Hindi Signs in Tamil Nadu

Why Hindi People Insist on and Tamil People Oppose Hindi Signs in Tamil Nadu?

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 2005 (ID. 2005-03-01)
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1. Introduction

2. Reasons in a Nutshell

3. There is no Practical Need for Hindi Signs in Tamil Nadu

4. Hindi Signs are the Emblems of Hindian Supremacy, Domination and Hegemony Over Tamil Nadu

5. Hindi Signs are the Most Visible Symbols of Hindi Imposition on Tamil People


AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

DK - AIADMK - Dravidar Kazagam

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam


Hindians: People whose mother tongue is Hindi (similar to Tamil speakers are sometimes referred as Tamilans or Tamilians).

"I would urge public opinion in our country (India) to manifest itself resolutely to protest strongly against any form of forcing Hindi as a national language" - General K. M. Kariappa (Former Army Chief of Staff, India).

1. Introduction

Tamil people opposed Hindi signs at Indian (Central) Government offices in Tamil Nadu from the very beginning. Indian Government ordered the painting of Hindi signs, in addition to the existing English and Tamil signs, in all Indian Government offices and facilities in Tamil Nadu in 1952. Dravidar  Kazhagam (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) spearheaded the opposition and carried out a "tarring campaign". DK President E. V. Ramaswamy Periyar (EVR) and DK volunteers tarred Hindi signs in Thiruchi (Trichi) on August 1, 1952. DMK General-Secretary C. N. Annadurai and DMK volunteers tarred Hindi signs in Coimbatore. Soon the Indian Government repainted the Hindi signs. There was no use in tarring them again and again. Signs would be repainted. Although Hindi signs were not tarred again and again, opposition to Hindi signs remains. More recently, in December 2004, Tamilnadu Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam( AIADMK) General-Secretary Jayalalthaa wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to remove the newly painted Hindi signs along national highways. Thank you Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

More than once my Hindi friends had asked me, "Why do 'you people' (referring to Tamil people) oppose Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu?" The rest of this article is an elaboration of my answer to those friends. 

2. Reasons in a Nutshell

There are three principal reasons:

  1. There is no practical need for Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu.
  2. Hindi signs are the emblems of Hindian supremacy, domination and hegemony over Tamil Nadu. (Hindian - People whose mother tongue is Hindi)
  3. Hindi signs are the most visible symbols of Hindi imposition on Tamil people. By opposing Hindi signs we are opposing the complete system of Hindi imposition that is doing great harm to Tamil people. "If Hindi were to become the official language of India, Hindi-speaking people will govern us. We will be treated like third rate citizens" - Former Tamilnadu Chief Minister C. N. Annadurai, speaking at a Public Meeting in Chennai Marina (Madras Marina) on April 29, 1963.

Let me elaborate on these points.

3. There is no practical need for Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu

Hindi politicians and people insist that Hindi is known to more people in India than any other language and so Hindi signs should be everywhere in the Indian Union. People whose mother tongue is Hindi or one of its dialects is about 30% of Indian population. Many people in the north, even those whose mother tongue is Gujarati, Punjabi, Rajasthani or Bihari usually have a working knowledge of Hindi. That does not mean that there should be Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu.

Is there a real benefit to putting Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu post offices, railway stations, national highways and Indian Government offices and undertakings (other than the pride and ego boost for Hindi people)? No benefit at all. Almost all Hindi belt people visiting Tamil Nadu know enough English at least to read English signs because English is taught in every school in India. These visitors need not have to know how to read, write or speak English sentences. All they need to know is English alphabet and how to read names written in English at railway stations or national highways. If the schools in Hindi states are so bad that people coming out with a fifth grade education cannot read names written in English, may be the state governments there should improve their schools at their own expense instead of painting Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu. Some proponents of Hindi may argue that there are people who never went up to the fifth grade. I seriously doubt that some Hindi person who never went up to the fifth grade would travel a thousand miles to see Tamil Nadu without someone who has at least that level of education accompanying him. I suggest that they do not. Tamil Nadu cannot cater to every illiterate who visits Tamil Nadu. What about a Telugu person who cannot read English or Tamil visiting Tamil Nadu? Are we going to put Telugu signs all over Tamilnadu? What about a Bengali, and so on. What about a Tamil person who cannot read English or Hindi visiting the holy city of Benares in Hindi area or visiting the beautiful Agra in Hindi area? I have not seen any Tamil signs there. Why should Hindi people get a special superior status over others? Is everyone other than Hindi speakers second-class citizens of India? Is it India or Hindia?

