‘It is not the number of mother tongue speakers which makes a language important in the eyes of the world, but the extent to which a language is found useful outside its original setting’
Ten World Hindi Conferences have been held so far beginning with the first one way back in 1975 at Nagpur, India. Much water has flown under the bridge since then. In the beginning several World Hindi Conferences were held at irregular intervals. After the Trinidad Conference things seemed to gather steam and they were more regular. The India 1975 World Hindi Conference was a historical one, and was followed immediately by another one in 1976 in Mauritius. The two giant stalwarts of the historic era were harbingers of farsightedness and new vision. Mrs Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Prime Minister of Mauritius had set the tone for the two conferences in Nagpur and Mauritius respectively.
The idea of a World Hindi Secretariat had been then mooted by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam at Nagpur. The proposal continued to be voted at several World Hindi Conferences and only took firm shape in 1996, 21 years after, when I finally took it to the Government as a major plank in the evolution of their linguistic policy. I told those at the helm that if they did not take it seriously, then another country was waiting to host it. I was offered the responsibility of the setting up of the WHS. I patiently piloted it through thick and thin till an MOU was finally signed between the two governments in August 1999. I worked on its plan of strategy and development and prepared its vision, mission statement and projects, and worked on an eventual draft Bill of Legislation for its legal concretization.
As for the World Hindi Conferences, two were held in Mauritius. It is interesting to note the slow taking off of the whole mechanism and structure. For after the 2nd World Hindi Conference in Mauritius in 1976, the third one was organised in New Delhi seven years afterwards, a year before Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984.
It was only after a long lapse of ten years that the fourth was held again in Mauritius in 1993. It is now 43 years since the World Hindi Conference was set up. Since then Hindi has moved from the pen and ink world to the digital world.
Thereafter, there was a strong feeling that the World Hindi Conference should widen its sphere and reach out to the Western Diaspora for the promotion of Hindi.
Mauritius is lucky that successive governments have been visionary in their language policy and maintained the linguistic equilibrium. But in the Caribbean countries only Surinamese diasporic people have been able to maintain their ethnic linguistic heritage (Hindi/Bhojpuri) despite being a minority community. Known as Surinami Hindi, (Hindi/Bhojpuri mixed) it is widely spoken in Suriname. Here is a recent comment by a scholar, Prof. Ajay Dubey, Chairperson for Centre for Africa Studies JNU and Editor in Chief of Diaspora Studies Journal, Routledge, London, who was in Mauritius recently for the ARSP – “International Conference on Nation Building and the Indian Diaspora”:
“I was amazed to see it (Hindi) fully flourishing in Suriname and most surprisingly people there speak it with so much of pride, in offices, market, flight and day to day use that other languages like Dutch and English are used only when you have to converse with non-Indians.”
Powerful link medium with Mother India
The World Hindi Conferences have now come to stay. They are firmly anchored. Especially with the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that serves as a vibrant and firm hub for the 35 million strong Indian Diaspora, Hindi is a powerful link medium with Mother India. Moreover it is a flexible language that adapts and adopts. It lends itself gracefully to a changing world like the Bollywood Hindi, South Indian Hindi and Hinglish. All these varieties make it an endearing and dynamic language of the 21st century.
Mrs Varshnie Singh scholar from Guyana was here in Mauritius for a Conference in 2014 during the 180th Anniversary of the Commemoration of Girmitiya Arrival. She remarked in her Paper:
“We had asked that for the 10th and every Conference to follow, special teaching sessions be included for novices, in Workshop format. Using modern methods and techniques to teach beginners to read, write and speak Hindi. We have been calling for this recognition and inclusion in the World Hindi Conference for many years, at all levels and forum without success.”
She further added:
“If the WHC is not the right forum, then let MGI, Mauritius take the lead and with the Government of India and the Government of Mauritius and the WHS, let us continue with the Inter-national Conference as often as is economically viable and let us build on the expected concrete foundation we long to be created here.” This is an absolute “crie du coeur”.
In Guyana there are schools conducted by some private institutions. But over the years following the political removal of Dr Cheddi Jagan from the seat of power, there was a dire void among the Indians in the West. However, despite the proximity of the USA with its overbearing American “pull”, the people of Indian origin in the Caribbean struggle very hard to maintain their linguistic and cultural heritage. We should be indeed grateful here that with the proximity of India, the stable succeeding farsighted Governments of Mauritius have understood that giving the population the human right of practising their linguistic and cultural heritage would maintain and keep political stability and equilibrium.
