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Lohia and Language

Was Rammanohar Lohia a Hindi chauvinist after all? Sudhanva Deshpande's response to Yogendra Yadav goes in search of Lohia's writings on language and finds them supporting Hindi parochialism. Yogendra Yadav responds that opposition to English was the core of Lohia's stand on language and he asked questions which may still be relevant.


What does Lohia propose as the

Lohia and Language

“correct” policy that can resolve the “problem”? Yadav quotes the title of Lohia’s 1958 essay, “Removal of English, Not the Estab-Sudhanva Deshpande lishment of Hindi”, but omits to quote its

Was Rammanohar Lohia a Hindi chauvinist after all? Sudhanva Deshpande’s response to Yogendra Yadav goes in search of Lohia’s writings on language and finds them supporting Hindi parochialism. Yogendra Yadav responds that opposition to English was the core of Lohia’s stand on language and he asked questions which may still be relevant.

Sudhanva Deshpande ( is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, Delhi.

n his response to my interjection on b ilingualism, Yogendra Yadav (“Was L ohia Parochial and Monolingual?” EPW, 24 October 2009) argues that R ammanohar Lohia’s position was anti-English, but not against other Indian l anguages. I parrot, he says, “a misrepresentation of Lohia’s thinking on the l anguage question very common among the left i ntellectual circles”, who are to blame for the impression that Lohia was a “Hindi s upremacist and a linguistic chauvinist who did not understand the complexities of nation-building in a multilinguistic country”.

I am afraid the shoe is on the other foot. It is Yadav who misrepresents Lohia’s position on the language question by selective quotations that leave out the very core of his position.

Yadav does not tell us who these “left intellectuals” are who have levelled charges against Lohia. Even so, I assume these charges would hold if it could be demonstrated (a) that Lohia’s advocacy of Hindi was not limited to certain linguistic regions but was eventually meant to cover all of I ndia; (b) that Lohia thought of non-Hindi languages in a patronising, superior way;

(c) that he denied independent language status to languages that exist in non- coastal north India; (d) that even when Lohia granted the freedom to some region to continue using its own language, he did this with regret and considered it a mistake.

Lohia makes a distinction between the “coastal lands” and the “mid-lands” in his 1962 article “Feudal Languages versus People’s Languages”: “The coastal areas of the country speak languages other than Hindi. The mid-lands speak Hindi.... and Assamiya (sic) is another language of the non-coastal north-east” (p 70).1 Further, in “Coastal Areas and the Heartland” (1964), he says

Let me make it clear that the problem is not between the north and south, but between the coastal regions and the heartland ( p 66).

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text. Here it is:

Hindi should be the language of the central

government. Immediately after, the gazet

ted posts of the central government should

be reserved for non-Hindi speaking areas

for ten years. The centre should correspond

with states in Hindi and the states should

correspond with the centre in their regional

languages until such time they learn Hindi.

The medium of education up to graduate

course should be the regional language and

for postgraduate course it should be Hindi.

The district judge and magistrate may use

their regional languages whereas the high

court and Supreme Court should use Hin

dustani. The speeches in Lok Sabha should

be generally made in Hindustani but mem

bers who do not know Hindi may speak in

their own language. Although it is a correct

language policy, any state or government

which may not like to adopt this policy and

wishes to continue with its regional lan

guage should have the freedom to do so. It

should not be objected to although it will

be a regrettable situation. I believe this is a

temporary difficulty. Therefore, keeping in

view the pernicious propaganda and inter

ests of the nation, the chief aim of our move

ment should be removal of English and not

the e stablishment of Hindi. It is certain that

Hindi shall be established on all India level

in due course. But if in some states or even

on the all India level, Marathi or Bengali is

established, we should not mind it (pp 6-7).

Four points need emphasis. One, that Lohia allows state governments the freedom to correspond in their own languages until such time as they learn Hindi.

Two, in return for this, non-Hindi states are to be bribed with reservations: “The mid-lands must immediately operate through the Hindi department in Delhi. If Gujarat and Maharashtra and any other states opt to join the Hindustani department, they should be gratefully welcomed with whatever reservations in the services and the like they desire” (“Feudal Languages”, p 73).