[In a lighter vein, what about a Hindian who is totally illiterate? (Cannot even read or write the mother tongue Hindi). There are many such people in the Hindi-belt because Hindi-belt states have a much lower literacy rate than most non-Hindi states. What about those people if they want to visit Tamil Nadu? Is the Indian Government going to employ people to stand near kilometer stones along national highways and at the entrance of railway stations to shout the name? This is said in light vein to show the impossibility of satisfying everybody's need. The people who visit Tamil Nadu, be they from nearby Kerala or far to the north Uttar Pradesh or far away Japan, have the responsibility to know enough Tamil or English to pass through Tamilnadu.]

In short, virtually everyone who visits Tamil Nadu can read names written in English. Not even one hundred Hindians who cannot read English would be visiting Tamil Nadu in a year. There is no need to paint Hindi signs within Tamil Nadu. Tamil and English signs are enough.

It is Hindian pride, Hindian arrogance that demands that there be Hindi signs everywhere in India [see Reference 1 for anecdotes relating such mindset]. There is no other reason for it.

4. Hindi Signs are the Emblems of Hindian Supremacy, Domination and Hegemony over Tamil Nadu

Hindi signs are the emblems of the domination and hegemony of Hindi people (Hindians) over Tamil Nadu. When Government of India ordered that Hindi signs be added at all its offices (including railway stations and post offices) in non-Hindi states, there already were English signs there (in addition to the local state language). Tamil and English signs are sufficient to serve all those who live in Tamil Nadu and visit Tamilnadu. Let me explain. Tamil signs for those who live in Tamil Nadu; it is the language of day-to-day living in Tamil Nadu (in the same way Bengali is in West Bengal, etc.) English signs for the benefit of those visiting us. We cannot post signs in the language of everyone who visit us. It is impractical to post signs in hundreds of languages. English has evolved as the international language (the language of communication and commerce between countries). English is taught in every country. We know that almost all who have a need to come to Tamilnadu (with the exception of those living just miles across the borders of Tamil Nadu in the neighboring states) know enough English to read signboards in English. By rare chance if someone who has not even that minimum level of English knowledge or Tamil were to come to Tamil Nadu for business or sightseeing or pilgrimage, it is his/her responsibility to come with a travelers dictionary, electronic translator or with someone who knows a minimum level of English or Tamil. No one expects to find signs in Tamil Nadu in Chinese, in German, in Vietnamese, in Nepalese, in Telugu or in Bengali ... Then why a special superior privilege for Hindi people? Because Hindi people (Hindians) believe that they rule all of Indian Union and so there should be Hindi signs everywhere. When the Portuguese ruled Goa they put Portuguese signs all over Goa. When the French ruled Pondicherry they put French signs everywhere there. When the British ruled India they put English signs all over. (We put English signs now even after the end of British rule because it is NECESSARY for the benefit of those who visit us, as discussed above.) Hindi people insist on Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu because they consider it part of their dominion. There is no practical reason for Hindi signs in Tamil Nadu.

Let me put it another way. For over a century, until the mid twentieth century, British, French and Portuguese ruled the Indian subcontinent. British ruled much of India. Signs in their language, English, were everywhere in British India. French ruled a small area including Pondicherry; there French signs were everywhere. Portuguese ruled Goa; there Portuguese signs were everywhere. British rule ended and Hindian dominated Indian rule came over the British India (except for Pakistan) in 1947. Within five years Hindi signs were placed throughout this area thus indicating Hindian hegemony over these areas. French rule ended in Pondicherry in 1954 and Pondicherry became part of India. Soon French signs were replaced by Hindi signs (there were no Hindi signs before). Then Portuguese rule over Goa ended in the 1961 and Goa became part of India. Soon Portuguese signs were replaced by Hindi signs. As we discussed before, there is no practical need for Hindi signs. In essence they are painted as the emblem of Hindian domination over all of Indian Union.

In a way it is like a dog lifting its leg and urinating on every kilometer stone or post it sees on its way to mark its territory. Nothing more. (Don't write me saying that I compared Hindi people to dogs. No, I did not. I am merely comparing the acting painting Hindi signs unnecessarily along national highways to the act of dogs urinating on posts and kilometer stones on its way.) Hindians are merely marking their territory by putting Hindi signs all over their dominion.

