DU and the Hindi Hegemony

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It’s nearly impossible to imagine DU without Hindi, the language omnipresent in its classrooms, canteens and fests. But for students unfamiliar with it, its growing importance has dire consequences.

On 7th April 2022, Home Minister Amit Shah described Hindi as “the language of India” and encouraged people of different states, such as the seven North-Eastern ones, to use it to communicate with each other. He also noted with pride the adoption of Hindi as a compulsory language until Class 10 by all the North-Eastern states, the fact that 70% of the agenda of the Cabinet is now prepared in Hindi and, most egregiously, the agreement of nine tribal communities in the North East to change the script of their languages to Devanagari.

On the following day, 8th April, first-year students across DU who have not studied Hindi up to Class 10 gave an exam, the Compulsory Test for Hindi (CTH), that tested their knowledge of the language. It may seem absurd to compare an enormously influential politician’s speech to a college exam that isn’t paid much attention to, but for many CTH students, the imposition of the subject is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

DU is a central university, not a state university. That’s why colleges that aren’t specifically funded by the state government don’t have reservations for local students and the curriculum doesn’t focus on Delhi. The same argument should apply to the compulsory teaching of Hindi.

Swati, a student of Kirori Mal College

When the test was introduced in 2016, there was much protest from students of non-Hindi-speaking states, but this was ignored completely. Today, any student who has not studied the language up to Class 8 must pass it in order to receive a graduation degree from DU. A popular argument in its favour goes that the course will teach students the basic Hindi that is nearly essential for living in a city like Delhi. But a closer examination of the curriculum says otherwise.

The course doesn’t even teach us normal spoken language. It’s complex, written Hindi. We learnt an entire script, with all grammatical nuances included, in four months and now have to do complicated essays on places of historical importance. There isn’t even a spoken test and our teacher speaks to us in shuddh Hindi so we can understand barely 20% of what he says.

Kamalkoli Majumdar, second-year student at Miranda House

BA and BComm. Programme students at DU, too, are usually forced to study the language. While the official syllabi for the courses only require students to study any one modern Indian language, the vast majority of colleges only offer Hindi to students. Like in so many other cases, a facade of inclusivity is used to shield discriminatory practices from criticism.  The CTH paper is of far more consequence, here, because its marks are counted towards a student’s CGPA.

As a student from Kerela, we are not as comfortable with Hindi as we are with other subjects. For example, I studied Hindi till 12th so I need to choose Hindi Paper A which is the toughest one. Even students from a Hindi background find this paper tough, There should be an alternative to Hindi as the subject name itself suggests—Modern Indian Languages.

A BComm. student of Gargi College

This Hindi hegemony is, of course, not limited to formal academic situations. Consciously or otherwise, student groups often speak in Hindi or a mixture of Hindi and English that is equally unintelligible to students who don’t speak either language. Even groups that conduct formal proceedings in English switch to Hindi during more informal gatherings.

“People speak in Hindi in casual conversation quite a lot, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But I find it annoying, at best, and exclusionary, at worst, when even in spaces that are supposed to function in English or at least cater to everyone’s needs, like college societies, default to Hindi. I can choose another group of friends if one doesn’t accommodate my linguistic needs, but I can’t do the same with a college club, can I?” – a student of Lady Shri Ram College 

In colleges that are dominated by students from Delhi and other Hindi-speaking regions, the hegemony is far more obvious. It becomes nearly impossible for students who can’t speak the language to operate, let alone participate fully in college activities.

There is repeated intimidation of people whose command over the language is not strong and fluent and moreover there is a deep lack of non-Hindi speaking people in positions of power in student bodies. 

Anwesh Banerjee, a student of Ramjas College

These varied shades of Hindi imposition, formal and informal, subtle or overt, in all university spaces are not aberrations or coincidences. They are part of a much larger trend, the attempt to impose the language upon the entire population of India, to establish it not only as the official language, the raj bhasha, but also the national language, the rashtriya bhasha. It is not surprising at all that it has only been encouraged by the official sanction it has received from the highest political offices in the last half a decade, in particular.

Of course, the argument against the use of Hindi isn’t so cut and dry. Inevitably, the language to replace it will be English, which comes with its own colonial, elitist baggage. For every instance of a student facing academic or social discrimination due to their proficiency in Hindi, there is a similar story with Hindi swapped out for English. 

There is no simple solution to this, no easy switch that can be made. Instead, as with most other problems that are a natural consequence of India’s incredible diversity, striving for balance and inclusivity is the only way forward. Syllabi that so plainly disfavour a huge portion of the university’s students must be changed, immediately. But more importantly, every single one of us must attempt to accommodate all our peers, not just the ones that sound like us.

Read Also: Foreign Ties: a Conversation with an Exchange Student at DU

Featured Image Credits: The Swaddle

Shriya Ganguly                                                                                                                                                 [email protected]

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