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Hindi Street Signboards in Madurai Removed (Tamil Nadu, India)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 2013 (ID. 2013-03-01)
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1. Background

2. Tourist Revenue and Hindi Street Signs

3. Tamil Nadu's Two-Language Formula

4. Why We Oppose Hindi Signs in Madurai

5. When Indian Government "Bans" Tamil from its Offices in Tamilnadu, Why Should We Put Hindi Signs in Madurai?

1. Background

Madurai City Corporation Commissioner announced on January 20, 2013 that four crore Rupees would be spent on putting Tamil-English-Hindi street name-boards (instead of the existing Tamil-English boards) in some major streets near the historical Meenakshi Amman Koil (Hindu temple) and the railway station for the benefit of tourists (1 crore = 10 million). This strokes Tamil sentiments in the wrong way because of the bitter history of Tamil Nadu and Hindi. Tamil people opposed Hindi imposition from the very beginning going back to 1938, continuing up to today. Agitations peaked in 1965. The Tamilnadu Students Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitation of 1965 is a major historical event in Tamil Nadu; over 60 unarmed civilians were shot and killed during the 20-days of agitation (January 25 to February 13, 1965). These Tamil martyrs were remembered every year and there is a Tamil Nadu State government built memorial in Chennai, the capital city of Tamilnadu  Detailed discussion of the 1965 agitation may be found at Reference 1 and 2.

The organization, Tamil Desa Pothuvudamai Katchi, organized a demonstration against it on January 25, 2013. The demonstration in Madurai City against Hindi street names was surely far smaller than that of 1965 but the demonstrators were equally sincere and energetic. Tamil Desa Pothuvudamai Katchi also sent letters to both Madurai City Commissioner (administrator of the city) and Madurai District Collector (administrator of the district) explaining their opposition to Hindi signs. A number of others from all parts of Tamil Nadu also expressed their opposition to the District Collector. Following these protests, the District Collector withdrew the order to install Hindi signs and issued the following statement: "Respecting sentiments of our Tamil brothers and sisters, I am ready to take back my words regarding issue of trilingual boards and use of Hindi in these boards....I am here to serve people of Tamil Nadu and not to promote my mother tongue." This ended the protests.

2. Tourist Revenue and Hindi Street Signs

Madurai District Collector said that the Hindi street sings were installed to attract and help Hindi speaking tourists. It may sound like a good reason at first glance but a closer look will reveal the flaw in that argument. We want to point out that street signs in all main streets in Madurai are in Tamil and English. How many tourists from Hindi states who cannot read English street signs (but can read Hindi) come to Madurai alone? Very few, if any at all. We want to point out that Hindi states accept Indian Government's three-language formula that requires teaching Hindi, English and another Indian language. So schools in Hindi states are supposedly teaching English in schools. A student must be able to read street signs in English in a few months. So where is the need for Hindi signs? One may ask what about Hindi speakers who are illiterate (did not go to school)? The solution is not to put Hindi signs in Madurai but to improve literacy in India?

We ask again, how many people Hindi states who cannot read English street names come to Madurai alone? The very, very few, if any, who come must come with someone who can read English. I suggest that those few, if any, coming to Madurai tour the city with thew many tour operators. Hindi speakers are entitled to go anywhere in India using only Hindi. Is a Tamil or a Bengali or a Malayali or any non-Hindi people entitled to go anywhere in India knowing only the mother tongue. If not, why a special privilege to Hindi speakers? They have no special status above others, as some seem to think.

3. Tamil Nadu's Two-Language Formula

In the very next election after the historic 1965 Anti-Hindi Agitation, in 1967, people of Tamil Nadu voted to power Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a party that steadfastly stood against Hindi imposition in those days. The state government cannot do anything about Indian central government (union government) policies and Hindi imposition. The new Chief Minister C. N. Annadurai proposed the two-language formula (as opposed to Indian government's three language formula) and the state legislative assembly voted for it overwhelmingly. Under this formula, only Tamil and English would be used in state government offices--no Hindi; this does not affect central government offices in Tamilnadu because they come under the central government. After the DMK government, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) came to power and only these two parties held power in the state ever since 1967. They are both for the two-language formula and this formula is the current policy of the state government.

