A Point-By-Point Rebuttal of Mr. Hitesh Shankar’s Editorial in the Panchajanya

Mr. Shankar says those who oppose Hindi (imposition) are creating vaimanasya about Hindi – and I read it as difference of opinion about Hindi. If his point is that there was an existing opinion about Hindi which the anti-impositionists want changed, he’s absolutely right. Yes, we want to change what people are thinking about Hindi, because they’re thinking wrong. For example, they — and that includes Mr. Shankar — think Hindi is India’s national language (rashtrabhasha) but that’s incorrect, even unconstitutional. We want to fix this misunderstanding in people. Yes, we want to bring this vaimanasya about.

It was quite an effort for me to understand Mr. Hitesh Shankar’s editorial in the RSS’s Hindi-language mouthpiece panchajanya. I hadn’t read any Hindi in some twenty years. It’s a foreign language for me and some 65 million people around me, so I couldn’t exactly call up someone and ask what words like labaadaa or aguaa mean. With whatever Hindi I’ve been force-fed at school (as third language) and what I’ve managed to gratefully learn from my friends when I was at IIT Delhi, it took some ten hours for me to say ‘I think I know where this is going’.

Before I comment on where I think it’s going, I’d like to explain something obvious, viz., why this article is in English, another foreign language. I have to do this because I’m sure to get asked.

First, I’m writing in English because you’re reading this, and it’s you who I want to reach out to with this article. Even those who think it’s hypocritical to call Hindi foreign from within an English article are reading this. Second, if I write this only in my mother tongue, Kannada, I’ll lose 95% of my readership in India (Kannada speakers are roughly 5% in India). Third, if I write this in Hindi, you won’t (or rather can’t) read it: it’d be close to Greek to you. Is the train male or female? What about animals? Do they have gender? All of them? But let me still make an offer for anyone willing to publish a Hindi version of this article from me: just let me know. I’d love to take up the challenge on condition that publication is certain.

These are the facts. There’s close to four hundred years of history of English imposition on Kanandigas. It’s deeply entrenched in education and employment. Hindi imposition, unfortunately for Hindiwallahs like Mr. Shankar, is too recent. What’s worse, it’s being tried in a free country. Independence, as Mr. Shankar would tend to agree, has come.

Let me come to the editorial in question.

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Right off the bat, Mr. Shankar makes it clear that he cannot differentiate between Hindi imposition and Hindi. Non-Hindi speakers are opposed to the former, Mr. Shankar, not the latter. Why would anyone oppose Hindi, or Greek or Zulu or whatever? But come knocking on my door and tell me your language is more national or official than mine, and I oppose that with all my might. So my humble request to Mr. Shankar is that he should understand what non-Hindi speakers are opposed to. Not keep going on and on about what he thinks they oppose because it’s easier to tackle.

Mr. Shankar says those who oppose Hindi (from now on, I take it as those who oppose Hindi imposition) are creating vaimanasya about Hindi – and I read it as difference of opinion about Hindi. If his point is that there was an existing opinion about Hindi which the anti-impositionists want changed, he’s absolutely right. Yes, we want to change what people are thinking about Hindi, because they’re thinking wrong.

For example, they — and that includes Mr. Shankar — think Hindi is India’s national language (rashtrabhasha) but that’s incorrect, even unconstitutional. We want to fix this misunderstanding in people. Yes, we want to bring this vaimanasya about.

Next, Mr. Shankar’s thinks those who oppose Hindi imposition are proponents of English who want to make Indian languages fight amongst themselves and ensure that the position of rashtrabhasha is left empty. Both these allegations are false.

First, those who oppose Hindi imposition don’t do it to promote English. As a Kannadiga, I don’t even want to use a language other than Kannada. It’s India and its political and economic policies which force me to use another language.

If Kannadiga politics and economics didn’t have non-Kannadiga stake-holders like Mr. Shankar, I wouldn’t give a damn about any language other than Kannada. Yes, there’d even be IIT Dharwads which run entirely in Kannada. The foreign language I’m forced to use is English and not Hindi because, as I said earlier, it’s been imposed on my people for some three or four centuries more than Hindi.

