Bengaluru: In a first-of-its-kind simultaneous offline and online movements Tuesday, Kannada organisations in Karnataka protested against ‘Hindi Diwas’ celebrations in the state. While the organisations launched a 12-hour Twitter campaign, physical agitations were held at over 200 spots across the state.
The campaign by pro-Kannada organisations was led by the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), a people’s forum to “protect identity, rights, and welfare of Kannada and Karnataka”, and was aimed at the BJP-led Union government’s “push” for Hindi — a move the protestors termed to be discriminatory to other Indian languages.
Members of the KRV protested outside centralised banks, demanding services in Kannada, including that the bank documents that are currently predominantly printed in English and Hindi, be also made available in Kannada.
“We have submitted petitions to bank managers as well as our MLAs, MPs demanding service in Kannada. We will continue the campaign for a week and urge MPs to raise the matter in Parliament. Our demand is to recognise Kannada too as an official language (in the state),” Arun Javagal, organising secretary, KRV told The Print.
Hindi Diwas is celebrated on 14 September every year.
While protests against the Centre’s Hindi push is not new in Karnataka, the extent of political and social support received by Tuesday’s protest is rare, and got backing from political parties and the Kannada film industry, among others.
“We have been opposing Hindi promotion and imposition in various forms — whether via Hindi Diwas, bank entrance exams, highway, and metro signage etc — for 15 years now, but we have managed to gain momentum only in the past few years and now people are coming to realise how the non-Hindi speaking are disadvantaged when Hindi is promoted,” Ganesh Chetan, a linguistic equality activist, told The Print.
On social media, those in support of Tuesday’s campaign tweeted with hashtags such as #SayNoToHindiImposition, #StopHindiImposition, #HindiHerikeBeda, #StopHindiImperialism and called for linguistic equality. The trend founded supporters among non-Kannada speakers as well.
Meanwhile, though the Karnataka government claimed to be against the imposition of Hindi in the state, it said the agitation against the celebration of Hindi Diwas was unnecessary.
“(Promoting) Kannada language is the priority of our government but it isn’t our culture to hate another language. Injustice should not be meted out to Kannada in the process of imposing other languages. We are a multicultural country. We will respect all languages,” Minister for Kannada and Culture, Sunil Kumar, told ThePrint.
The state government, he added, had not organised any celebrations for Hindi Diwas.
Finding political resonance
While Tuesday’s protest received substantial political backing, many parties have in the recent past too voiced their criticism of any attempt at promoting Hindi across the country.
Karnataka Congress Committee (KPCC) president D.K. Shivakumar had questioned the need for Hindi in the new National Education Policy (NEP) last week, and insisted that knowing Kannada and English were enough for Karnataka.
Earlier in September, the BJP-led Karnataka government’s Kannada and Culture Ministry had been forced to issue a show-cause notice to the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) for ignoring Kannada at an event, following outrage by pro-Kannada organisations.
The local language was absent in a banner at the event in which Union Minister Hardeep Puri had been present. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai too had come under severe criticism for addressing the event in English, instead of Kannada.
The Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) extended public support to the day-long protest against Hindi Diwas Tuesday. In 2018, then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had drawn the ire of the same pro-Kannada activists when he had announced English would be the medium of instruction in government schools, instead of Kannada.
“Neither Hindi imposition nor celebration of Hindi Diwas is acceptable to Kannadigas. Hindi is just one among the languages of the Union. It is unacceptable that the Union government celebrates one language while ignoring others,” H.D. Kumaraswamy said in a series of tweets while opposing Hindi Diwas celebrations.
“Our language is our priority. Celebrating Hindi is unnecessary and unwarranted. There is no need to disrupt harmony in a multi-linguistic country like India by imposing Hindi,” The former chief minister added.
As if on cue, JD(S) workers and leaders staged protests against Hindi imposition outside the party headquarters Tuesday in tandem with the pro-Kannada organisations.
The support from the JD(S) came like a shot in the arm for language activists.
“The Congress pushing for the two-language policy comes as a surprise to us, but to their credit, under Siddaramaiah, the party took a strong stand against Hindi signage at metro stations etc. The JD(S) seems to have now realised, perhaps after seeing the electoral victories of Mamata Banerjee, M.K. Stalin and Shiv Sena, that they stand to gain out of it,” Chetan said.
Tuesday’s protest against Hindi also found support, albeit indirect, from the Kannada film industry. While a few actors, such as Chetan Kumar, openly endorsed the protest, fan associations and pages of Kannada superstars were more active.
“Language equality and language rights uphold the principles of federalism in our idea of India and give a sense of language justice. This isn’t a fight just for my mother tongue Kannada, but for other languages too like Kodava, Tulu, Urdu spoken in Karnataka. We oppose the Constitutional dominance accorded to Hindi under Articles 343 and 351 of the Constitution,” Chetan Kumar, actor and activist, told The Print.
Article 343 accords official language status to Hindi, while Article 351 deems it the “duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language to develop it”.
“We want Hindi Diwas to be replaced with a celebration of all Indian languages. We expect that all 22 scheduled languages get official status like Hindi and English have. We also want Tulu to be included under the 8th schedule of languages,” Chetan Kumar added.
The last time the Kannada film industry backed a linguistic equality movement publicly was during the Gokak movement in the 1980s. The doyen of Kannada cinema Dr Rajkumar had led the protest along with Kannada activists and writers, opposing a “three-language policy” for schools and the offering of Sanskrit as a “first language” option for students in Karnataka.
On Tuesday, fan associations of Dr Rajkumar’s youngest son and Kannada superstar Puneeth Rajkumar, also called for citizens to participate in the protest.
#StopHindiImposition #stopHindiDiwas #ಹಿಂದಿಹೇರಿಕೆನಿಲ್ಲಿಸಿ #ಹಿಂದಿ_ದಿವಸ್_ಗೆ_ದಿಕ್ಕಾರ#PuneethRajkumar @PuneethRajkumar@ganeshchetan @rajanna_rupesh @annatarajgowda @narayanagowdru @ajavgal @PuneethFans007 @Chandana_vana pic.twitter.com/EulzMzZEl5
— Puneeth Rajkumar FC (@PuneethFans007) September 14, 2021
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)