indian languages as the national or common script. A common script would enable the spoken language to flourish, while easing the burden on educational and administrative systems. Devanagari script is the best suited for this purpose as it fulfils the two most important criteria – unlike the Latin script Devanagari is phonetically sound, and among the current Indian scripts it’s the most widely used. Though the need for a common script has been iterated by many, nobody intended to tread on the political landmine of regional politics for years. It’s time to rise above narrow politics and regionalist identities and move forward towards realization of this dream. The ‘Navdevata of Devanagari’ Bineshwar Brahm had even sacrificed his life for this cause.
Having a single script for different Indian languages is of far-reaching significance as it will remove the unfamiliarity, mistrust, and distance between them. Thus, bringing them closer to each other. The process can be initiated with the adoption of the Devanagari script as the common script for Indian languages that originated from Sanskrit and for script-less languages and dialects. Today there are many such languages and dialects of Jammu and Kashmir, North-East, Andaman-Nicobar, and Goa etc., which are facing existential crisis due to lack of script. However, these gradually disappearing/endangered languages have a very rich tradition of oral literature, which not only needs to be protected rather it also needs to be taken to the wider society hitherto unknown. Similar is the case with the literature of Nayanar-Alvar saints, Gitagovindam of Jayadeva, Guruvani of Nanakdev, verses of Shankardev, Bakh of Lalleshwari, Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, and Gitanjali of Gurudev. These should be read by every literate Indian. Standardising the script not only provides the best balance of diversity and functional literacy, it further increases social closeness and cultural affinity.
Certain Indian languages have their own separate scripts like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam etc.; excessive linguistic diversity is not always the best for knowledge creation and propagation. The adoption of Devanagari script as their co-script would not only enable the spoken language to flourish at the same time it resolves the age-old menace of socio-cultural narrow-mindedness existing in the society. Linguistic diversity of India has been the centre of discussion and contemplation for a long time. India is a multilingual, multiscript country. But despite this plurality, the undercurrent of Indianness is its biggest feature. Like the national language Hindi, the Devanagari script can play a big role in further strengthening this undercurrent of Indianness. Leaving all opposition and petty politics behind, today Hindi has organically become the contact language of the country. It is a language which can emotionally unite Indians and result in a tangible true national integration. Hindi needs to be given its due place and recognition in India. We must love, own, promote and communicate in Hindi in the truest spirits of the pride of our national language. Efforts should be made to make Devanagari script the common thread that links all of India. The Devanagari script may also be partially modified/enhanced to accommodate the specific sounds of a particular language thereby establishing its natural proximity and affinity with more and more Indian languages.
The complex process of language learning can be made very simple and accessible by adopting a common script for all Indian languages. By doing this, new languages can be learned easily. The origin, cultural context and vocabulary of Indian languages from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kamrup are very similar. This holds the key to making Indians multilingual. An educated Indian will be able to read and write several languages easily and will be able to get acquainted with the rich literature, and cultural traditions embedded in them. It is also noteworthy that the Indian languages are not mutually competitive, but complementary. This mutuality and complementarity will further increase with the adoption of the Devanagari script.
The script of most languages of the Arab world is Arabic and the script of many languages of Europe-America is Roman. Therefore, not only do they have better socio-cultural dialogue, but trade and tourism are also flourishing. Today the market and language have an interdependent relationship. The market expands through language and language flourishes through the market. That’s why Hindi is developing and expanding so much. Other Indian languages would not only be culturally enriched by being associated with their elder sister Hindi through Devanagari script; rather they will also be able to find their feet in the employment, business, and tourism sectors. Being the language of a large market increases the recognition and demand of the language internationally, whereby it can decisively intervene in foreign policymaking, and influence international diplomacy. Indian languages can form a united front based on shared cultural background, common vocabularies, and common script to combat English’ linguistic hegemony. The original script of the Dogri language was Takri and that of Kashmiri was Sharda. Over a period Dogri adopted Devanagari and Kashmiri adopted Nastalik as their script respectively. Today Dogri is read and understood by the Hindi society while the Kashmiri language is gradually shrinking. Further, the Kashmiri language can also revive itself by adopting the Devanagari script and connecting with Hindi and other Indian languages.
-Dr. B.R. Ambedhkar
(The author is Dean, Students’ Welfare, Central University of Jammu.)