Guest post by AYESHA KIDWAI
Happy International Mother Language Day. This day, declared by UNESCO, is straight up South Asia’s alley as it celebrates linguistic diversity and multilingualism. In other words, it celebrates each Indian.
Here’s what you can do from now on to celebrate it:
1. Resist Hindi imposition. An official language is not the national language. Persian was the language of administration for close to three hundred years, Sanskrit has been the language of knowledge for close to two thousand years, but neither were the only languages in the room. And we know what happened to those languages over time.
2. Defend diversity: Understand that, as in nature, numerical strength is not might (e.g., there may be more cockroaches in the world than humans), so if you belong to a large group of people, then this doesn’t mean that your language is better and more representative of the ‘heart and soul’ of ‘Indianness’. In India, literally hundreds of languages with populations ranging between 500 to 10,000 have flourished (many reported over all the Census) because
(a) mothers and fathers speak the language to their children in their homes beyond their school years, and
(b) the Indian state and the society we created, does not believe that anyone has the right to tell you what to speak in your home and communities. Please defend these rights by not telling parents who don’t speak Hindi or English to their children to start doing so and by actually asking the people you meet what the name of their language is.
3. Stop being gatekeepers: Misplaced anxiety about linguistic diversity can take the form of labelling certain languages as ‘killer’ languages. The liberal anxiety results in a museum approach by which one seeks to preserve minority languages by making sure that the community functions only in that language, protected from killer languages like English. All such experiments have failed. Minority languages thrive in multilingual environments quite perfectly, and everyone has the right to learn ‘prestigious’ languages like English and Hindi and Tamil and Bangla, and …. What is needed is resource creation in the mother tongue that enables the learning of these prestigious languages.
4. Speak all your languages today and every day — we are the children of many mothers!
5. Don’t vote BJP/RSS. They have a tendency to invade your home and kill.