Language, it seems…

From Volume 3 of A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (1993), pp. 90-91, in relation to a debate on language in the Indian Parliament, 1951:

Begun Abida Khan:

It is all very well for the honourable Minister to take the name of Gandhiji when espousing the cause of Hindi. I have nothing against Hindi, but why does he not agree to protect the status of Urdu, the second language of this province, and the mother-tongue of the Muslims? Does the honourable Minister imagine that the Father of the Nation, who was willing to give his life to protect the minority community, would countenance a bill like the present one, which will cause our community and our culture and our very livelihood to die a lingering death? The sudden enforcement of Hindu in the Devanagati script has closed the doors of government service on the Muslims. They cannot compete with those whose language is Hindi. This has created a first-class economic crisis among the Muslims–many of whom depend on the services for their livelihood. All of a sudden they have to face the strange music of the P.P. Official Language Bill. It is a sin to take the name of Gandhiji in this context. I appeal to your humanity, you who have shot us and hunted us down in our houses, do not me the author of further miseries for us.

The Honourable Minister for Home Affairs (Shri L.N. Agarwal):

I will ignore, as I am sure, the House would wish me to, this last remark, and simply thank the honourable member for her heart-felt advice. If it were equally brain-thought, there might have been grounds for accepting it. The fact of the matter is that duplication of all government work in two languages, two scripts, is utterly impracticable and unworkable. That is all there is to it.

Begum Abida Khan:

I will not appeal to the Chair against the expressions of the honourable Minister. He is telling the whole world that he thinks that Muslims have no rights and women have no brains. I am hoping to appeal to his better instincts, but what hope do I have? He has been the prime mover of this government policy of stifling Urdu, which has led to the disappearance of many Urdu publications. Why is Urdu receiving this step-motherly treatment in his hands? Why can’t the two brother languages not be adopted together? The elder brother has a duty to protect the younger brother, not to torment him.

Characters in a novel. All so real…


About brucelarochelle
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