Therefore, the holding of the 5th World Hindi Conference in Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago in 1996 only three years after the Mauritius one (following the request made by Shri Ravi Maharaj of Hindi Nidhi, Trinidad at the 1993 conference at Moka) in brought much hope, aspiration and expectation to the Caribbean PIOs. Subsequently, the World Hindi Conference moved to the Northern Hemisphere with the 6th one held in London in 1999. Things got stabilized thereafter. The organizers gave more serious thought to its structuring and sustainability, with the 7th one moving to Suriname in 2003 and the 8th one held in New York in 2007. An address by the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, at the UN to the World Hindi Conference delegates with some words in Hindi gave much hope to the WHC for its becoming indeed an official language of the UN. Eventually the 9th World Hindi Conference was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2012.
The coming to power of Shri Narendra Modi in 2014 gave a new force and vigour to the linguistic policies of the Government of India. The Bhopal 10th World Hindi Conference in 2015 has given new direction, vitality and thrust to the promotion of Hindi as a world language. Two of the best well and scientifically handled World Hindi Conferences have been so far those of Johannesburg and Bhopal.
The decision to hold the 11th World Hindi Conference in Mauritius was taken in Bhopal.
Mother Language Day
That languages matter is no more a debatable subject. One has seen how the Bangla Deshi young medical students in Dacca gave up their lives in defense of their mother language on 21st February 1952. This prompted the UNESCO to declare the Mother Language Day in 1998 on February 21st, the day of Martyrdom.
Hindi is a very popular language throughout the world, being taught in over 164 universities.
When the 5th World Hindi Conference was held in Trinidad in 1996, the then Prime Minister Basdeo Pandey was elated like a young boy to see that Hindi can be accessed on the computer as a Digital Boli! His glee knew no bound. He said that he had learnt Hindi sitting on the mat in baithkas learning it in the old fashioned way of repeating Ka Kha Ga Gha after his guruji with a rod in his hand!
So he wanted to introduce Hindi in the schools in Trinidad together with Hispania through the e-technology. But the regime changed and his project also fell.
Today Hindi and its script the Devanagri have been recognized by no less a distinguished person than Bill Gates as a language of precision and a perfect Internet Boli.
As a language that has easily adopted itself on blogs, WhatsApp, Smartphones, Twitter and the multimedia, Hindi can be transcribed simultaneously in any language and script on the computer with the revolution in technology. Bollywood and the multitude of Hindi TV channels have given far reaching exposure to the language. Hindi’s future looks bright, as it is increasingly accessible to the youngsters. At the Bhopal Conference, several non-Indian Hindi lovers from Nigeria, the central Asian countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt declared their sheer love for Hindi, through watching Hindi movies. In Addis Ababa in 2016, I was surprised to find my Ethiopian guide singing Hindi songs by heart.
Two of the long-time resolutions in World Hindi Conferences have already been concretized namely the Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University in Wardha, India, and the World Hindi Secretariat which is fully operational in its State of the Art new building in Phoenix.
The third Resolution that is Hindi as Official Language of the UN remains to materialise.
With India’s emergence as a giant economic power and the shift of the pendulum and economic paradigm shift, Hindi is slated to gain more recognition at UN despite some “technical problems”. In the advent of India joining the Security Council it will automatically make the way for Hindi to the UN as one of its official channels smoother and with lesser tears.
Accessing Hindi adequately with logistic support and facilities will enhance its reach to the younger generation. The need to train a vast number of translators and interpreters in multilingual disciplines is imperative.
Mauritius is gaining ground as the capital of the Indian diaspora. The setting up of the World Hindi Secretariat in Mauritius assumes significant importance. With its robust, well-anchored base in the education system and having produced writers of international fame and respect such as Abhimanyu Unnuth and Ramdeo Dhurundhur, Hindi gives Mauritius a legitimate platform and springboard towards its promotion worldwide.
More than 400 books in Hindi have been published and there are some 75 vibrant Hindi writers and poets in Mauritius. Every month two to three Hindi books are launched. Hindi journalism has a rich history in practise since 1909 with the setting up of ‘The Hindustani’ newspaper by Manilal Doctor, though it came out intermittently for economic reasons.
Interestingly, Mauritius is at the same time Hindiphone, Tamilphone, Anglophone, Francophone, Bhojpuriphone and Creolophone. This makes it a nexus for the new mouvance of Hindi as a world language through the translation in these various languages. The potential is great. It is the resolute will of those managing the affairs of Hindi that is being put to test.
The Mahatma Gandhi Institute/RTI and World Hindi Secretariat will be called upon to play larger determining roles on a global scale in the near future.
If Hindi is to be maintained as a language of esteem, of culture, identity and a modern global language of communications then it is time it is taken to the youngsters through electronic networking, to enable them to connect with each other on social media as well as own it as a language of heart and creativity.
* Published in print edition on 3 August 2018