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

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, March 2013 (ID. 2013-03-01); Updated 2017-09-01
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1. Background

2. Tourist Revenue and Hindi Street Signs

3. Are We Accepting Hindi Imperialism?

4. Are We Opposed to a Third Language on Street Signs? No!

5. Are We Opposed to Hindi on Street Signs? Yes!

6. Hindi Street Names Sends the Wrong Message

7. When Indian Government does not Use Tamil in its Offices in Tamilnadu, Why Should We Put Hindi Signs in Madurai?

8. Additional Information

Our negative reaction to Hindi signs in Madurai street is a reaction to (1) Hindi politicians, who control the Indian government, imposing Hindi on non-Hindi states, (2) the arrogant attitude of many Hindi people who demand everyone learn Hindi while they themselves would not learn any other language except their mother tongue Hindi, and (3) the sense of entitlement on the part of Hindi people that they should be able to travel anywhere in India and get along with their mother tongue Hindi only.

We have no objection to Malayalam, Telugu or Kannada signs near Tamil Nadu's border with Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, respectively, as long as these states put Tamil signs on their side too.


AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

ATM - Automated Teller Machine

CBSE - Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE curriculum is used central government and in many private schools throughout India)

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

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. All the Hindi states say they 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. Anyone who had a sixth grade education must be able to read street signs in English. So where is the need for Hindi signs?

One may ask what about Hindi speakers who are illiterate (did not go to school)? How many tourists who did not even have a sixth grade education come alone a thousand miles for site-seeing in Tamil Nadu? I doubt any do. Usually tourists come as a family or a group of friends. Someone in the group would know how to read street names in English; we are not asking fluency in English, just the ability to read street signs in English want to sight see Tamil Nadu, let them come with family or friends at least one of whom could read street names in English. Hindi people should not arrogantly think that they are entitled to go anywhere in India knowing 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 people? They have no special status above others, as some seem to think.

What the Hindi people want is "one-language policy" for them (Hindi only) and "three-languages policy" for all others (state language, Hindi, English). We are not going to accept such a superior status for Hindi people. They are equal to the non-Hindi peoples, not superior to them.

3. Are We Accepting Hindi Imperialism?

Adding Hindi to street signs in Tamil Nadu is acceptance of Hindi imperialism, acceptance of Hindi supremacy, acceptance of language inequality and  acceptance of Hindi apartheid. Our opposition to Hindi street signs should not be viewed in isolation. It should be viewed within the context of Indian government's Hindi imposition policy and actions. This will become evident as you read the following sections.

4. Are We Opposed to a Third Language on Street Signs? No!

We are not opposed to Malayalam street names near Tamil Nadu's border with Malayalam speaking  Kerala, provided they put Tamil street names on their side too. Reciprocity. This may benefit occasional cross border travel of people from both sides. The same with our borders with Telugu speaking Andhra Pradesh and Kannada speaking Karnataka. However we are opposed to Hindi signs because of reasons discussed in the following sections.

5. Are We Opposed to Hindi on Street Signs? Yes!

Why are we opposed to Hindi signs? It has nothing to do with the language Hindi but it has to do with the Hindi-imposition actions of Hindi politicians. It has to do with the arrogance of many Hindi visitors to non-Hindi states who expect everyone in India to know their mother tongue Hindi. They come a thousand miles from their home state and want us to communicate with them in their language.

Most Hindi people also have a sense of special entitlement that they should be able to go anywhere in India and do every thing using Hindi. They do not want to use any other language including English (India's second official language) because Hindi is India's rashtrabasha (means either official language or national language). By adding Hindi in street names we are enabling this arrogant sense of entitlement.

Indian government is a major enabler by using Hindi everywhere in their offices, banks, railways, airports, etc. While Tamil people cannot use Tamil in most Indian government bank ATMs in Tamil Nadu where their ancestors have lived thousands of years, Hindi people can travel a thousand miles from their homeland and use their mother tongue Hindi. So why are we aiding Hindi imperialism by adding Hindi to street names in our cities. Let them learn how to read Tamil or English.

