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Languages evolve and spread when a common cultural norm is created among communities due to social cohesion. This is true of all languages and of Tamil also. No one person or community can claim ownership for the creation and diffusion of languages over time.

One may have passion towards a language but obsession is not healthy. This will make people devalue other languages.

No language is good or bad. Every language is unique in its own form. People cherish the choice they have to learn and use the language.

During the Independence movement, India’s leaders were mostly multilingual in speaking and sometimes in writing as well. But today’s milieu is not conducive to learning one or more languages than the mother tongue.

Some crude public debates and discourses have been lingering for several decades now in Tamil Nadu that narrowly propagate one language over others. This goes against the legacy and ethos of the very languages that are promoted. The Tamil vs Hindi or the Tamil vs Sanskrit controversy is doing injustice to the makers of the Constitution of India and its values and principles.

The Constitution provides equal opportunities to every citizen to learn their choice of languages without restriction across the country. However, the predatory nature of regional polity is such that one language is mocked. Votebanks are sustained and the media is used to inflame public opinion. These political agencies time and again utterly ignore that Indian society is multilingual and multicultural.

No language is good or bad. Every language is unique in its own form. People cherish the choice they have to learn and use the language

The case in point is the reference to the recent remarks made on Hindi language by the current Union home minister at a Southern Zonal Council meeting held at Tirupati. The meeting was attended by southern states’ political representatives and government officials primarily to sort out the underpinning regional and inter-state issues and challenges.Several important aspects were taken up for discussion and were reported that many were resolved (40 out of 51 issues). Unfortunately, the media was interested more in sensationalism to create news and controversy.

In a multilingual and multicultural society such as ours, stances on language are bound to be misinterpreted. And the media takes advantage of this to sensationalize. The Indian media has played a key role in sustaining our democracy but in recent times the actual purpose of a vibrant media has got muted.

The 29th meeting of the Southern Zonal Council chaired by the Union Home Minister comprised all the southern states and UTs. Today there is a need for a strong Centre-State and inter-state relations in the true spirit of federalism emphasized under the Constitution of India. Five Zonal Councils were set up in 1957 under Section 15-22 of the States Re-organization Act, 1956. The Home Minister is the Chairman of all the five Zonal Councils and the chief ministers of the host state (to be chosen by rotation every year) are the vice-chairmen. Two more ministers from each state are nominated as members by the Governor.

The zonal councils primarily aim to resolve disputes and irritants between the Centre and the states and among the states in the zone. The councils discuss a broad range of issues which include boundary-related disputes, security, infrastructure-related matters like road, transport, industries, water, and power, matters about forests and environment, housing, education, food security, tourism, and transport.

It has been reported that arrangements were made by the Union government so leaders could speak in their regional languages and their speeches were translated verbatim in English and Hindi. The Tamil Nadu minister for higher education represented the government of Tamil Nadu and “raised the issue of size and capacity of fishing boats to be used in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone and the transfer of railway lands for Metro Rail projects.”

Further, we learn that the Tamil Nadu chief minister had urged the council to “make Tamil one of the official languages of the country” and also to “declare Thirukkural as the National Book”. We do not know whether the state government tried to sort out water sharing issues with states like Kerala.

The home minister’s comments about Hindi were not against the spirit of the Constitution nor against regional languages. He said, “Hindi is the friend (sakhee) of all indigenous languages (swabhasha). India’s prosperity lies in the prosperity of our Indian languages”. He also said that “we need to create an environment wherein people take pride in speaking their mother tongue”. Nothing is wrong with these statements. A few people may find fault with this due to their narrow mindset and vested interests though.

When P Chidambaram was home minister during 2008-2012, all the files in the home ministry were written in English, not in Hindi. The reason was that he was comfortable with English.

However, his statement, “Today I feel very proud to say that not even a single file is written in English in the Union Home Ministry. We have completely adopted the official language (Hindi)”, become a media sensation and controversial in Tamil media for no valid reason. Those who argue that the above statement is against regional languages tend to forget that when P Chidambaram was home minister during 2008-2012, all the files in the home ministry were written in English, not in Hindi. The reason was that he was comfortable with English. Furthermore, there are provisions to maintain the Union ministries’ records in both Hindi and English for various purposes like submission to courts, state/UT governments and so on. If not, there are standard structures in the administrative system with translation departments to make it available for the masses.

It’s a matter of time that innovative technology will be developed by scientists and the ministry of electronics and IT so languages can be translated real-time into any Indian language or English. How many of us know about the National Language Translation Mission?

(The author is an Economist and Public Policy Expert)

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