Hindi in Nepal - An Analysis

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 2011 (ID. 2011-09-01)
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1. Demands for Official Language Recognition

2. Vice President Takes Oath in Hindi

3. The Hindi Hypocrisy in Nepal and India

1. Demands for Official Language Recognition

Something strange happened during the official language debate in the post-monarch Nepal in the 2000s.  Some people wanted to declare Hindi an official language of Nepal along with Nepali. What is so strange about it? Hindi is the mother tongue of only 0.47% of Nepalese. Nepali language is the mother tongue of approximately 49% of the population and been in use for official communication for centuries. According to an Asia Times article, "Hindi has been in use for official communication for centuries and is understood and spoken, with local accents and variations, in all 4,000-plus villages and towns that make up the present-day Nepal" (July 9, 2009). Rest of the population has about 70 languages.

Arguments put forth by Hindi supporters is that large numbers of Nepalese understood Hindi because Hindi movies are popular in Nepal both in movie theaters and television (TV). Hindi movies were popular because there are very few Nepali movies and the big-budget Hindi movies attract large audience.

It is interesting that in India, at the end of British rule in 1947, Hindi politicians insisted that English should be replaced by Hindi as the official language because Hindi was the mother tongue of far more Indians (about 30% to 40%). These politicians also opposed retaining English as an associate official language along with Hindi because it was not native to India. Pressure from non-Hindi regions, especially southern states, and bloody protests that took the lives of several dozen protesters in 1965 lead to the retention of English as the associate official language that should be ousted in due course.

Hindi proponents play a different tune in Nepal. They want a foreign language Hindi, mother tongue of just 0.47% Nepalese, to be declared an official language. If Hindi were to be considered a native Nepalese language because it is the mother tongue of 0.47% of the population that came from India and settled there, is not English - the mother tongue of the small number of Anglo-Indians - a native Indian language too? Also, unlike Nepali which is widely understood and the lingua franca of Nepal for years, Hindi was not widely understood in India at the time it was mooted as the official language; in fact only a very small fraction of South Indians understood Hindi at that time. In summary, Hindi proponents speak by one side of the mouth in India and another side of the mouth in Nepal. Opportunistic arguments depending on the situation!

2. Vice President Takes Oath in Hindi

A Hindi proponent, Indian-born Paramananda Jha, was elected vice-president of Nepal. He took his oath of office in Hindi in July 2008. This created protests in the streets for 5 days; students burnt his effigies; there was general strike in 22 districts. Nepal Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that his oath in Hindi was invalid and he was kept "inactive" as vice-president. An "angry" Jha said, I cannot be compelled to take the oath now in Nepali. I might rather take it in English. Other statements he made criticizing the Nepal Supreme Court decision are included in Section 3 of this article. Finally he took the oath in both Nepali and his mother tongue Maithili on February 7, 2010. Maithili is a language close to Hindi. Again the stance of Hindi chauvinists in India and Nepal are contradictory. While in Nepal they want to take oath in Hindi - a language that is the mother tongue on 0.47% people, in India they insist that top office holders like president, prime minister and ministers take oath in either Hindi or English. There are languages like Telugu that are the mother tongue of about 10% of Indians but Telugu ministers of India cannot take oath in Telugu. (This is the situation as of writing this article.)

3. The Hindi Hypocrisy in Nepal and India

In India Hindi-supporters insist that Hindi shall be the SOLE official language because it is the mother tongue of more Indians than any other language. Hindi is not the mother tongue of the majority but of less than 40% of the population concentrated in north-central India. It is little understood in the south and east at the time of official language debates in late 1940s and never used for official communication outside Hindi regions. After much protest and bloodshed, Indian government allowed English as associate official language. Yet other languages, some the mother tongue of five or more percent of the people, are sidelined. In Nepal they insist that Nepali should not be the sole official language although it is the mother tongue of 49% of the people, understood through out Nepal and used for official communications within Nepal for centuries. They want Hindi that is the mother tongue of a mere 0.47% of Nepalese be equal to Nepali. [I am not commenting on whether Nepali should be the sole official language or multiple languages be used. I am pointing out the double standard used by Hindi proponents, using one argument to elevate Hindi in India and another argument to elevate Hindi in Nepal.]

