Saturday, Jul 02, 2022

Anti-Hindi movement: The Grassroots Struggle For Tamil Pride

The idea that Hindi is spoken by a majority of Indians is a claim that has to be ferociously contested. Only 26 per cent of the Indian population selected Hindi as their mother tongue.

Battleground Anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu, 1965.

On January 25, 1965, a year before the Official Languages Act was to come into force, 27-year-old Keelapaloor Chinnasamy, the only son of his parents, self-immolated at the Tiruchi railway station, shouting pro-Tamil slogans. In his suicide note, he had written, “Tamizh vaazhavendum enru naan saagiren. (I’m dying in order for Tamil to live).” Five other self-immolations by youth followed. One of the most popular rallying cries of these anti-Hindi agitations has been the slogan: Udal Mannukku, Uyir Tamizhukku!—[Our] body for the soil, [our] life for Tamil.  This is not a top-down struggle that is going to start and end with fancy op-eds by well-read intellectuals. This is a grassroots struggle—the vanguards of our language are our most marginalised and oppressed people. This is a struggle that unites every section of Tamil society, and it would do well to rem­ember that the willingness to lay down one’s life for our language is a Tamil legacy.

The first anti-Hindi agitations were announced by Periyar in response to the decision to make teaching of Hindi mandatory for classes VI to VIII in 125 schools in the Madras province by C. Rajagopalachari. This movement united the Tamil people like never before. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Conference, under the leadership of Neelambigai Ammaiyar, was held on November 13, 1938, to showcase women’s support to the anti-Hindi agitation. It was in this historical meeting that E.V. Ramasamy was given the honorific title ‘Periyar (the great one/elder) by the women of Tamil Nadu. Addressing this meet, Periyar would foreshadow his monumental declaration, “Tamil Nadu is for Tamils”—not out of linguistic pride or chauvinism, but to fiercely stand up against the colonisation and domination of Tamil people, to counter the attempts to subjugate them by the imposition of Hindi.