Vital Statistics - Hindi

Mehta, Shailendra Mehta at MGMT.PURDUE.EDU
Thu Jan 6 15:49:13 UTC 2000

On the points raised by Abbas, Elst, Ganesan, Karp and Malaiya:

In connection with the number of Hindi speakers, I am surprised that no one
referred to one of the largest social surveys done in recent years, by the
magazine India Today in conjunction with ORG and MARG on the occasion of the
50th anniversary of India's independence. A representative sample of 12,651
Indians was used. They reported on a whole host of issues, but their
findings on language are particularly significant. They found that a full
71% of Indians said that they could understand Hindi. The breakdowns by
region were: North 94%, South 30%. They did not report the separate figures
for East and West. Further, 61% said that there should be a national
language; 77% said that the language should be Hindi. The breakdowns for the
latter were North 97%, East 85%, West 75% and South 31%. For additional
details look at the Issue of India Today, 18 August 1997.

Four other points.

1. One the opposition to Hindi seems to be declining in the South. The
recent issue of The-Week published from Kerala, reported the following:
"Hindi classes for TDP members
The latest addition to the conference hall of Andhra Bhavan is a blackboard.
All Telugu Desam MPs have to attend Hindi classes in the hall so that they
can function better in Parliament and outside. Party supremo Chandrababu
Naidu was astounded when he watched video clippings of the Lok Sabha
proceedings. Even the party leader in the Lok Sabha, Yerran Naidu, was at a
loss as he could not understand or respond easily in the national language.
The glamour girl of the party, Jayaprada, was the only exception. She made a
long speech in the Rajya Sabha in Hindi and even kept notes in Devnagari.
Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi is another Telugu Desam MP who has shown
marked improvement in Hindi."

2. At Purdue University, where I am,  Indians overtook the Chinese as the
largest group of foreign students. There are 750 of them, with Indian
passports. This does not count the second generation Americans, of course,
of which also, there are many. It is interesting that in this group, which
has a fair sampling of all regions (though it is not representative
socially, of India, in that most are from the upper classes and castes), it
is hard to come across someone who does not understand Hindi. Indeed to
assert their identities as Indians, they regularly speak to each other in
Hindi, in corridors, in hallways and in the labs - cutting across regional
lines.  Hindi films, and Diwali and Republic Day functions (which too are
almost exclusively based on Hindi-film linked programs) bring them together.

3. Sanskritized Hindi is opposed by many in the North, who prefer
Persianized Hindi (I am comfortable with both) but Malayalam, Telugu,
Bengali, Gujarati etc.. speakers invariably find it easier to understand the
Sanskritized version. If I use words like saamish and niraamish to denote
non-vegetarian and vegetarian in Hindi (as is done on Railway signs in
India) I get raised eyebrows, but they are in common usage in other
languages. Indeed, if you read literary Punjabi, it is almost identical to
literary Hindi (for example editors are addressed in both as aadarNiya
sampaadak mahodaya). Not surprisingly, prominent authors in Punjabi write
effortlessly in Hindi as well - witness the example of Mahip Singh and
Amrita Pritam for example. Also, I saw two excellent movies recently with
large pan-Indian audiences (mostly non-native speakers of Hindi) - Sarfarosh
and Antarnaad. The former had a lot of Urdu words and invariably
susurrations would break out as to what this or that Persian word (including
the title) meant, and the questioners would ask in Telugu or Gujarati. With
Antarnaad, there was no problem.

4. One consequence of the earlier Southern Opposition to Hindi, and the
antagonism thereby generated, has been that the literature and thought of
the South has not really made a mark on the North. Punjabi, Bengali and
Marathi editions of novels often come out at the same time as their Hindi
translations. It is very unlikely for Southern authors, unless they happen
to be Jnanpith Award winners. As a result, even treasures of the South such
as the Tirukkural and Kampan Ramayana are literally unheard of in the North,
even though, they have much to teach us all, and even though they are
available in excellent Devanagari transliterations and Hindi translations. I
do hope that, more than anything else, that Southern consciousness, its
writing, its thought makes its mark on the North. And the Internet could
play a major role in that, when Unicode for Indian languages is fully
implemented and script becomes irrelevant in that any language could be read
in any script.

Shailendra Raj Mehta

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