Three, if any state continues with its r egional language, this will be a regrettable situation: “I have [gone] so far as to a ccept Tamil as a central language, h owever unwillingly, should the people of Tamil Nadu (sic) in their error insist

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Economic & Political Weekly


upon it” (“The Madras Happenings” ,1960, p 53).

Four, propagation of Hindi must be temporarily suspended, but this is only a tactical retreat to achieve strategic victory:

The effort to persuade the coast-lands to accept Hindi must be given up, for it only leads to further irritation and embitterment. Once these coast-lands have abandoned English at the provincial level, including the high court, the university, the secretariat and all such public institutions, it would be only a matter of time when they apply for admission into the Hindi department in Delhi. (“Feudal Languages”, pp 73-74).

This is repeated in “Coastal Areas” (p 66).

Call me “narrow-minded”, but it does seem to me that Lohia is asking his opponents to bat with six stumps on a wet pitch with the boundary pushed back 50 yards!

After assuring us that Lohia “went out of his way to address the sensibilities of non-Hindi speakers”, Yadav admits, three sentences later, that “One could argue that (Lohia’s proposals) did not meet the sensibilities of the non-Hindi speakers. Indeed, Lohia’s politics of language demands a s erious review of the kind his followers have never attempted.” However, “to see [ Lohia’s stand] as simple-minded parochialism is to misunderstand what needs to be criticised in the first place”.

Instead of telling us what this “serious review” might consist of, Yadav jumps to listing Kannada writers who admire L ohia. (The one name he misses, by the way, is that of K V Subanna, the founder of Ninasam, the institution I greatly admire and wrote about in my response to Ram Guha.) Yadav finds it “hard to imagine” that Subanna or Ananthamurthy can admire a thinker without endorsing the totality of his programme. Frankly, this assumption patronises these fine minds. Since Lohia had demanded that India acquire nuclear weapons, and since the Pokhran tests took place under a Lohiaite defence minister, do present-day admirers of Lohia like Yadav endorse India’s nuclear weapons programme?

Lohia advocated a “sisterly relationship” between the languages of India. But lest we understand this to mean that they must co-exist as equals, he was quick to clarify:

If younger sisters are sometimes uppish (sic), as happens always, it does not matter. Tamil, Telugu and Gurumukhi, etc, are the younger sisters, and many of them are very beautiful.

Economic & Political Weekly

november 28, 2009

It is often said that Hindi is the language of the uneducated, and Bengali is a sweet tongue, or that Tamil is a literary one. When such things are said I ask the Hindi people not to go (sic) into arguments. After all, younger sisters are naturally more beautiful. The elder sister cannot be so glamorous, she will be a little plump” (‘English and the People’s Languages in India’, 1959: 39).

Even if we ignore the sexism of Lohia’s analogy, “older” and “younger” here are hierarchical concepts, not factual.

Yadav makes much of the fact that Lohia was not enamoured of the kind of highly Sanskritised Hindi favoured by the Sangh parivar. Which is why it comes as a shock when Lohia says: “I am also frightened of the recent move to introduce into Hindi or Hindustani a larger influx of words of Arabic origin” (“Coastal Areas”, p 65). “This may well be with a view to make Hindustani more dissimilar from Bengali or Marathi or Telugu” which would stand in the way of “tempt[ing] the other coastal states into wanting to join the Hindustani department” (p 66).

And what about Urdu? From a 1958 resolution of the Socialist Party: “Urdu language should be made more easy so that a common man can understand it. Use of difficult words from Arabic (sic) and Farsi should be given up in this language” (“Urdu”, p 84). Is this a plea for democratisation of Urdu, or an effort to gradually obliterate, in practice, the specificity of Urdu? The truly socialist position surely would be that the people be given real access to the best education, so they can participate in the most complex discourse in their own language. Note that they are not asking Urdu writers to write simply, their demand is for the language i tself to be simplified!

