ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Language Issue in Constituent Assembly Debates

The issue of the national language was one of the most contentious and passionately debated ones by members of the Constituent Assembly. The significance of this debate lies in the way the members imagined India as a nation, articulated regional and linguistic identities, and sought to build unity of purpose to lay the foundations of modern India. The debates revealed a divide between North and South India, and took on communal undertones too. The eventual choice of Hindi could be pushed through due to the numerical strength of the supporters of the language. This paper will unravel the varying standpoints of participants in this debate.

Emerging Scholarship on Vernacular Languages in Early Modern North India: A Conversation with Imre Bangha

For historians and scholars of Indian languages, literature, and culture, the period between 1500 and 1800 CE has emerged as an exciting field. Approached from the theoretical perspectives of early modernity, this period offers spectacular insights and narratives of unprecedented changes in social, political, and intellectual life. The rise of regional and vernacular languages, the formation of their distinct identities, and their transformation into languages of literary production remains an exceptional feature of this period. Scholars working with the archives of regional languages have come up with interesting and thought-provoking observations on the relations between language and political culture. Facilitated by discoveries of wide-ranging archives of literary and other forms of cultural production, scholars of early modern India highlight the fluidity in identity formation and absorbent culture that mark the social and political life of this period. New insights emerging from these fields have also persuasively helped revise the established understanding of medieval India based on the historical constructions in the 19th and 20th centuries. The historians working with vernacular language archives employ methods of intellectual history and philology to make significant contributions to the field. They offer tangible textual evidence on changes in languages and literary cultures vis-à-vis social and political life. Imre Bangha, a scholar of early modern vernacular literary culture in northern India, has been instrumental in bringing back questions of language and identity formation in early modern vernacular languages, while also throwing new light on these issues. Currently, Bangha teaches Hindi at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, combines rigorous philological analysis of texts (based on a close reading of extant manuscripts and their variations) and a nuanced approach to the social history of languages and scripts. His work has contributed to pushing the boundaries of early modern studies of languages and literature of northern India. In the process, he has sought to revise widely held views on Hindi literary historiography. He has published critical editions and translations of the works of some of the little-known yet important literary figures from the early modern period, such as Ānandghan (It’s a City-Showman’s Show! Transcendental Songs of Ānandghan with R C C Fynes, Penguin India, 2013) and Ṭhākur (Scorpion in the Hand: Brajbhāṣā Court Poetry from Central India around 1800: A critical edition of Ṭhākur’s Kabittas, Manohar, New Delhi, 2014). He has also authored several important articles on these topics and writers. He is currently working towards publishing similar editions of the works of Bājīd, a 16th-century poet and theologian of Rajasthan; the Awadhi poet Tulsidās best known for Rāmćarit-mānas; and Viṣṇudās, a 15th-century court poet and among the earliest Brajbhasha poets from Gwalior. He is also working on two monographs: one, a history of the emergence of the Hindi literary tradition; and two, an account of Hindustani before modern Hindi and Urdu.

Hindi Imposition: Examining Gandhi’s Views on Common Language for India

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement on making Hindi as a unifying language for the country had stirred up a fresh controversy on the issue of a “single” language. In his tweet, the minister appealed to Indians to work towards making Gandhi and Patel’s dream of one language came true. But, such an assertion about Gandhi is not fully correct. Though he wanted a common language for the country, but that language was Hindustani written in Devanagari and Persian script. The present-day Hindi, however, is markedly different from Hindustani, the admixture of Hindi and Urdu, which Gandhi had advocated.

Western Influences in ‘Agyeya’s’ Shekhar Ek Jeevani

S H Vatsyayan “Agyeya,” a pioneer in introducing modern sensibility to post-Chhayawadi Hindi literature, is heavily influenced by Western literary aesthetics, fiction, poetry, and ideology. In his first and most famous novel Shekhar Ek Jeevani (Shekhar: A Biography) the influence of the West is sufficiently evident. The shades, contradictions, and enrichment that is born from this literary union are explored. Also examined is whether the influence of the West on Agyeya leads to assimilation into the mainstream Hindi novel writing, or if this venture by the author leads to a separate/parallel stream created by subverting the former.

Breaking the Chaturvarna System of Languages

The Indian language policy is informed by a pull towards unilingual identity, inspired by the European model of nation state that is predicated on the homogeneity of its people. Language hegemony works at two tiers in India—at the state and the centre. The Constitution fails to pay more than lip service to the linguistic plurality and multilingual ethos of the peoples of India and has created a chaturvarna (four-tier order) of languages, with Sanskrit, Hindi, the scheduled, and the non-scheduled languages occupying various rungs of the ladder. English—the language of the conquerors—being outside the chaturvarna system has emancipatory potential.

Gender Agenda

In grammatical terms there is no gender system in English, as with many other languages like Bangla, Turkish, Korean and Thai--but unlike Hindi, which boasts grammatical gender in all its glory.

The Locations of Hindi

Hindi Nationalism by Alok Rai , Tracts for the Times 13, Orient Longman, Delhi, 2000; pp 138, Rs 150.

Politics of Language

Once a language patronised by the nawabs, Urdu saw a consistent decline in patronage and support. This paper traces its decline, from the era of divisive colonial politics to the decades after independence, when the language became a victim of an increasingly communalised political arena in UP. It also attempts to unravel the paradox that is Urdu today - a language spoken mainly 'at home' in UP; in western India and in West Bengal, instruction in Urdu has in recent years seen a growing popularity.

Reflections on Teaching Urdu in Germany

Although Urdu is taught in German universities, students who opt for it are only those who want to embark on historical studies. To a scholar wanting to study India a knowledge of Urdu is of practically no importance. The concept of Urdu as primarily or even exclusively a literary language, a language of love poetry, of refinement and elegance causes much damage to the way Urdu instruction is designed. It also helps in trivialising Urdu literature, particularly ghazal and qawwali. Urdu needs to be projected as a modern language.

Urdu in UP

Since independence, Urdu has seen a rapid decline. Initially the decline was largely fomented by the adherents of Hindi and opportunistic leaders of the Muslim community. The cause of Urdu had even been well championed by the likes of Zakir Hussain and I K Gujral, but once in power such well intentions invariably ran aground. At present, besides an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by the Hindi sahitya sammelan against the UP government's 1989 amendment granting Urdu the status of official second language, there are more than 16 petitions filed in the high court that seek to challenge the status accorded to Urdu.

Consequences of Hindi as Official Language: Language and Indian Unity

What are the consequences of Hindi as the official language and the demotion of English to an associate status? In the short term and in the long run? Both have to be carefully considered with special regard to (a) the steps and the manner of transition from short to long; (b) conduct of the administration in the States and the Centre; (c) political, economic and cultural integration of the country. From this will emerge an image of Indian unity which may well be radically different from the one that is in the public mind, i e, if there is only one such and not a multitude.
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