Theoretically, it’s possible to convert Kannadigas like me over to Hindi with another three or four centuries of Hindi imposition. But theoretically, Kannadigas are not colonial subjects anymore.

Second, it’s outrageous to think that those who tweeted #StopHindiImposition want to make Indian languages fight with each other. In fact, those who tweeted that hashtag illustrated an idea of India which the RSS is alien to: Indians speaking multiple languages coming together without wiping off their own linguistic identities and, in fact, asking for linguistic equality.

I think it’s a pity that they had to come together for something negative such as “stop” this or that, but hey, how about “quit” as in Quit India?

Finally, even the allegation that anti Hindi-impositionists want the position of rashtrabhasha to be empty is wrong. No. They want every Indian language mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to take this position. Since wiping off diversity is central to the ideology of his school, Mr. Shankar speaks as if the question of language in India is a bipolar one involving only Hindi and English. But that is exactly what it isn’t from the point of view of the anti-impositionists. For them, the question is of every language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

*

Moving on, Mr. Shankar claims that the anti-impositionists are afraid of some strange power of Hindi. Which power? The power to bind India together (with one rope or whatever it is). Why are they afraid of this? Because they want to imprison (not bind) India using the chains (not rope) of the language of dependence, viz., English. Wow.

First of all, Hindi has no such power. It is this kind of Hindi chauvinism which is creating fights within India, not those who oppose it. Let me repeat this: Hindi is foreign to most of India. The Gujarat High Court recently made it very clear that Hindi is foreign in Gujarat. By induction, that applies to most of India. If Hindi continues to be imposed on non-Hindi people, that by itself has the power to destroy India. The more people like Mr. Shankar think Hindi can unite India, the more division actually happens on the ground.

Secondly, I’ve already made it clear that anti-impositionists use English not because they want to replace Hindi with English but because they want their language to get the same status as Hindi. They use English for the reasons that I’m writing this article in English (which I’ve already explained).

Also, Mr. Shankar’s metaphorical statement that anti-impositionists want to imprison India using the chains of the language of dependence, English, is a very serious allegation on them. Metaphors make the mind imagine. When those minds are allowed to imagine in only one direction, they imagine a lot of wrong things in that direction including, for example, that the anti-impositionists are funded by the Western Church. It’s so easy for numbed minds in Mr. Shankar’s audience to come to this utterly false conclusion. His metaphorical language hasn’t ruled it out.

*

Next, Mr. Shankar claims that English cannot fight with Hindi head on. That bloody language of General Dyer doesn’t have an iota of the courage. It’s kabaddi time now, so remember Bharat must win.

Here, of course, Mr. Shankar is on the right path inasmuch as some parts of North India, which speak Hindi, are concerned. It would be idiotic to think English can win the kabaddi match against Hindi there.

But Mr. Shankar displays the exact same idiocy when he talks as if he can cover all of India by mentioning one language, Hindi. No, Mr. Shankar, Hindi is not the language of all of India. If Hindi and English are the only two languages allowed to play the kabaddi match in (say) Karnataka, I’d even go to the extent of saying that Bhaiyya migrants in Bengaluru suffice to destroy English. But hello, who said only Hindi and English are allowed to play the match?

There’s this thing called Kannada, remember? If Kannada is allowed to play the match, which is what the anti-impositionists are campaigning for, farmers in Bidadi suffice to destroy English (and the Bhaiyyas would be happy to join in with the farmers, speaking in Kannada themselves).

But Mr. Shankar isn’t ideologically open to the possibility of Kannada attaining adolescence in Karnataka (or Tamil in Tamil Nadu, and so on) so he moves on to talk of how the language of those cowards who ruled us for three centuries, English, trembles in front of the “family of Indian languages whose aguaa is Hindi”. What’s an aguaa? I googled. According to The Telegraph of Kolkata, that means leader or patriarch. Nice on the swayamsevak’s ears, but outrageous in reality.