Let us return to the idea of the Hindispeaking “mid-lands” and the non-Hindi speaking “coastal lands”. The most obvious case that defies this thesis is Punjabi – spoken in the heart of the “mid-land” by a very significant number of people. Lohia’s response is simple: he denies that Punjabi is an independent language at all:

I consider the Punjabi language as a style of Hindustani language. The language of the first Guru Nanak, and the last Guru, Teg Bahadur, was nearer the Avadhi and Braj styles of Hindi than the current Punjabi style…We must now consider this question unburdened by past prejudices and correct the mistake

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of our Constitution makers. Punjabi should be removed from the schedule of languages mentioned in the Constitution (“To Akalis and Punjabi Suba”, 1961: 63).

In the same year, the Socialist Party urged Master Tara Singh and the Akali Dal to “involve their own interests with the larger national interests and consider the language issue from a large point of view is adopted (sic). Punjabi is not different from the national language Hindi and is like Rajasthani, Magadhi, Avadhi, Brija, Bhojpuri etc” (p 112).

Ignore that Lohia got the name of the last Sikh guru wrong. Ignore also that in privileging khadi boli Hindi, this view is perilously close to the same official d iscourse around Hindi that it claims to challenge. But do note his complete disregard of the role that the Bhakti and Sufi movements played in the development of Indian languages.

Contrast this with the understanding put forward by Marxists, in particular E M S Namboodiripad (especially in The N ational Question in Kerala), whose centenary too falls this year. EMS saw the Bhakti movement as marking the formation of linguistic nationalities. Unlike in E urope, this was not the result of the emergence of a manufacturing bourgeoisie to a position of ascendancy, but rather of a mercantile and usurious bourgeoisie that had developed under the precapitalist system. Therefore, the Marxist support for linguistic states was not motivated by identity politics, nor was it opportunistic. It came out of the understanding that linguistic states were a vital part of the bourgeois revolution that the bourgeoisie itself was too scared to carry through to its logical end. (Let me also say that I am fully aware that EMS’ is not the only Marxist position on this question, and that there has been a vibrant debate on this question among Marxists.)

One final postscript: Yadav advised me to read Lohia’s book, and thereby hangs a tale quite worth telling.

I checked with several book distributors on Ansari Road, the heart of Delhi’s book business. All returned a blank. The Delhi Public Library, one of the four repository libraries in India, has Lohia’s Hindi Rachnavali, but not this book. I went

o nline. The site Dr Lohia Centenary


( has a list of “Dr Lohia’s Works”, but no electronic copies and no link to sellers. The Jawaharlal Nehru University library does not have the book. Neither do 13 central libraries of the University of Delhi, including the Ratan Tata Library of the Delhi School of Economics, the Central Reference Library and the Arts Library. I went to the house of Janeshwar Mishra, the senior socialist Member of Parliament, where Lohia’s literature is sold. No copy of Language. Could they procure it for me? No. Lohia’s little book was rapidly turning into a Pentagon memo – everyone knows it exists, no one knows where.



This should cause admirers of Lohia some concern. That the political inheritors of Lohia care two hoots for his books is scarcely surprising. Gandhi’s writings have suffered a similar fate. But there e xists a band of dedicated, selfless scholaractivists who, away from the glare of the media, have made it their life’s mission to keep Gandhi’s ideas in circulation. The left intellectuals that Yadav castigates expend more than a little time, effort, energy and passion on making available the ideas that they uphold, by running cultural groups, bringing out theoretical and literary journals, or keeping afloat publishing houses. It seems a bit rich, then, that Yadav regrets





-the “narrow-mindedness” of the left that “shrinks the intellectual resources available to radical cultural politics”. Hardly! Cultural resources shrink when those who lecture leftists do not put their money where their mouth is.


1 All cited essays are from Lohia’s Language (1986).


Lohia, Rammanohar (1986): Language (Hyderabad: Rammanohar Lohia Samata Vidyalaya Nyasa).

Namboodiripad, E M S (1952): The National Question in Kerala (Bombay: People’s Publishing House).

Yadav, Yogendra (2009): “Was Lohia Parochial and Monolingual?”, Economic and Political Weekly, 44(43): 70-71.







november 28, 2009 vol xliv no 48

Economic & Political Weekly

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