After the Nepal Supreme Court ruling that Mr. Jha should take the oath in Nepali, he issued statements that show the hypocrisy of Hindi proponents in India and Nepal. Let us look at some of the statements made by Paramananda Jha. 


I cannot be compelled to take the oath now in Nepali. I might rather take it in English.     [Why this dislike for Nepali and love for English in Nepal while Hindi politicians in India shout down any Hindi-speaking minister replying to Hindi questions in English? [Reference 1] Hypocrisy. Double standard.]


"I will consider the issue (of taking the oath in Hindi) only after the government passes a constitutional amendment and shows respect for all the languages spoken in Nepal." "By ordering me to renounce my Hindi oath and take it again in Nepali, the Supreme Court has insulted all ethnic communities whose mother tongue is not Nepali. The verdict is biased and has divided Nepal at a time we should proceed unitedly to draft a new constitution."     [Why do Hindi politicians show total disrespect for non-Hindi languages in India? When a minister from Tamil Nadu who neither knew Hindi nor had a working knowledge of English, wanted to reply to a question in his mother tongue (spoken by about 7% of the Indian population) and then translated to Hindi and English, he was denied permission and he had to sit quietly and let his deputy answer questions [Reference 2]. Where is the respect for Tamil that is the mother tongue of about 7% of Indians?]


"When an oath is taken, language is not the concern but commitment to the welfare of the nation and people. Nationalism is reflected by one's thoughts, not language."     [Will Hindi politicians allow Indian President to take oath in his/her mother tongue if it is neither English nor Hindi? When a newly elected President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, started to say a few words in his mother tongue Tamil at a press conference at the request of a reporter, a senior Hindi politician interrupted and said that "he is the president of India. He would not speak in Tamil" [Reference 3].]


"Language, race, religion and culture are deeply sensitive issues. All languages, religions and races have to be complementary."     [This is not the attitude of Hindi politicians in India as evidence by the incidents I noted in the above paragraphs.]

Position taken by Hindi politicians in India is at odd with most or all of these statements by this Indian born Hindi proponent in Nepal. A former minister told Asia Times that he suspects that promoters of Hindi in India might have a hand in Nepal's campaign (Asia Times Online, July 9, 2009). Whether his suspicion is true or not, Hindi arrogance and hypocrisy has crossed the borders of India and creating dissentions and problems in neighboring Nepal.

Post-script: India's Hindi politicians' double standard within India and abroad to propagate Hindi using contradictory arguments (one within India and one outside) is evident as early as the 1960s. There was a small population of Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and other people from India in Myanmar (called Burma at that tine). They imported Tamil, Telugu and Hindi movies to screen in local theaters. The new Myanmar (Burmese) government that came to power in 1962 placed a restriction that movies in only one language could be imported from India, be it Tamil, Telugu, Hindi or whatever. It asked the Indian government to choose the language. The situation was that the largest number of Indians spoke Tamil, then Telugu and only then Hindi. Tamil movies were being imported in larger numbers than Telugu or Hindi movies, and Tamil movies were shown in more theaters and attracted more audience than Telugu and Hindi movies. So the rational choice would be Tamil. But the Indian government, which was dominated by Hindi politicians, chose Hindi [Reference 4]. See how Hindi politicians propagate Hindi even outside of India at the cost of other languages.


1. 20101201 Hindi Extremism and Violation of Constitution in Indian Parliament (by Thanjai Nalankilli ), TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2010 (12 KB)

2. Mr. Alagiri Goes to New Delhi (Language Discrimination in Parliament) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, October 2010 (10 KB)

3. Members of Parliament Stare Dumbfounded as Indian President Addresses Them in Hindi (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2010 (11 KB) See the ADDENDUM at the end of the article.

4. How the Indian Government Stabbed Burmese Tamils in the Back (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 2002 (9 KB)


Hindi Imposition in India

Index to Archived Articles

SUMMARY: A discussion of the status of Hindi in Nepal and India. Should it be the official language? Statistics of Hindi speakers as percentage of population.
Thanjai Nalangkilli

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