First of all, there isn’t one family of Indian languages. There are at least four: Indo Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic. Hindi sits in the Indo Aryan and my language, Kannada, in the Dravidian. We should really talk about families, not family.

But let’s relax the rules here a bit. Since families can be imagined across matrimonial lines in metaphorese, let me also use the term “family of Indian languages”. Okay, now what? How did this family suddenly get an aguaa called Hindi? With about three hundred years of history, Hindi is more like the bollywood-softporn-intoxicated new kid on the block compared to Kannada, Tamil, etc. Writing in these languages has a history of some one and a half thousand years. Now imagine speech. With such languages in India, how did Hindi become the aguaa? By the power of the imposer’s imagination, of course.

In reality, English trembles not in front of Mr. Shankar’s imagined aguaa but the multiple real aguaas already listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Needless to say, his next point that those who oppose his pet imagined aguaa want to divide “the Indian language family” by way of using English should now appear meaningless to the reader.

We don’t want to divide “the Indian language family”. We want to constitutionally uplift every member of that family to the status of rashtrabhasha where now an imagined aguaa sits after having entered it through the back door.

*

The metaphor thickens. Mr. Shankar moves on to point out that Hindi cannot become an opponent of Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, or Bengali. In which way? In exactly the same way as Ganga cannot become an opponent of Yamuna, Kaveri, Godavari, Narmada or Teesta.

Nice try, Mr. Shankar, but your metaphor is badly chosen. Rivers don’t oppose each other, of course, but rivers don’t flow into each other’s homes either. Given that your idea of India requires one particular language to flow into the home of every other language, you should’ve been more careful.

If the Ganga comes to Karnataka claiming it’s home, it’s a disaster Karnataka can’t recover from. You’re advocating for the Ganga of Hindi coming to Karnataka (it’s a disaster in progress) but do you realize that the Kaveri of Kannada isn’t welcome in Delhi? Do you realize that if this continues, Kannada will have no home? You might realize but not care because you think it’s a small price for Bharat Mata’s children to pay, but we don’t think like that. We think that idea of India which requires us to sacrifice our language must lose.

When you mess with the natural boundaries of languages, there’s opposition. You get mountains on the way. You get deserts, forests on the way. Every stone, every grain of sand, every thorn tells you to back off, but if one is blinded by a false ideology like that of Mr. Shankar, one tends to continue with brute force.

Continuing with the editorial, Mr. Shankar writes, redundantly, that there’s no hatred for her sister languages in “Hindi’s mind”. Needless to point out, the idea that languages have minds is mindless. It’s people who have minds, and it’s people who have the power to make one language take over its sisters’ homes and make them die a slow death.

And you know what, Hindi is spoken all over India. Suddenly. Just like that. To hell with the census and all that. Mr. Shankar just knows these things off the top of his topi. And this aguaa is so good to its sister languages that it happily borrows from — and this is his full list — Gujarati, Bengali, and Marathi. Even assuming it does, why should Kannadigas and Tamils feel happy if one foreign language borrows from three other? In fact, why should even Gujaratis, Bengalis and Marathis feel happy that Hindi uses words from their languages? Does that help their own languages grow, or does it help Mr. Shankar’s aguaa grow? Which one should they care for?

Now this generous-borrower aguaa, says Mr. Shankar, is very powerful. Bow, ye young men, power cometh. It’s so powerful that it’s beaten English black and blue when it comes to news, advertisements, market, politics, etc.

What Mr. Shankar conveniently stops short of mentioning is where. Where does Hindi beat English in these fields? In Karnataka? In Tamil Nadu? In Kerala? In West Bengal? In Gujarat? In Maharashtra? Aren’t these states part of India? Does Mr. Shankar have even a glimpse of ground realities in non-Hindi states? It’s surprising that such an empty narrative passes off as intelligent in the alma mater of the party running the central government today.

