Saffronisation : Imposition of Hindi and Beyond!


“Unity in diversity” is one phrase which can be found in every book on Indian history. But if one tries to see if the spirit of such a phrase being followed in reality there would be only disappointment. Time and again there have been attempts to create uniformity and any talk of diverse cultures and devolution of power to the states is perceived as the threat to the unity of the nation by the upper caste ruling class of the nation.

Since 1967 when the Anti-Hindi riots shook the southern part of India the center has been wary of pursuing this both in fear of backlash and also because the coalition politics that has not allowed any stern action on the cultural front. The center has hitherto restricted itself to token events like celebrating Hindi Nivas on September 14th every year, the day when Hindi was adopted as the official language of the union in 1949. Though the constitution does not refer to Hindi as the national language and there are court rulings to support the same the term official language and national language have been always used interchangeably.

sanskit policySanskritization Agenda 

2014 saw BJP rising to power as the single largest party with absolute majority in the Parlimentary elections. One of the glaring aspects of the present central government is the vigor with which it pursues the imposition of Hindi and Sanskrit from day one.

The Ministers and MPs of the BJP all took oath in Hindi and some of them in Sanskrit. Modi announced that he would converse with the foreign leaders only in Hindi and not in English. He even spoke in the UN general assembly in Hindi and not in his mother tongue Gujarati. The government pages in social media were asked to operate in Hindi. The CBSE directed all its affiliated schools to celebrate Sanskrit Week. The government advertisement in the news papers were all given in Hindi. The students of JNU were given forms printed only in Hindi. Teachers day was renamed “Guru Utsav” and Modi delivered an hour long speech in Hindi that was telecasted in schools all over India. The universities were sent circulars to teach English and Hindi as main subjects at graduation levels. The regional radio stations were ordered to re-broadcast the Hindi content for four hours each day. And in the latest order the government has scrapped then German courses in all the Kendriya Vidhyalaya schools in the present academic year itself and replaced them with Sanskrit.

Historians have time and again insisted that Sanskrit was never a spoken language of the masses but it was the language of the elite. Then why impose Sanskrit? One can easily fall prey to the arguments put forth by the ruling upper caste of the nation for the importance it bestows to Sanskrit and Sanksritized Hindi in the name of a Common Language for all Indians, Richness and antiquity of the languages. Only when we look beyond such rhetoric’s and view the role Sanskrit has played in the social perspective we can understand the continuing irk of the Brahminical forces to impose Sanskrit and Sanskirtized Hindi on the common masses.

Vedas and Sanskrit, the language in which the Vedas are written have been the possession of the Upper castes who had a nearly uninterrupted hegemony for over a millennium in the Indian subcontinent. The majority of the population, who were classified as the Sudras or the lower castes did not have any right to hear the recitation of the Vedas, let alone to study it. Sanskrit was not mere a language but an instrument of hegemony. With the absolute control of the Vedas and Sanskrit the Brahminical class retained the temples and the powers that flowed from it.

With the rise of modern institutions under colonialism the upper castes migrated towards the new bureaucratic power centers. Orientalists like Max Muller who studied Sanskrit and the Vedic texts regarded them the root of the Western civilization and Sanskrit was pronounced the mother of all European languages. The Brahmicial class and the upper castes got an endorsement to their cultural superiority under the new system. This cultural superiority along with the Aryan supremacy ideology formed a deadly cocktail which served as a back bone of Hindutva Ideology.

The Sanskrit project was from then an integral part of the Hindutva cultural nationalism agenda which aims to create a Hindu Rashtra, the very anti-thesis of a multicultural India. RSS ideologue Golwalkar defines Hindu Rashtra in his book “We or our nationhood redefined” as follows:

“in this country, Hindusthan, the Hindu Race, with its Hindu Religion, Hindu culture and Hindu language (the natural family of Sanskrit and her offsprings) complete the Nation concept, that in fine, in Hindusthan exists and must need exist the ancient Hindu nation and naught else but the Hindu Nation. All those not belonging to the national i.e. Hindu Race, Religion, Culture and language, naturally fall out of the pale of real ‘National life’”.

Even the Indian constitution is an embodiment of such a brahminical world view. The constitution which designated Hindi as one of the official languages defined the directives for the development of Hindi in Article 351 as follows:

It may be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of hindi and to develop the language so as to serve as a medium of expression of all, the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius the forms style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India and drawing wherever necessary or desirable, primarily from Sanskrit and secondarily from any other languages.

The constituent assembly debates surrounding the adoption of Hindi is interesting in itself for it throws light on the attitude of the ruling class towards the not just the other linguistic nationalities but also against the Muslims. The need for a common language has always been on the policy chart of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi proposed to use Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu that is spoken by the masses in the northern part of India, associated with Devanagiri and Persian script as the national language. But the partition of British India into India and Pakistan gave an excuse for the Hindu Ruling elite to drop Urdu. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, who is being revered for his democratic nature was a party to the folly. On Sep 14,1949 Jawaharlal Nehru which speaking on the Article dealing with Official language of the union commented:

“we wish to see Hindi not only as the official language, but we wish to see it evolving, developing, gaining the hearts of all our people to such an extent that from an official language, it may become a truly national language”

The voice against the imposition of Hindi and Sanskrit has sternly arisen from Tamil Nadu which saw two main anti-hindi agitations in the past. It was the anti-hindi agitations in the 1965 that stopped the removal of English as a official language and adoption of single official language Hindi. States like Karnataka and Maharashtra that saw anti Hindi/Sanskrit agitation and spoke of the regional language pride, have come to accept the supremacy of Sanskrit and their cause for their mother tongue finds expression in the chauvinism against the minorities. The Anti Hindi sentiment is preserved to large extent in Tamil Nadu owing to the Dravidian movement which had its roots not just at the cultural level but also to the socio-economic base.

