JNR, Promoter and Torch-bearer of Hindi

A Personal Perspective

By Mrinal Roy

A friend sent me a whatsApp copy of the card announcing the celebration of the centenary of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha this week amidst a host of Ministers and MPs gracing the event. It would therefore bequite remiss not to bring to the fore the singular yogdan (contribution) of Jay Narain Roy, known under his nom de plume as JNR, to the promotion and momentous development of Hindi in the country. His intellect, vision and path-breaking actions provided a game changing impetus to the teaching, advanced study and creative writing in Hindi and broadened the space it occupied in the linguistic, educational, and literary ecosystem of the country.

While at university abroad, Jay Narain Roy wrote articles and poems in the local Hindi newspapers.A week after his return to Mauritiusin May 1937, after completing his university studies, Jay Narain Roy was invited by Ooma Shankur Geerjanan and Srinivas Jugduth to preside over a Hindi school function, He would be called upon to preside such functions to promote Hindi and help support the activities of bona fide socio-cultural organisations almost every Sunday over the next decades. On 11 June 1937 Pandit Atmaram Vishwanath, who was delegated to Mauritius by Manilal Doctor in 1921, wrote as the new editor of the Hindi newspaper Arya Patrika in an article entitled ‘Shri J.N. Roy and Hindi’ that he saw in him ‘a potent torch-bearer for the uplift of Hindi in Mauritius’.

Jay Narain Roy joined the Hindi Pracharini Sabha in 1937, became an executive member from 1940 to 1952 and was unanimously elected President of the Sabha continuously for 25 years from 1952 to 1977 when he retired from the Sabha.

New fillip

During his tenure as President, he gave a new importance and fillip to the teaching and study of Hindi in Mauritius. He was already well known in the country for his influential and inspiring writings in Hindi and English as JNR and as an MP. He relentlessly and untiringly toured the country promoting Hindi through his powerful speeches, erudition, and oratory skills. This caused an awakening and an unparalleled enthusiasm for Hindi so much so that the initially 37 affiliated schools grew to over 450 schools in 1961.He used to say to his entourage: ‘Each school is a temple, and I must have been doubly blessed to have inaugurated so many in my life.’

Jay Narain Roy set up Hindi syllabi for the teaching of Hindi at primary and secondary level, complete with their own inspectorates and examinations. In 1946 he contacted the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan of Allahabad to set the examinations conducted by the Sabha.The Parichay exams were instituted in 1946, and the Prathama examinations in1956. For the Parichay examinations, he wrote a book entitled ‘Mauritius mein Hindi bhasa ka SanshiptaItihas’ (A brief History of Hindi Language in Mauritius) which became a prescribed textbook. The totality of the proceeds went to the Hindi Pracharini Sabha.

The teachers trained by the Hindi Pracharini Sabha offered free tuition to thousands of students. As an MP, Jay Narain Roy moved the motion in the Assembly to make the teaching of oriental languages the responsibility of government. As a result of his actions, Government introduced the teaching of Hindi in primary schools as from 1950. Those who had succeeded in the examinations held by the Hindi Pracharini Sabha were called upon to implement this policy and appointed Hindi teachers. 

Higher education in Hindi as per norms established and assessed by academic institutions in India was organised by the Sabha for Madhyama in 1963 and Uttama in 1964. Degrees were awarded to successfulcandidatesat a special Convocation Day held annually at the Hindi Bhavan in Montagne Longue.

As an intellectual he strongly believed that the mastery and comprehensive knowledge of a language provides a conduit to the rich literature, philosophy, writings and ethos of a civilization and its people. It is also a door to advanced knowledge and erudition. Hindi honed in the cradle of a several thousand years old civilisation certainly deserved the same place as English and French.

Fighting a common cause

In August 1969 Jay Narain Roy also set up with the Mauritius Arya Sabha a Joint Hindi Council to join forces in support of the Hindi Movement in Mauritius and to formulate proposals for the teaching and other uses of Hindi in primary and secondary schools and government institutions. A press communique was issued on 15 August 1969 in the daily Advance which bears the signatures of the members of the Joint Hindi Council who were Messrs Mohunlall Mohit and Teeluck Callychurn, President and Vice-President of the Mauritius Arya Sabha and Messrs Jay Narain Roy and Suruj Mungur Bhagat, President and secretary of the Hindi Pracharini Sabha.

The press release contained eight incisive resolutions made on Hindi Day demanding the post-independence ‘government tointer alia declare and define its language policy so that there is no room for doubt at any time in future’, and to spell out the conditions under which the official language and mother tongues should be taught and examined. They also demanded that the government should forthwith make an equivocal declaration that all mother tongues in the country should be on the same and equal footing as regards.

(a) the time and attention devoted to their teaching and examinations,
(b) the facilities for the pupils to take them as examination and competition subjects in all stages of education in Mauritius, and
(c)the facilities of textbooks, libraries, the training of teachers and the avenues of promotion of teachers of these languages.

They also asked that the imposition of the mother tongue of one child on another child of a different mother tongue for the purpose of examinations and competitions which is educationally both unfair and unsound must be firmly resisted.

Jay Narain Roy also encouraged writing in Hindi by introducing competition in essay writing, short story writing and play writing as from 1965. Prizes were awarded to the best writers. This is the first time in the history of the Hindi language and literature in Mauritius that such encouragement was given to Hindi writers which provided the opportunity to a multitude of persons to write. The country soon had more writers in Hindi than in any other language.

His appeals for fund raising almost every Sunday where he was invited to preside over Vashik Utsavs with his two friends Pandit O.S.Geerjanand and Pandit S. Jugduth and other social workers over decades helped collect colossal sums over the years for the developmentof schools and organizations promoting the Hindi cause. People would queue up to donate money in support of Hindi. The sums collected were announced publicly.

He also expanded the facilities at the Hindi Bhavan through the acquisition of land and construction of new buildings and set up a Hindi Library.

As predicted, Jay Narain Roy became the torch-bearer and tireless promoter of Hindi in all its literary forms.

In 1976, the Sabha organized the second International Hindi Convention in Mauritius at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, attended by eminent Indian writers and Hindi scholars from all over the world. Known to be a remarkable speaker in Hindi, he was called uponto address the Convention in the name of Mauritius.

Jay Narain Roy also mastered Sanskrit. He was thus regularly invited by the Brahman Sabha to address Sanskrit students on its Annual Prize Giving Day.

Reality check

High benchmarks, lofty objectives, determinant actions, and popular support helped realize these singular milestones during this path breaking period. It is therefore important to take objective stock of the current situation and failures regarding Hindi in spite of the tremendous resources and facilities available today so as to urgently take the corrective actions necessary.

Learning a new language is always an exciting intellectual prospect. Despite a certain parochial jingoism, it is wonderful and a matter of pride for all Indians to see citizens from the Northeast States or Kerala and outside the so-called Hindi belt speak as one nation Hindi so fluently.

In December 1988, Pahlad Ramsurrun editor of the magazine ‘Indra Dhanush’ in its first issue stated with seething indignation ‘Till when shall we refuse to recognize the founding role of Jay Narain Roy in Hindi Literature? Till when shall we avoid to bring light upon his life’s achievements instead of blowing our own trumpets and persist in our failed efforts to hand Hindi its proper legacy?’

Itihas ka Tarazu.

Mrinal Roy

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 10 November 2023

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