To set the record straight, let it be known to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that it’s Kannada in Karnataka, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Bengali in West Bengal, and so on, which beat English black and blue, not Hindi. The language of the common man is winning the kabaddi match against English in the states, but Mr. Shankar’s aguaa theory won’t change just because there’s data. In fact, he doesn’t seem to differentiate between “language of the common man” and Hindi. It’s a sort of blindness.

*

Now comes the policy guideline. If Hindi is so powerful, as you’ve already learnt by now, then why should anyone fear for it? Mr. Shankar answers his own question by returning to his two-language theory: we should fear because English still lurks in colonial institutions such as the judiciary. Therefore, says Mr. Shankar, the work in front of us is to get rid of English in all those colonial institutions and posit Hindi everywhere. Fine prescription except for the fact that the anti-impositionists want their languages to take English’s position in their respective states. Not another foreign language. Not again. Not in a free nation.

But of course, the plural in “languages” is antinational for Mr. Shankar. He didn’t salute the Sangh’s flag shaakhaa after shaakaa to talk plural. So he claims that the constitution had originally intended to end English’s career in India by replacing it with “the svabhaashaa” by 1965. The words in quotes, of course, mean “our own language”, and one tends to think that means “our own language”. But Mr. Shankar means Hindi. Yes, after all else has failed, Mr. Shankar seems to be left with no option but to simply inject the meaning “our own language” into the word Hindi. By just calling Hindi as the svabhaasha, he hopes it becomes that. If only it were that simple!

To set the record straight, the constitution had intended to use Hindi everywhere instead of English, no doubt, but it didn’t call Hindi everyone’s svabhaashaa. Not that the anti-impositionists agree with what the constitution wanted to do, though.

Finally, Mr. Shankar openly calls the anti-impositionists as anti-nationals who remain even 68 years after independence. They’re Britishers who must go, that is. These elements have to be identified and “the problem solved”, he says. Why? Because strengthening Hindi is strengthening India. In fact, other Indian languages (like Kannada) tremble in front of English but find solace in Hindi, so it’s all the more important to give Hindi a “place of pride” in policymaking.

I’m like: “Hello! In which world do you live?”

RSS Must Understand the ‘Foreign’ in ‘Foreign-Funded NGO’

The RSS it taking the right stance w.r.t. NGOs supported by foreign funds. It would be folly to think that foreign countries fund these organizations for purely humanitarian reasons. But there’s a catch. In a nation of foreigners, who is a foreigner and who isn’t?

The RSS is taking the right stance w.r.t. NGOs supported by foreign funds. It would be folly to think that foreign countries fund these organizations for purely humanitarian reasons.

But there’s a catch. In a nation of foreigners, who is a foreigner and who isn’t?

The Gujarat High Court has famously, and correctly, declared Hindi as a foreign language in Gujarat.

The obvious corollary to this is that Hindi speakers are foreigners in Gujarat.

The next obvious corollary is that the speakers of every language are foreigners in states other than those to which that language is native. Because, you see, Hindi and Gujarat aren’t special in any way.

In most cases, this means a person from one Indian state is a foreigner in another. That includes the Prime Minister, the President, everyone.

They’re all Indians, of course, but they’re still foreigners in states which speak a language that’s not theirs. This appears like a dilution of the word foreign, but we’ll have to live with it. India is not a typical nation anyway.

Returning to the question of NGOs, if one extends the RSS’s argument, no NGO must operate in more than one Indian state. One such NGO that must go is the RSS itself.

Finally, why should we consider a trans-state GO (governmental organization) sacrosanct? After all, making a mistake legal (by removing the N in NGO) doesn’t make it a non-mistake.

I mean, foreigners are foreigners irrespective of the means of transport they take to arrive at the port of entry. It’s immaterial whether they take an NGO-ship or a GO-plane.

What am I suggesting? Just this: we must take state autonomy seriously. Every Indian must take state autonomy seriously.

Not to mention, even the RSS must take state autonomy seriously. Their own arguments, taken in conjunction with the Indian Judiciary’s understanding of what’s foreign and what’s not, lead to this conclusion.

