There are 22 official languages in India, and to aggrandise Hindi at the expense of the rest of the official languages is insensible and demeaning. Moreover, Hindi imposition will only endanger languages and dialects that are already on the verge of extinction.
By Janghaolun Haokip
The recent statement of Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah has sparked controversies and evoked strong reactions from all over the country, especially in the South and North-East India. Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated in the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee that Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English. According to the Press Information Bureau (PIB) sources, the Union Home minister suggested to the committee that it is time to carry out a revision of the Hindi dictionary, even mentioning that 70 per cent of the Union Cabinet’s agenda is now prepared in Hindi. Further, he also added that the “time has come to make the Official Language an important part of the unity of the country. When people from states which speak other languages communicate with each other, it should be in the language of India,” implicitly asking for the imposition of Hindi in India which has led many to reckon if India is shifting towards a majoritarian government.
Majoritarianism and Democracy
Majoritarianism, as opposed to democracy, although both rest on the primacy of numbers, is the belief that the majority community should be able to rule a state/country in whichever way it wants, by disregarding the wishes and needs of the minority. In essence, while democracy pushes for the welfare of all its citizens despite numbers, majoritarianism is a form of governance where the welfare of the minority is altogether denied. To this, Adam Przeworski and José María Maravall in their book Democracy and the Rule of Law state that majoritarianism is a political philosophy that asserts that the majority of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society.
In that respect, it is of crucial importance to delink majoritarianism and democracy in the midst of the conception of both as the primacy of numbers or the majority. Rather, it is all-important to note that democracy is not an end in itself but a means to attain justice. On the contrary, majoritarianism is an end in itself. Simply put, majoritarianism is the supremacy of numbers alone which can be with or without core values and principles, while democracy does not simply rest in the majority but with a profound pledge to ensure the fundamental moral rights of every citizen. Majoritarianism is thus a threat in its very nature and has the least correspondence to democracy.
Shifting towards a majoritarian state
Unfortunately, despite the imminent threat that majoritarianism poses to administration and governance, many fear that there is a visible shift in our country toward a majoritarian government, especially since the BJP came to power in 2014. It is ostensible that the recent controversy of Hindi Imposition is not the first of its kind and it is true that India has gone through a series of attempts by right-wing nationalists to establish a majoritarian state, especially led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political wing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In fact, many policies as the abrogation of Art. 370 in India’s only Muslim-majority state Jammu & Kashmir, the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the state of Assam pushing thousands into statelessness, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that mentally ousted the Muslims in India, etc. could be seen as an attestation of a majoritarian attempt. Further, the strong advocacy of One Nation, One Religion or One Nation, One Law, by top BJP leaders could also be viewed in the same light as a shift away from actual democracy.
Moreover, the rising religious, cultural, and ideological intolerance are also critical causes of concern against the nature of democracy. The idea of secularism as a constitutional principle calls for tolerance and peaceful co-existence; the different rights and privileges enshrined in the constitution of India prohibit discrimination and oppression of people based on their gender, language or ethnicity; and the liberty of conscience and the freedom of speech opens a path for ideological differences. However, in one way or another, these ideals remain largely distorted and the rights and privileges are somehow infringed upon, implicitly steering us towards majoritarianism, the philosophy of the majority is the law and the minority the oppressed.
Although strongly feared, it is evident that India today is regrettably swiftly shifting towards a majoritarian government. The various emerging policies are speaking for themselves. The government has become obsessed with majoritarian dispositions. In fact, it has long since venerated the idea of sectarianism -the idea of Hindu supremacy against India’s constitutional values and principles. What we see today is a gross violation of rights and denial of privileges, and a nonsensical leaning toward the promotion and advocacy of majoritarian ethos. This is why the All India Trinamool Congress spokesperson Kunal Ghosh, in response to Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated that “India has various states with various languages. Amit Shah needs to rethink what he has said. Rather than imposing Hindi as the national language, why doesn’t the central government do something and reduce the prices of petrol and diesel?” which is indeed a question to ponder on.
Majoritarianism and Unity in Diversity
Kanimozhi, Lok Sabha MP from Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, said, the one language idea will not unite India but it will split the nation. Besides, the Union Home Minister is reminded by many that Uniformity is not Unity and that he should not commit the same mistakes. In this regard furthermore, the statement of M.K. Stalin, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister who strongly calls the imposition as an attack on India’s unity is particularly remarkable.
India is home to more than two thousand ethnic groups and with more than 19,500 languages or dialects that are spoken as mother tongues. Sadly enough, a country whose founding fathers had once taken pride in its Unity in Diversity is now drowning in a state of intolerance and parochialism. For instance, many critics have condemned the movie “Kashmir Files (2022)”, a film about the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus as propaganda to instigate hatred against the Muslims in India. Likewise, the abuse of Christian missionaries by RSS volunteers from time to time and the pillaging of churches is to discourage diversity and promote its unpropitious policy of one nation one religion. In fact, to this day, minorities, in both religious and cultural spheres, are seen as natural victims due to the rise in religious extremism and majoritarian ideology that further deepens the insecurities of the minorities in India. Majoritarianism thus is evident that it will destroy the very essence of India as a Union of States as it strives to establish a majority rule and play havoc with the essence of Unity in Diversity, the idea of India.
The way forward
There are 22 official languages in India, and to aggrandise Hindi at the expense of the rest of the official languages is insensible and demeaning. Moreover, Hindi imposition will only endanger languages and dialects that are already on the verge of extinction. What the government should rather focus on is the protection and promotion of endangered languages and subsequent imposition of such if imposition of any language is at all required. The contrary, as the proposed imposition of Hindi, is implicit of majoritarianism, a sharp deviation from constitutional principles. The most important is the idea of freedom, the essence of survival as human beings, which should not be curtailed in any manner or by any authority. People should have the liberty to learn whatever language they wish to learn, and correspondingly, the laws that must govern them must be a law that best serves them, uninfluenced by the majority but stemming from fundamental moral and ethical values.
Nevertheless, there is no harm in learning a language, the problem with it is simply the nature of imposition. From a psychological perspective, it is natural that humans don’t like being forced to do something but they respond better to reason and rationality. Similarly, from a humanistic perspective, every person should be entitled to the liberty of conscience -the freedom of choice and the freedom of expression. Such should now be the essence of governance where rationality and humanity take the central role and not shallow and narrow ideas as majoritarianism. That being the case, one must always remember that there is no pride to hold in the suppression and oppression of others as many extremists now do. There is no reason for force and violence in the name of religion that often leads to chaos and destruction and the loss of lives. There is no reason at all and which is why the founding fathers of our great country had shaped the country differently, entailing all humane values as the essence of the constitution against oppressive policies as the idea of majoritarianism which must be condemned at all cost.
(Janghaolun Haokip is a freelancer and theologian based in Kanggui)