On Friday, Tamil Nadu’s Higher Education Minister K Ponmudy fueled the raging linguistic debate by labelling Hindi as the language of people selling ‘pani puri.’ ‘Someone once told me that learning Hindi will help you acquire a job. Are you finding work? Go see if they sell pani puri in Coimbatore. They own and operate pani puri restaurants’, Mr Ponmudy made the remarks during a university convocation.
‘English is now a worldwide language. We should have our own system in Tamil Nadu. Because there is unity in variety, numerous civilizations and languages exist. We should adopt our own educational system in Tamil Nadu. We also adhere to several new good policies outlined in the New Education Policy. And we are prepared to follow suit’, he said. Reiterating the governing DMK’s stance against ‘imposition’ of Hindi, the minister stated that the state government will stick to its two-language policy and condemn any attempts at purported Hindi imposition.
The remarks come amid a lengthy discussion in India about the primacy of languages, with popular figures such as Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar arguing in favor of Hindi in the face of strong resistance from non-Hindi speaking areas. The question of Hindi – which is not India’s national language, as many people believe – being taught in schools in South India has been a sensitive one, particularly in Tamil Nadu.
Anti-Hindi demonstrations erupted in the region prior to independence in 1937 and lasted until 1940. The problem flared up again in 1965, resulting in riots that killed up to 70 people. The event prompted then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to promise that Hindi would not be forced on non-Hindi speaking states until they so desired, and that English would continue to serve as a link language.