K S Nagarajan
“It is actually Hindi vs English, not Hindi vs Tamil”
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

I get amused instantly when a Telemarketer or a Customer care executive starts talking to me in Hindi over the phone. My autonomous nervous system starts conversing in Tamil to counter him or her. Fact of the matter is, I can understand and speak in Hindi to a certain extent. Then why do I get worked up when someone starts talking to me in Hindi? Would I have reacted in the same way if someone had talked to me in Malayalam, a language I do not understand? Do I hate Hindi? Certainly not.

The reason is simple. No Malayali will speak to me in Malayalam if he identifies me as a Tamil. But, majority of the Hindi speakers think otherwise. They assume everyone in India should be knowing Hindi as it is our “national language”

There is a misconception that Hindi is our national language. Asha Bhosle tweeted a few days back that it is our national language. According to a 2010 order of Gujarat High Court, there is nothing on record to suggest that any provision was made or order issued declaring Hindi as the national language of India. But, yes, more people in India speak Hindi than any other language. That does not make Hindi our national language. Majority of the Indians are Hindus. That does not make us a Hindu nation.

Hindi is just another regional language for us. Majority of us don’t see a reason to learn Hindi, until we are forced to migrate to a Hindi heartland for education or job. It can be my third Language after Tamil and English. My Hindi speaking fellow Indians should be happy that we acknowledge Hindi’s importance ahead of our neighbouring languages such as Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

I don’t buy the arguments that not learning Hindi reduces my job prospects in Delhi or Mumbai. I lived in Delhi for three years. I know many Tamils who work there without knowing Hindi. They manage with English, a smattering of broken Hindi and a bit of sign language!

Majority of us in Tamil Nadu don’t hate Hindi. But, we hate it when someone tries to make learning Hindi compulsory. This is what happened in the 1960s. I don’t mind teaching my kids Hindi, but not at the cost of Tamil and English. For anyone, Mother tongue is not just a language. It is the way you think, you live. English has become the medium of education. Accomodating a third language will be tougher, as it demands more time and space.

For those who see it as an issue of Hindi versus Tamil, It is not so. It is actually an issue of Hindi versus English. Many in Tamil Nadu prefer English over Hindi, unless you are going to migrate to an area where majority speak only Hindi.

You can ask why those who speak Marati, Bengali or Telugu, who are more numerous than the Tamils, do not complain as much as the Tamils when it comes to learning Hindi. It may be because their languages are closer to Hindi and learning Hindi therefore is probably easier for them. It is not so easy for the Tamils.

The first language we learn is our mother tongue. Not learning it properly will create an imbalance in our learning processes. Learning any other language is based on a strong need.

If there is a need to learn another language, we will learn it without resorting to needless sentimentalities. DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi who spearheaded the Anti-Hindi campaign in the 1960s coolly justified the prominence given to Dayanidhi Maran citing his Hindi skills as an advantage in Delhi.

The need will teach us new languages. It has taught us English. It will teach Hindi to those of us who actually need it. Do not compel us to say “no need” to Hindi.