India’s states are equivalent to full-fledged nations elsewhere in the world. The way to keep India strong and united is to treat the states as autonomous entities having come together for a common purpose.

That’s not the historical background of India, but that’s the way we need to think moving forward.

Why Mohan Bhagwat is both right and wrong about Mother Teresa

Of course, Mother Teresa’s objective in doing charity work was conversion to Christianity, and I don’t think she would have considered it something shameful or worth hiding. She might not have done or presided over any conversions herself as her organization in Kolkata, Missionaries of Charity, has clarified, but that’s beside the point.

On February 23rd, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat reportedly said the following at Apna Ghar, a charity and service organization in Bharatpur, Rajasthan:

Here we will not provide service like that rendered by Mother Teresa. It is possible that her kind of work was good but there was a motive behind that service. It was to convert those she served to Christianity. Someone wants to convert others to Christianity, that is another thing, but to do it under the garb of social service is to devalue that service. Here, nothing like that will happen. In our country, social service is done like this, selflessly, completely selflessly.

Political parties and commentators opposed to the Sangh Parivar have unanimously criticized him for this. There are very few points on which I tend to agree with the RSS, but that doesn’t require me to reject everything he has said here.

Of course, Mother Teresa’s objective in doing charity work was conversion to Christianity, and I don’t think she would have considered it something shameful or worth hiding. She might not have done or presided over any conversions herself as her organization in Kolkata, Missionaries of Charity, has clarified, but that’s beside the point.

To suggest that Mother Teresa has nothing to do with the spread of Christianity in India is to suggest that Warren Anderson of Union Carbide had nothing to do with the Bhopal disaster. “Look, he didn’t let the gas out with his own hands!” – is that even an argument?

I see Mr. Bhagwat’s criticism to be directed against the entire Christian religion which openly uses charity as a delivery system for the Christian faith. Both Christians and non-Christians know it, and the Constitution of India allows it. In fact, except in situations like this one involving Mother Teresa, Christians are quite proud of conversions via charity. And, for someone like me (and Mr. Bhagwat) who doesn’t think Christianity must spread in India, charitable work indeed loses its sheen if it comes with the baggage of conversions.

Let me end with where I don’t agree with Mr. Bhagwat. It is in his last sentence where he says Hindus (that’s what he means by ‘in our country’) do social service “completely selflessly”.

I must remind Mr. Bhagwat that not enough of social service happens in our country to begin with. In fact, we Hindus have an entire system of alienating those capable of service from those who need it, which invites the Mother Teresas of the world in the first place. It’s called the caste system, and its effect is being amplified by the idea of India which your organization spreads, Mr. Bhagwat.

Also, most Hindu social service organizations in India hope to convince Hindus, themselves included, that even they can do what the Christians do. “Even we can take care of the sick, even we can give free education to the underprivileged” is the cry of these latecomers. And why do they do that? It’s not selflessness, Mr. Bhagwat, but a clear sense of self and a fear of losing it.

I’m not saying it’s wrong or that we Hindus shouldn’t do it. I’m saying we should do more of it, and also work to get rid of overall Pyramid of Corruption which associates purity and impurity, superiority and inferiority, to everything we can think of: people, languages, you name it. It’s time your organization, the RSS, stops defending and implementing it.

[First Published: IBNLive February 25, 2015 at 11:58AM, http://ift.tt/1BRqYis ]

How not to sell the Vedas

‘Pride is the fuel,’ says Amish Tripathi, ‘that will help us build our nation’ (Vedic learning is no one’s preserve, everyone’s pride, Times of India, 21 Sept 2014). And what does any right-thinking status-quo-ist do when such is the assumption and a nation is given? He looks for an object of pride and hard-sells it. Tripathi sells the Vedas, asserting that all Indians must take pride in them. Why exactly should we do that? He cannot possibly say ‘because we have to build our nation’ – the object of pride must have independent validity – so he goes on to argue that it’s because ‘all groups in the subcontinent today have descended from the ancient Vedic people.’

