ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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We Need to Talk about ‘Language’

The pro-Kannada, anti-Hindi protests witnessed in Karnataka in 2017 once again drew attention to the perpetual tussle for power among languages in India. A personal anecdote reflects on these power dynamics, as well as the politicisation of language in different contexts, and reveals language to be a mere plot device in the greater conflicts fought over the markers of Indian identity.

A wave of violence directed at language has engulfed Karnataka in recent times. In July 2017, the pro-Kannada group, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV) garnered thousands of supporters across the state to protest the inclusion of Hindi on nameplates in metro stations. This group went around defacing Hindi nameplates all over Bengaluru, and fuelled an anti-Hindi campaign on Twitter, targeting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the state for their sanction of Hindi, and threatened to stop paying taxes to the central government if Hindi is not removed from the public eye (DNA 2017).

The KRV seems to be following in the footsteps of the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)—regionalist, right-wing organisations based in Maharashtra—which claim to defend the sanctity of the Marathi language and culture and the rights of its people. In an attempt to intensify support, the KRV also extended its hand to former opponents such as the Tamil Nadu-based party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), with whom it has clashed in the past.1 A meeting hosted by KRV in Bengaluru was attended by representatives from non-Hindi-speaking states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal, among others, all of which have a history of hostility towards Hindi and its seemingly forceful and imposing presence (Ravi 2017). Some political and cultural groups in these states continue to oppose a three-language policy that gives equal official status to Hindi, English, and the regional language of the state, advocating instead for the primacy of the state language.

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Updated On : 28th Sep, 2018

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