Anne Mossner, Department for Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University
Anti-Hindi Agitation in the Madras Hinterland
When M. K. Gandhi discovered the idea of a potential national language as a tool for unifying the masses under his banner, the period ca. ten years before and twenty years after independence and partition is also marked by a sequence of struggles based on language and linguistic identity carried out in the periphery of Gandhi’s Hindi heartland.
The region this paper will be concerned with is the South of the South Asian subcontinent, which politically consisted of the Madras Presidency and the kingdom of Mysore before Independence and of Madras State viz, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu afterwards. Cultural resistance against so called Northern Indian cultural imperialism hails back from the beginning of the 20th century in the shape of linguistic and religious reform, when Maraimalai Adigal popularised the re-invented Saiva Siddhanta, a religious perceived to be genuinely Tamil on account of being void of corruptive brahmanical elements from North India, and founded the Pure Tamil Movement which strove to eliminate North Indian influences, i.e. Sanskritic elements from the Tamil language as well.
The first anti-Hindi agitation started in 1937 when Hindi was introduced as a compulsory subject in schools in Madras state. It was led by social reformer E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, the head of the atheist Tamilist Self-Respect Movement, and seems to be essentially Madras city-based, being spread from there to the Hinterland through mass mobilisations like Naickers anti-Hindi march from Madras city to Tirucchirapallam in 1938. Two other important instances of anti-Hindi agitations were in 1952 and 1965 respectively, when the prospect of Hindi becoming a national language, herewith ousting Tamil as a mere regional languag became more palpable. Then as well the agitation seems to be spearheaded by the metropolis of Madras city as a political centre.
This paper seeks to explore to what extent and in which kind anti-Hindi agitation went beyond the influence from the political and cultural metropolis of Madras city. Looking at the eventual success of the anti-Hindi movement the question arises if the masses in small and middle-sized towns were only mobilised by the ideology fed to them from the metropolis, or if the cultural climate of said towns generated a certain momentum in the struggle. Some of these middle-sized towns in the hinterland of the Madras presidency being powerful cultural centres themselves, e. g. Madurai with its Tamil academy, the Madurai Tamil Sangam, this problem bears closer examination. Aditionally, a whole new array of questions arises when one considers the non-Tamil speaking parts of the Madras Presidency as well: small and middle-sized towns being their own centres of Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada linguistic identity.