What exactly do the geneticists say? In a 2013 study titled Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, Priya Moorjani et. al. argue that most Indian groups descend from a mixture of so-called Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral South Indians (ANI and ASI, which Tripathi mentions). Notably, the authors describe these groups as ‘genetically divergent populations’. The first group is ‘related to Central Asians, Middle Easterners, Caucasians and Europeans’ and the second is ‘not closely related to groups outside the subcontinent.’ In other words, there is no walking away from the possibility of the Ancestral South Indians having played hosts to the Ancestral North Indians before intermingling began (from 1,900 to 4,200 years ago according to the same paper).

Tripathi must not have seen much nation-building fuel in mentioning this genetic divergence. He goes on only to say that ‘these groups have inhabited the subcontinent for at least 6,000 years, if not more, heavily intermingling in the ancient past’ (I don’t even want to get into the usual blaming of Germans and Britishers for divide-and-rule). Well, inhabit they could have, but as one group? No. Groups that intermingle ‘heavily’ or otherwise must have been isolated from one another before the intermingling began: it’s commonsense. Moorjani suspects – yes, that word – that ‘the two groups lived side-by-side for centuries without intermarrying’ prior to 4,200 years ago. Tripathi doesn’t want us to read all this in history – glossing over any sort of plurality is the way to go.

Also, Tripathi should be more worried about the shift away from any sort of mingling in the last 1,900 years. According to Moorjani, mixture ‘even between closely related groups became rare because of a shift to endogamy’ – i.e., the caste-system arose – which the Vedic heritage we all must take pride in didn’t do much to discourage. This finds no mention in his article quite possibly because it isn’t good enough fuel, the pontification in the beginning paragraph of his essay notwithstanding.

Even less nation-building fuel there is in seeking the reasons for India’s linguistic diversity. While the novelist can cast his characters such that his prejudice ‘holds true across religions, languages, castes and even national boundaries’, the fact remains that Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages are quite distinct from each other. The Europeans didn’t invent them; they discovered them. This crucial fact, too, finds no mention in Tripathi’s article.

I haven’t seen a study directly linking this North-South linguistic difference with the genetic difference between ANI and ASI, but commonsense suggests that a link must exist. What sort of commonsense? Just this: that the ancestors of people who speak unrelated languages today must not have intermingled – at least not significantly. No such commonsense is visible in Tripathi’s article. In fact, linguistics, where differences are crystal clear, is very bad nation-building fuel for BJP/RSS types in general. It fuels a completely different kind of nation – one which they hate to imagine. So let’s ensure that objective guides research and findings.

Even if, for argument’s sake, one could successfully trace every Indian to some sort of Rashtriya Adam and Eve – one just needs sufficient pride – it doesn’t follow that we must consider everything the couple did with pride. Some of the greatest sons of India have rebelled against the Vedas. The Buddha in the North and Basavanna in the South are but two examples. No number of opinion pieces convinced them to take pride in the Vedas, let alone those that could have stemmed from political agendas. In fact, this whole idea that we ought to respect that which has been handed down to us from history is irrational and an affront to India’s overall spiritual heritage, though certainly part of Vedic heritage. There, you begin and end with pride – at least of late.

All said and done, there is no doubt in my mind that the Upanishads – which are considered part of the Vedas – are the greatest treasure trove of spiritual wisdom in the world, surpassing that of all other religions. Those who wish to sell them need only to place them before the reader in his or her own language; they cannot but attract the spiritually inclined. One doesn’t need to prove, hopelessly, that the Jilebi was a delicacy eaten by ancient Indians everywhere eons ago in order to attract people who might eat it today. Bring a hot, fresh and tasty one if you have what it takes to prepare it, and mouths will water. What a hopeless exercise it is to bring one’s political biases to the argument that we should study the Vedas! The more the Vedas and Upanishads are considered nation-building fuel, the more shall they become the objects of hate, for the very nature of nation-building is to impose one worldview and cut off other shades of opinion.

First Published: IBNLIVE, 23-09-2014