Language is power

Road transport between Coimbatore and Bangalore is hit badly by fear, tension, security and protest. As of 18th Sep 2016, The current news is only two-wheelers are allowed to cross the Hosur border. The Tamil Nadu vehicles carrying vegetables, bananas, and other commodities are prohibited from entering Karnataka. Ordinary people travel till Hosur, cross the Border and walk for one or two kilometers to get a public transport and reach Bangalore. The another option is to take the train. My luck was another side, and two of my tickets were on wait list number 15 and 3. The only alternative left was to take the flight. I booked a flight from Coimbatore to Bengaluru which departs on 19th Sep, at 10.45 AM.

I was early and reached the final handbag clearance by 9:45. The security/cop/officer checked my boarding pass with a charming smile; uttered “Chennai?” and replied “Bangalore.” He smiled and started speaking to me in Hindi. I couldn’t follow and replied, “I don’t speak Hindi.” Now you can guess tone, reaction, and style of rest of the conversation.

“Hindi is the language of Hindustan, and you don’t speak Hindi?” officer asked me. I was surprised when he said Hindustan. I have always read Hindustan in historical novels and haven’t heard in daily conversation. I was irritated, and angerly I replied: “Tamil Nadu first and India second.” He was taken back and asked are you sure about that and I replied “Yes.” Again he argued Hindustan means Hindi. I rebutted him by saying “I can speak Tamil and Kannada. Can you talk Tamil since you’re in Tamil Nadu?”. He asked me in Tamil, “Tamil theiryuma ( Do you know Tamil).” I replied in Tamil, and this conversation continued for few minutes. He kept speaking in Hindi, and I stayed in Tamil and switched to English once I understood he couldn’t follow Tamil. I left the place with angst.

I picked up the bags, sat in a steel chair and started to think about the conversation. If you know me personally or following me in Social Media, I am vociferous about raising concerns about such behavior. You may have concluded I am the Anti-Hindi outfit. But I would like to remind you, I am against Anti-Hindi impositions like the reported incident. I am confident officer intent isn’t to wage word of wars with me, or we both have any enmity. His duty involves interacting with thousands of people every day over years. He started a conversation to comfort me, but it turned into word tussle. The officer was in his late thirties more like my elder brother. He was never rude in his argument. He wouldn’t have asked the same kind of questions to an elderly man due to age and respect. The uniform and his training must have taught him or he is part of hegemony, or his assumption is aligned. I have gone through similar incident three years back in Delhi but not exact questions but in the same theme.

I was a mere passenger, If it were a foreign traveler at this point, he would have happily let him speak in English and tried himself speaking in English. I had met a lot of people in streets seeking help who speak only Hindi and helped them. Sometimes take extra effort to find out right person who can help.

There is an expectation for the public servants of non-state government in uniform all civilians has to speak Hindi. I don’t agree with that. India is composed of states. Without states, India doesn’t exist. Language is not just a tool of communication; it is the symbol of power and superiority. The uniform and designation want to exert control and educate a lesson rather than servicing the people. The primary duty of officers is to serve the public and not impart their belief with a weapon. The politicians, public, opinion makers, writers, activists have written; spoken; protested over years and still continuing to reach to deaf decision makers. No lessons learned. It’s not only duty of locals to speak back and also the responsibility of Hindi speaking people raise the voice and support.

In the tension, I missed to thank him for the service and boarded the flight. As usual flight announcement was in Hindi followed by English. While Hindi announcement was in progress, I turned back saw faces of the people, few were giggling; few were resting in the seats and others were peeking outside the window. There is long a request to make announcements in local languages. Jet Airways breakfast cover box had slogan “BON APPÉTIT,” my inner nerves started to laugh. I pay you, and you don’t have an announcement in local languages. But you’re happy to brand food cover with French slogan.

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