Associated with Sanskrit often comes the notion of purity, a cultural extension of brahminical notions of ‘purity’,’pollution’ and untouchability in the caste framework. Sri Vishwesha Teertharu the current pontiff of Pejawar matt while speaking in the inaugural ceremony of Samskrit Bharati declaimed “if we mix English with any of the Indian language it is called a mix language and not a pure language. But if Samskrit is mixed with any Indian language, the regional language will be called Sadhu Bhasha i.e pure language.” Kannada novelist S.L. Bhyrappa openly commented that “Unless Sanskrit is learnt, writing pure Kannada will not be possible”. In a state where anti-sanskrit agitation rocked the entire establishment in 1980s, there is currently no stong voice against such notions of purity.

Even the Sangh’s proposition of “every language is our national language” flows from the idea of supremacy of Sanskrit. Golwalkar in his book “Bunch of thoughts” puts down the maxim as:

”In fact all our languages, whether Tamil or Bengali, Marathi or Punjabi are our national languages. All these languages and dialects are like so many flowers shedding the same rich fragrance of our national culture. The source of inspiration for all these has been the queen of languages, the language of gods-Sanskrit.”

Yes! All languages are equal. But Sanskrit is more equal than others! That’s the Sangh’s dictum. But the BJP and the Sangh do not fail to pay lip service in praise of other languages. The latest gimmick is by Tarun Vijay, a BJP MP who spoke in praise of the Tamil Language and supporting the demand of Tamils to allow the use of Tamil in High court. The Tamil organization jumped in to shower praises on him and a felicitation ceremony was organized in Tamil Nadu for his speech in the parliament. Ironically two days before the ceremony he wrote an article in Times of India describing the need for Sanskrit and went to the extent of saying “Sanskrit is India”. But nothing stopped the Tamil organizations from praising him.

Rewriting HistoryRewriting History

The RSS and Sangh’s agenda for cultural nationalism doesn’t stop here. Rewriting history in harmony with the Hindutva world view is a part and parcel of the “Ram Rajya”. Any view that criticizes the Brahminical order or caste system is dubbed as Marxist and demonized. References for every modern scientific invention, according to them can be found in the Puranas. Vedas are the supreme knowledge, from aerodynamics to quantum physics there was nothing that the Vedic Hindus did not know, they want us to believe. Hinduism is scientific which distinguishes it from other dogmatic religions, they want us to be proud about it. The latest is the comment by none other than Indian prime minister who said that Indians knew Genetic engineering, the proof being Karna born out of his mother’s womb. BJP president Rajnath singh went a step further that Heisenberg based his uncertainty principle on the information found in Vedas. It won’t be surprising that in the future these could actually become part of school curriculum and be branded science.

In the states like Karnataka where it has ruled, the BJP government has attempted at saffronisation of text books. After all it was the Vajpayee government which introduced Vedic astrology as a course in Indian universities. Narendra Modi government has appointed Sudharsan Rao, who was heading the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, a sangh parivar organization as the Chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). Besides glorifying the caste system he has called for “Indianising history writing” which according to him has been hitherto dominated by Marxists and ideas of Christian Ideology.

Development or HIndutvaDevelopment or Hindutva?

The BJP projected itself as a party committed to the development of the nation and consciously shed its image as a Hindu revivalist party with archaic ideas like Ayodhya Ram Temple to appeal the middle class urban voters who were tired of the sinking Indian economy and the corrupt political class. “Toilets first, temples later” was Modi’s rhetoric during election campaign. But once in power the BJP has embarked on the path of saffronisation. Also it has consciously worked to expand its base from the traditional “Brahmin Baniya” to OBCs and Dalits. Modi was cautiously projected as person belonging to the backward class category. Mobilisations based on Caste and religion was the social experiment in Uttar Pradesh that paid them huge dividends in the 2014 elections.

With a strong central government the Sangh is venturing to expand its cadre base and build a mass movement based on ‘Hindu Untiy’. The mass movement is not towards solving any of contradictions in the society but to try to meet the Sangh’s goals. All the problems that society faces are due to lack of unity and because of the outsiders viz., Muslims, Christians and Communists. In “Bunch of thoughts” Golwalkar writes as follows:

“There are some who feel that the growth of Communism is inevitable so long as economic disparity persists. But the fact is, economic disparity is not the real cause for mutual hatred on which the Communists thrive. The idea of dignity of labour is not properly imbibed by our people. For example, a rikshawala who makes a daily earning of 3 to 4 rupees is addressed as a ‘fellow’ and a clerk getting but Rs. 60 a month is addressed as ‘Babuji’. It is this disparity in outlook in all walks of our life which creates hatred. This is a recent perversion that has entered our life. In our philosophy, there is no distinction of high or low in one’s karma, i.e., duty. Every work is the worship of the same Almighty in the form of society. This spirit has to be revived once again.”

This is a dominant thought process among the Sangh even today. Narendra Modi in his book Karmayog writes:

“I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after gene-ration…. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”

While capitalism may not necessarily engender all of the hegemonic aspirations of the Indian upper caste elite. RSS and its new age gurus have created cocktail of the karma philosophy and capitalism and created an Indian version of “karma capitalism”. Whatever the Sangh is trying to do would be against the genuine democratic aspirations of the working people. Nothing short of a mass movement based on working class consciousness against capitalism can effectively counter this saffronisation of the Sangh!

Arun Kaliraja