The Youth Movement on Language By Om Prakash Deepak - Published in Mankind, Delhi, Jan.-Feb. 1968

FIRST, I would like to salute the young men of Hindi areas, particularly of Uttar Pradesh, and the leader of Banaras students, Debabrat Majumdar. The movement against the imposition of English launched by Banaras students on November 27, 1967, may prove to be a significant turning point in the course of our history. I would like to say to these young persons that whenever Marxism, impotent, or oriented towards urban middle class euphoria, or so-called Gandhism, now adept in double-talk, condemn their actions, or condescend to lead them from darkness to light, they should remember that those who fight injustice and tyranny have always to face such condemnation.

Earlier too, there were many who condemned the 'violent activities' of young men who led the rebellion of August 1942. And significantly, we have the same people condemning the rebellion of youth now. There are the bureaucrats, as ready to suck and slaughter their people now, as during the British regime. Communists then worked as unofficial intelligence men for the British, calling the rebels fascists. And now, the rebel youth are obscurantists to the marxists and progressives, for they have their roots among the people. How can a movement be radical without foreign inspiration? There must be some international basis, even if it is the remaining vestige of British imperialism, and the symbol of a feudal system, the English language. By some strange alchemy, the proleterian revolutionaries become staunch supporters of a feudal language. This time, the Gandhians have also joined the crowd, although Gandhi himself thought that India's freedom would not be complete until English was removed from our public life.

I would like also to remind these young people of an earlier event in our history. Their forefathers in this very area had fought a last-ditch battle in an attempt to free the country from the bloody claws of the East India Company. There are many pseudo-scholars in our country who think that British victory in 1857 was a boon to this country. It is a matter for serious consideration why such men are born in our land in such large numbers, why do they always enjoy such power. But we had better leave that for some other occasion. Here I only wish to tell these young men that their rebellion is in line with that of their ancestors more than a century ago, and they can rightly be proud of it.

At the same time, I would like to give a warning. It is an irony of our history that whenever there was an attempt at resurgence, it had to face divisive forces. We face the same situation today. And so, while there must be no compromise on our stand, care must be taken that the movement for change is not distorted by orthodox upper castes to their own advantage against the oppressed sections. Similarly, while the youth should be ready to fight for national unity, if necessary even in the battle-field, they should be ready to do every thing possible to remove misgivings from the minds of people in other areas.

English must go, immediately and completely from the Hindi areas. But if some other areas wish to keep it, let them do so. If they wish, that English should be replaced in the Centre not by Hindi alone, but by more than one language, let that be done. If they want any guarantee with regard to the services, or other such matters that should be readily given. But if some other areas refuse to think and act in a rational manner, that is no reason why the Hindi areas should also he chained to English indefinitely. It is a question of what Ram Manohar Lohia called having a resolute will and a flexible mind. On the questions of India's unity, and the abolition of English, if not immediately from all over the country, at least from the Hindi areas and from such other areas as may be ready for it, we should have a resolute will. But we should have a very elastic mind on other related matters, that may help persuade other areas to see that the abolition of English is in the interest of the whole nation and not of any one particular area.

The other question is even more important in some ways, for it concerns a basic weakness in our popular movements. All that has been achieved in recent weeks may be lost, if the upsurge among the youth is not transformed into organised will. Members of Parliament from Hindi areas who knew quite well the feelings of their voters, and also understood the implications of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill, voted for it on the assumption that when elections are held after four years, the people will have forgotten everything. And even if some people do not forget, they won’t have any strength. Elections, we in know are won through organisation.

Organisation for what? Even now it is said that students should now work for the propagation of Hindi. Well whoever did as much for the propagation of Hindi, as these young men did in the last few weeks ? For the last 20 years, the use and status of Hindi was being reduced in the Hindi areas themselves. Power, prestige and money, all were linked to English. If the situation has changed now, it is the result not of any Hindi lover’s love for the language but the courage of our young men. If some voices have been raised even in the literary circles, if some, symbolic protests have been made against the imposition of English, it was a result of the students movement. Otherwise, even now many gentlemen, getting both money and position in the name of Hindi, go about singing the praise of English. In fact the class of traditional slaves, finds it difficult to change its ways. The only difference now is that in the past they served the British and now they serve the Congress government.

It is said, in the name of national unity, that people from Hindi areas should persuade non-Hindi areas to accept Hindi. This argument is fraudulent, for it is incomplete. When Hindi is not being used in Hindi areas, when English rules the roost everywhere, perhaps even more than in some of the non-Hindi areas, why should others take to Hindi ? Before we can talk of others accepting Hindi, we have to see that the Hindi areas themselves change over from English to Hindi.

In fact this harping on the need to persuade non-Hindi people to accept Hindi, has become a dirty, repulsive game. The ruling class in the Hindi areas has been using this argument all along for its narrow self-interest, and for perpetuating the use of English. People in the Hindi areas should now stop talking about making Hindi acceptable to the whole country. If non-Hindi areas accept Hindi as their own language it would be fine. If they don’t, they should be left free not to use Hindi at all. Let me repeat, it is not a question of Hindi being the official or link language or anything else of that sort but of its being accepted by non-Hindi people as their own. So long as non-Hindi people are asked to accept Hindi as something imported all attempts to propagate Hindi among them would lead to results contrary to what is desired. In the 19th century and also in the earliest part of the 20th, the propagation of Hindi was done mostly by non-Hindi people who accepted Hindi as their own language. If some of the non-Hindi people now think and say that they will have nothing to do with Hindi, there is little sense in taking up an attitude that assumes the contrary.

The real question is of making the people’s languages the medium of education and communication. Youth in the Hindi areas are doing precisely the same. If the youth in Bengal and Tamilnad did the same for their languages it would be a great thing. But if they think that Hindi is an intruder, let them keep Hindi out. Again, if they think that their own languages are not developed enough, and that they should accept English as their own, let them do so. For, reason is helpless before such prejudices. But if youth in the Hindi areas do not consider their language to be lame and deficient, they can't be forced to irrationally accept the continuance of English. Any rebellion against such an imposition would be justified.

To the English-oriented middle class, administrative unity is everything, for its interests lie there, and cut off from the people, it can’t think of any other form of unity. But administrative unity is a house of cards in the absence of economic, social, political and cultural unity of the people. Here also we can learn from our past. What was known as British India, was divided twice in 1937, and then in 1947. In 1937, the administration of Burma and Ceylon was separated from that of rest of India. Not a single voice was raised against it. On the other hand, when Pakistan was created only 10 years later, blood ran like water. This was because Burma and Ceylon were only administratively united with India. The areas, on the other hand, which formed Pakistan were live limbs of the nation. They could be dismembered only at great cost. And even now, people in India and Pakistan are not two, but one people, divided in two states. Germany remains divided since 1945, but nobody would suggest that Germans constitute not one but two nations.

I am sure that the youth movement on language has brought about a qualitative change in the situation, so that now, if they continue to act in an organised manner, it would soon be impossible for the government of India to impose English on them in any manner. But at the same time, they should be willing to take flexible attitudes towards other questions. Provided English goes immediately, there should be no hesitation in agreeing to any position that is demanded for other Indian languages.