6. Hindi Street Names Sends the Wrong Message

Hindi people do not know the depth of opposition to Hindi imposition in Tamil Nadu. Text books used in their states as well as CBSE text books represent anti-Hindi imposition protests as "political drama" by politicians and not people's movement. The fact that 63 unarmed Tamil protesters were killed in army/police shootings and 7 Tamils self-immolated themselves (burnt themselves to death) in 1965 are not mentioned in these school text booksm [Reference 4]. Adding Hindi to street name boards sends the wrong message to Hindi people that Tamil people have accepted Hindi and are using Hindi. They take this message to their home states. Next time they read about opposition to Hindi imposition in any non-Hindi state, they laugh it off as some politicians trying to incite people against Hindi.

Also, since they see Hindi street names, they expect store keepers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, hotel employees, restaurant employees and everyone in non-Hindi states to talk to them in Hindi. If the state government can put Hindi signs, why do not these people talk to us in Hindi? This puts pressure on store keepers, bus drivers, etc. to learn Hindi, an unnecessary hardship. In a way this helps Indian government agenda that every Indian should know Hindi. Tamil Nadu opposes Hindi imposition, Hindi imperialism, Hindi supremacy and language inequality. Remove Hindi from street signs. Tamil and English are enough.

7. When Indian Government does not Use Tamil in 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 wrong with Hindi street signs in Madurai? As we explained in earlier sections, our opposition is a reaction to India's Hindi imposition policies.

We ask these broadminded people to ask the Hindi politicians to enact necessary laws asking Indian government to communicate with Tamil people within Tamil Nadu in Tamil. 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. Will Hindi street names be posted in Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, ... in Hindi states? If that is too many languages why a special privilege for Hindi? Let Hindi people learn to read English names as others do.

Indian Government supplies cooking gas cylinders to Tamil Nadu. Safety instructions (warnings) are in Hindi and English only; no Tamil (click here to see photo). 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 Hindi people paying higher taxes for this privilege? No. I say to these broadminded people, first tell the Indian government to publish web sites in all Indian languages, and then ask us to put Hindi street signs in Madurai.

There is a sign at Chennai Airport (Tamilnadu) telling employees "We feel happy when you speak in Hindi." Who is happy when Indian government employees in Tamil Nadu speak Hindi? (click here for photo) They do not want Tamil employees at a Tamil Nadu airport to speak in Tamil even among themselves. It would make them unhappy.

A Parliamentary Sub-Committee Meeting was held in Mysore (Karnataka State) on July 5, 2008 to review the “implementation” of Hindi as per the official language policy. There was a large board written in Kannada. It says, "Maneya Vyavahara Kannadadalli, Karyalayada Vyavahara Raajabhasheyalli (Hindi)". It means, "Use Kannada at home, use Rajabhasha (Hindi) in office". Don't you think it is an insult to Kannada and all non-Hindi languages of India? They want us to limit our mother tongues within our homes.

Removing Hindi signs from streets is a reaction to such arrogance of Hindi politicians and many Hindi people. Let them learn Tamil or English or come with a Travelers Dictionary when they visit Tamil Nadu.

8. Additional Information

Installing Hindi street names in Madurai is a violation of Tamil Nadu State Two-Language Policy. Background and history of the two-language formula is explained in some detail in a companion article published in 2017 about Hindi in bus schedules at Kanyakumari Express Bus Stand [Reference 3]. That article also explains the need to post Tamil Nadu officers in Tamil Nadu (not officers from other states).

[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)

3. Remove Hindi from Kanyakumari State Express Bus Station (2017) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 2017 (16 KB) (h

4. Indian School Textbook from NCERT Distorts and Disparages 1965 Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitation (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, September 2012 (8 KB) (h)


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