The souring language controversy found its latest patron in Tamil Nadu’s Higher Education Minister K Ponmudy on Friday, as he labelled Hindi the language of those selling ‘pani puri’.
“Someone said one would get jobs if you learn Hindi. Are you getting jobs? Go and see in our city Coimbatore, they sell pani puri. They run pani puri shops,” Mr Ponmudy said at a university convocation.
“Now, English is an international language. In Tamil Nadu, we should have our own system. In Tamil Nadu, Tamil is a local language and we have English the international language. Because unity in diversity, various cultures and languages are there. In Tamil Nadu, we should follow our own educational system. We also follow certain new good policies in the New Education Policy. And we are ready to follow it,” he said.
Reiterating the ruling DMK’s stand against the “imposition” of Hindi, the minister said that the state government will continue with the two-language formula as its policy, and decried any attempts of alleged Hindi imposition.
Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi, who was also present at the event as the Chancellor of Bharathiar University, dismissed allegations of Hindi being thrust upon the state’s people, saying “There is no question of imposition of Hindi or any other language on anyone.”
Mr Ponmudy said he used the platform to highlight Tamil Nadu’s sentiments over the language issue, as the Governor would convey them to the Centre.
Students of the state were free to learn any language, and they were not against other languages, including Hindi, he added.
The comments come amid a protracted debate over the primacy of languages in India that has seen public figures like Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Bollywood star Akshay Kumar batting for Hindi in the face of forceful opposition from non-Hindi speaking states.
The subject of Hindi – which is not India’s national language as it is often mistaken to be – being taught in schools in South India has been an emotive one, particularly in Tamil Nadu.
In the pre-Independence era, the region saw anti-Hindi protests in 1937 that went on till 1940. In 1965, the issue flared once again, triggering riots that killed as many as 70 people.
The incident led to an assurance by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that Hindi will not be imposed on non-Hindi speaking states till they want and English would continue as a link language.