This raises the question: can a district collector or any other official serving the state government ignore the two language formula and use Hindi in state government affairs? We think not. Today it is the two-language formula. Tomorrow it could be some other state law. Duty of government officials is to implement and administer government policies set by elected representatives, not to make their own policies.

I also want to point out that what the Madurai District Collector did was, unintended it might be, a slap on the face of late C. Annadurai whom both DMK and AIADMK claim as their leader. It was he who implemented the two language policy in the state administration. We are of the opinion that putting Hindi sign boards in Madurai street is violation of the two language formula.

4. Why We Oppose Hindi Signs in Madurai

Our negative attitude to Hindi signs is a reaction to how Hindi Members of Parliament, who are the pushers of Indian language policy, use every opportunity to thrust Hindi into Tamil Nadu (and other non-Hindi states) and how they sideline Tamil (ignore Tamil) even inside Tamilnadu. We provide here a few examples later in this article of how Tamil is sidelines by the Indian Government inside Tamil Nadu.

The Indian government policy of thrusting Hindi into Tamil Nadu  and sidelining Tamil (ignoring) Tamil) even inside Tamilnadu is driven by Hindi members of parliament. Without their support laws cannot be passed or Indian constitution amended (if necessary) to stop the continuing Hindi imposition or even use of Tamil in Indian government offices located in Tamil Nadu.  

5. When Indian Government "Bans" Tamil from its Offices in Tamilnadu, Why Should We Put Hindi Signs in Madurai?

There are some "broadminded" individuals, some Tamils and many Hindis, who ask, "What is wring with Hindi street signs in Madurai? It is not Hindi imposition." Of course it is not Hindi imposition. That does not mean we have to put Hindi signs.

We ask these broadminded people to ask the Hindi politicians to enact necessary laws asking Indian government to interact in Tamil to people of Tamil Nadu within Tamil Nadu. and then ask us to put Hindi street signs in Hindi for the benefit of Hindi speakers visiting us for a few days from a thousand mile away.

Indian Government supplies cooking gas cylinders to Tamil Nadu. Safery instructions (warnings) are in Hindi and English only; no Tamil. So the Indian government expects Tamils living in Tamil Nadu to read and understand Hindi or English for their day-to-day living (cooking at home). Yet these broadminded people wants us to put Hindi street signs to benefit Hindis visiting Madurai for a few days. I say to these broadminded people, first tell the Indian government to put Tamil warnings in gas cylinders supplied to Tamil Nadu, and then ask us to put Hindi street signs in Madurai.

Go to any Indian government website. All information in most of these sites are in English and Hindi only; no other languages. So if a Tamil want to find some information from these sites (for example, booking rail ticket or availability of student scholarship or information on agriculture), the Tamil speaker is expected to know English or Hindi. But a Hindi speakers can get that information in their mother tongue. Are they paying higher taxes for this privilege? No. I say to these broadminded people, first tell the Indian government to publish web sites in Tamil also, and then ask us to put Hindi street signs in Madurai.

Question papers for entrance examinations for Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and other Indian government institutions of higher learning are in Hindi and English only, in spite of repeated requests from Tamilnadu and some other states to offer question papers in languages listed in the Indian constitution. How many Tamilnadu students lost their opportunity to study in these elite institutions and enter into a prosperous career? I say to these broadminded people who want to put Hindi street signs in Madurai, first tell the Indian government to offer question papers in Tamil also, and then ask us to put Hindi street signs in Madurai.

[SUMMARY: Madurai District Collector reversed his order to install Hindi street names in Madurai city upon protest from Tamil organizations. Reasons for the opposition to Hindi signs (Tamil Nadu, India).]


1. History: A Chronology of Anti-Hindi Agitations in Tamil Nadu and What the Future Holds (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2003 (33 KB)

2. Self Immolation Against Hindi Imposition in Tamil Nadu (1965) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2004 (20 KB)

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