Though Part XVII of the Constitution does not mention a ‘National Language’, South India hit the streets in protest against language nationalism that seeks to make Hindi compulsory in the curriculum. Underneath all this, a love for other languages is also blooming.
Language Becomes a Bridge
In spite of historical language agitations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which perceived Hindi as a Northern imposition, 24-year-old Bengali teacher Baishaki Sardar found that alien language is not a barrier, but a bridge to a better life.
She had moved from Kolkata to Karur with husband Sujith who works in a mosquito net-making unit as a machine operator. The place has a large migrant worker population. To ensure the learning security of migrant children, government schools in the state offer them the opportunity to learn a third language.
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Baishaki was hired by one such school in Sanapiratti to teach Bengali at a monthly salary of Rs 6,000. “We arranged for books to be brought from West Bengal. I teach science, social sciences and mathematics in Bengali, prepare question papers and also conduct the exams in the same language,” she explains.
Forty-five of her 59 students are learning Bengali. But it doesn’t mean schoolchildren are linguistically sequestered. “My daughter studies in the same school and knows Tamil better than me. I am trying to learn from her,” says Baishaki.
Words that Draw
Urdu, once the courtly language of the Mughal Empire and the parlance of poets, is fast becoming extinct. But Hyderabad’s Urdu calligrapher Mohammed Abdul Gaffar is fighting the decline with calligraphy.
“Calligraphy teaches patience. It fills the mind with peace and helps in developing personality,” says Gaffar. He teaches at the Idara-e-Adabiyat-e-Urdu, India’s oldest Urdu calligraphy school established in 1938, under the patronage of Nizam Osman Ali Khan Bahadur.
Gaffar is responsible for the inclusion of Urdu calligraphy in united Andhra Pradesh’s government school curriculum. He has also fought to make Urdu Telangana’s second official language, and include calligraphy in the curriculum. But the state is yet to implement its own order.
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“This is denying teaching jobs to many,” says Gaffar, who started off as a teacher in his own alma mater 22 years ago earning a paltry Rs 60, which has gone up to Rs 9,000 now.
Heart in Hindi
K Keshavan Nair is a veteran champion of Hindi in Kerala. Born in 1930 in Attingal and a Hindi pracharak since 1945, he developed a love for the language in the 1940s when he was a student in Travancore.
The Independence movement was at its peak and Hindi was the best medium to understand North Indian Independence leaders. Some of Nair’s teachers who had learned the language saw it as an instrument to unite India and gave their students, including Nair, Hindi lessons.
By the time he was 16, he had become a vocal champion of Hindi. After Independence, Nair set up a modest ‘Hindi Vidyalay’ at Attingal. Today it is one of the most sought-after centres to learn the language where hundreds of youngsters attend classes.
As a 20-year-old teacher in a government primary school in Kanyakumari in the early 1950s, he had faced the wrath of both anti-Hindi agitators and anti-Malayali protests.
“While I was teaching in Tamil Nadu, I realised that the anti-Hindi agitation was not a people’s movement but was fuelled by politicians for narrow gains. Previously language was a strong unifying force. Now it is a dividing tool,” he rues.
His three-volume work Manak Lipi (Standard Script) is for beginners to get an easy grip over Hindi.