The Linguistic Bias

Recently there was an item in the newspapers that some of the ex-American employees of a well known Indian IT firm wanted to sue the company for linguistic bias. They complained that they had been sidelined as they did not know Hindi. They alleged that their colleagues (and probably their bosses too) would carry on in Hindi, a language they did not know, putting them at a total disadvantage.
This news item really tickled me to no end. This IT bellwether company is basically a South Indian company though with employees from all over the country and World. I can understand English being the common language of communication amongst them. But Hindi? If it has dominated their conversations, probably it is because Hindi speaking people assume that everyone knows or should know Hindi and should be able to take part in their chat sessions.
In fact, declaration of Hindi as the national language has never been totally accepted south of Vindhyas. Left to Hindi movies and songs, this part of India would perhaps have taken to Hindi spontaneously, but Imposition has always been resisted.
Well, if Hindi speaking people assume that everyone knows or at least understands their language, the people in the rest of the country assume that no one knows their language and that is where the fun lies. They assume total ignorance on the part of the other party and tend to carry on comments about strangers in the firm conviction that they are safe. For example, in one of the border road units I believe two ladies were making caustic remarks in Tamil about a Sikh gentleman who was standing close to them while watching a badminton match. What would have been the reaction of those ladies if they had known that the said gentleman had done all his schooling and college in Tamilnadu and could understand every word of what they were saying!
Once we travelled from North to South India in a 2-tier sleeper coach by train. Our co-passengers were a Tamil couple. Even as the train started, they tried to release the sleeper plank and spread their beds on it though it was broad daylight. My husband opposed it vehemently as it was creating acute discomfort to us in the opposite berth. He even pointed to the rules that the sleeper planks should be used only between 9pm and 5 am.
Looking at his smart military moustache, his tight T shirt through which his muscles were rippling and his use of English language (obviously a language in which they were perhaps not well conversant) the couple reluctantly conceded with very little grace. As they settled down into their sitting positions, they commented between themselves in Tamil, “Looks like a Malayali, See how aggressive he is, behaving as if the train is his father’s property “etc. We just smiled and kept up the pretence.
When the train stopped at Madras central station, we let forth a torrent of Tamil just before we parted company from our co-passengers, leaving them open mouthed and aghast.
By Vimala Ramu


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