Nowhere is it clearer than if you drive from West Bengal to the neighboring Bangladesh. Vast majority of people of West Bengal and Bangladesh are of the same race (ethnicity) and they both have the same mother tongue, Bengali. But West Bengal is a state of India and Bangladesh is an independent country. As you drive through West Bengal towards Bangladesh, you will see Hindi sings (along with Bengali and English) on the national highway but once you cross the border and enter Bangladesh you will not see any Hindi signs. Is there a real need for Hindi signs in West Bengal? Hindi business people visiting Bangladesh do not insist that they put Hindi signs in post offices, airports and railway stations but they insist that there be Hindi signs everywhere in West Bengal, even in remote village post offices. Hindi signs are foremost the emblems of Hindi rule over all of Indian Union.

I will give one more example. Large numbers of Indian tourists go to Sri Lanka, mostly to southern Sinhala areas. Indian government and private companies also do substantial business in Sri Lanka; the two countries are even discussing a type of free trade agreement to increase business further. So, many Indian business people visit Sri Lankan cities. Do Hindi tourists and business people insist that the Sri Lankan Government put Hindi signs on roads, railway stations and post offices? No. Because Sri Lanka is not under the control of the Indian Government dominated by Hindi-belt politicians.

5. Hindi Signs are the most Visible Symbols of Hindi Imposition on Tamil People

Hindi signs are the most visible symbols of the more serious and discriminatory Hindi imposition practices by the Indian Government over the Tamil and other non-Hindi peoples. By opposing the placement of Hindi signs, we are opposing the whole system of Hindi imposition.

Hindi signs are like a small odd shaped mole growing on your back. It does not hurt. But it might be the visible symptom of skin cancer. Unless it is removed and treated, the cancer could spread, cause suffering and kill you. Hindi signs are like a lump in a woman's breast. It does not hurt but if it is not removed and treated, it would grow and cause great suffering and kill you.

Hindi signs painted along national highways, railway stations, post offices and central government offices in Tamil Nadu are the most visible symptoms of the deep-rooted, systematic Hindi imposition that is slowly but steadily hurting the Tamil people. Most Tamil people do not know how Hindi is forcibly pushed down the throat of many hard working Tamil people day after day [Reference 1]. Many Tamil people do not know how making Hindi the official language of India has reduced job opportunities for Tamil people in the Indian Government [Reference 2]. Good Tamil students lose out to Hindi-belt students of lower caliber in Indian government job examinations because Hindi students could write the examinations in their mother tongue while Tamil students have to write in either Hindi or English. Statistic from Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra where Hindi is a compulsory subject in schools shows that studying Hindi in schools does not change this situation because students from these states did not fare any better than Tamil students [Reference 2]. However much you study Hindi you cannot compete with Hindi students on equal footing because Hindi is their mother tongue. While most Tamil people do not know of these hidden Hindi-imposition practices and their negative consequences, all Tamil people see the Hindi signs in their daily life. By tarring these signs (as Periyar and Annadurai did in 1952) or loudly opposing these signs (as Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa and PMK leader Ramadoss did in 2004), we are bringing the complete system of Hindi imposition to people's attention. That is the primary reason for opposing Hindi signs. We should tell the people of the hidden and more dangerous Hindi imposition practices too.

Targeting a more visible symbol of oppression, imperialism or domination for protest as symbolic of the opposition to the complete system of oppression is not new. During the American revolution against British rule, American patriots boarded a ship bringing tea to America and through the tea into the sea to protest Britain's discriminatory taxation policies in America. Tea was not the only item taxed. There were more expensive items that were being taxed. But the American patriots chose tea for their symbolic protest because large numbers of American drank tea on a daily basis and were annoyed at the taxes imposed on tea. It is this symbolic protest that started the war of independence that ended with American independence.

Gandhi's "salt protest" during India's independence movement to end British rule was also a symbolic protest. Salt was chosen because everyone uses salt every day. Purpose of that protest was not just to end the taxes on salt. The salt protest was a symbolic act of defiance of British rule and part of the overall independence struggle.

Our opposition to Hindi signs is also symbolic and it reflects our opposition to all forms of Hindi imposition and Hindian hegemony over Tamil Nadu.

"Making a language (Hindi) that is the mother tongue of a region of India the official language for all the people of India is tyranny. We believe that it will give benefits and superiority to one region (the Hindi-speaking region).... Danger to the people of Tamil Nadu because of Hindi becoming the official language of India is great." - Former Tamilnadu Chief Minister C. N. Annadurai, at his trial for conspiracy to burn the Indian Constitution (December 3, 1963).


1. Thou Shalt Know Hindi! (by Lalitha Krishnan Nair), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 19971. 

2. Government of India's Hindi Imposition Agenda for 2002-2003 (by M. T.), TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2002.

3. How India's Official Language Policy is Hurting Non-Hindi Peoples (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2003.


India, Tamil Nadu and Hindi Imposition

FIS050228    2005-a1d

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