Hindi imperialism though pidgin english
A noted botanist of Indian origin working in the United States has expressed an important idea. It is that our identity is also determined by our geography. He had gone on to suggest that given the range of life forms due to the variety of climatic zones in India we should see biodiversity as part of our identity. As is only reasonable to expect, the botanist is very likely also motivated by the need to preserve his turf at any cost, but, at any rate, he has opened up to us a greater imagination. That we should think of the biodiversity of India as an defining aspect of our identity, is not just perceptive but also a constructive suggestion at a moment when the ruling dispensation in India is hell bent on beating the country into a homogenous mass professing hindutva.
Before hindutva was sprung upon us there was the linguistic majoritarianism represented by the concerted effort to impose the hindi language on all of India. And, it would be naive to believe that the duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who are prone to addressing this linguistically diverse country in hindi alone, are the sole champions of this project. The team of Amit Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues that runs the Delhi government has now constituted itself into a suitable B-team. In a curious case, the GB Pant Hospital of the Delhi government on June 5 issued the notice “A complaint has been received regarding Malayalam language is being used for communication in working places in GIPMER. Whereas maximum patient and colleagues do not know this language and feel helpless causing a lot of inconvenience … it is directed to all Nursing Personnel to use only Hindi and English for communication otherwise serious action will be taken.” Not even the mirth induced by the pathetic linguistic capability evident in the notice can erase the sense of intolerance that it conveys. Following a nation-wide protest the notice has since been revoked.
It is mind-boggling to even imagine that language should be the first concern of the Delhi government during the COVID-19 epidemic. The entire country has watched, with sympathy, how it has struggled without the most basic health infrastructure during the Second Wave. It has not been able to provide oxygen supplies or prevent the black marketing of essential drugs. Instead of supporting the frontline workers, which includes doctors, nurses and support staff, of its ramshackle public health system it has chosen to shower a section of them with cultural intolerance. There is a saying in Malayalam which translates to “Turning on your mother after losing in the bazaar.” Its relevance in the context is direct. On March 31, Kerala, the home of the nurses of GB Pant Hospital, had a COVID-19 case fatality rate that was only a little more than a third of Delhi’s and a death rate that was less than one fourth by comparison. Perhaps the political leadership of Delhi has something to learn from their nurses.
Far from being an optional extra, bedside manner is a necessary qualification for medical workers. It is not negotiable that they should treat their patients with empathy. Language is a part of this human exchange. But it is odd that malayali nurses are somehow found deficient in this department in Delhi alone when they have been prized members of the health system in the Middle East, Europe and north America for decades by now. The inescapable conclusion is that there is something in the working environment in Delhi that produces dysfunctionality. Ultimately, it as a managerial failure that Delhi finds itself at odds with a section of its health workers. It can surely learn from the treatment of northern migrant workers in Kerala. A publicly built housing complex for them in Palakkad is called Apna Ghar. This not a case of absented-mindedness but is an expression of welcome to our guests. There is something hypocritical in accepting a person’s labour but hating their language.