“The next decade belongs to revival of Indian languages,” says Santosh Choubey, Director of Vishwarang Festival 2023

The fifth edition of Tagore International Literature and Arts Festival – Vishwarang 2023 was held from 21-24 December in Bhopal at Rabindranath Tagore University with a focus on promotion of Hindi as well as other Indian languages.

Namrata Kohli spoke to Santosh Choubey, Chancellor of Rabindranath Tagore University and Director of Vishwarang on the relevance of Hindi and vernacular in current times

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

How would you describe the current state of affairs of the Hindi language?

Hindi presents a great opportunity and today technology is a force multiplier which is creating a critical mass to start a chain reaction, making networking easier in Hindi. Technology has enabled the access to regional language fonts even on mobile phones and laptops. But if we want to expand Hindi, we must give due respect and importance to each and every other Indian language. These are languages of an entire country, and every community must be represented and respected and there is no need to fight with each other. Also, we must take along our local dialects as the sweetness of a language is only enhanced when we recognize the local dialects and references. We must also take along the Pravasi Bharatiya community in this endeavour. I look at the People of Indian Origin and NRIs as an important brand ambassador in propagating our culture and language. In year 2019 when we started the Vishwarang festival, we had participation from 15 countries. In 2022, it rose to 25 and currently there are over 50 countries.

Language is a skill and there is a skill certification framework in the country. Do we have levels of learning for our Indian languages as yet?

This is one of the outcomes of Vishwarang 2023 that we will create a global standard norm for teaching Hindi and other Indian languages. Currently Hindi is being taught formally and informally in many countries. For instance in Russia, Hindi is being taught on the basis of Hindi film songs especially of Rajkumar while in the temples of US, on the basis of bhajans and classic texts. I understand that even in Spain, France, England in many temples Hindi is being taught informally but in addition there are some 112 universities globally that have undergraduate courses in Hindi language. The point is can there be a standard global formal curriculum which can be followed by everyone. That is one question we are trying to address and are trying to evolve some standardization and certification in this regard.

It was Lord Macaulay’s infamous Minute of Parliament 1835 when he said that he wished to cultivate a group of Indians who would be “Indian by blood and colour, but English by likes, beliefs, morality, and intellect.” Hasn’t he been successful in this objective in making English a class language and Hindi a mass language?

Macaulay’s objectives have come out in the open today and he stands exposed. He said that if we want to enslave the Indians, we should take away their language and break their mindset. For this, he made a sustained campaign over 200 years. But the new education policy is bringing the mother tongue and regional Indian languages back to the schools. No doubt that children are becoming westernized but even so, many are inquisitive to know about Indian heritage and traditions. They want to know about the whys and hows of Ganesh Utsav, why certain rituals are done such as fasting etc. A revival is certainly happening and the next decade belongs to revival of languages.

Somehow the aspiration value is still attached with the English language. Why do you think even after 75 years of independence, people with Sanskrit hons or Hindi hons still struggle to find employment opportunities and financially lucrative jobs. We still have a perception that Hindi is downmarket and English is upmarket. What is your observation?

This is the backlog of olden times and will take time for it to go. We have to work on making certain amends as a society. And we need to start by correcting the mindset of the parents. It is their aspiration to educate their child in English and not even teach them the mother tongue. Even today, 90 percent employment in India is in the unorganized sector. Everywhere you speak to your employees in your language only and with English you will only alienate yourself.

It is heartening to note that our government has made a proper policy around this and the New Education policy makes it mandatory to learn the mother tongue. But the parents must do a few things to inculcate interest in native Indian languages. They must speak in their mother tongue at home, be it Bengali or Telugu or Hindi. Once there is demand, there will be supply in that direction. Then only schools will open options for better learning in these languages and good teachers will be available. It will take 10 years for a revolution to happen because the damage was done in the last 150 to 200 years by the Britishers. Parents should also make a library at home and keep books in native Indian languages so that children can start browsing out of curiosity and then gradually they will develop interest. They should lessen the impact of western culture and languages and encourage more of our own.

For long, there has been the Mother Language or Matribhasha debate. People in South India consider Sanskrit to be the basis of their languages and not Hindi while those in North East stand opposed to it and mostly speak in English. Where do you stand in the mother tongue debate and which language has the potential to be one binding language throughout the country?

I don’t think there should be any debate about this. It was Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar, the very architect of our constitution who had said that if there is one language which can be adopted by all, and language of communication for everyone it is Hindi. As per a recent report, as much as 57 percent of our population speaks in Hindi and it’s a number that is continuously growing. But I also feel, that we should respect every other regional language. While in Tamil Nadu, one will still find Hindi teaching schools, it is difficult to find any Tamil teaching schools in North India. I feel the time has come to accord equal respect to all our Indian languages.

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