There is a connection between digitisation and Jallikattu — language. Digitisation, promoted so vigorously by the Union government, entails bringing every Indian citizen under formal banking, which also means filling forms or pressing buttons, to deposit and withdraw money from banks. Jallikattu, on the other hand, is a sign ostensibly of upholding particularities of the regional, or celebrating local cultural practices with pride and honour. Language, like Jallikattu, is arguably a valid enough sign of particular regional selves.
The Indian state has followed a confusing policy on language practices. On the one hand, it has honoured a number of languages as Scheduled languages. It means all those languages enjoy equal rights. Civil services aspirants can write answers to their papers in any of the Scheduled languages. The trouble is, questions for the civil services examinations, or any “national” level test, are printed in only English and Hindi. These two have been elevated to higher legitimacy with the term “link language”, meaning languages in which inter-provincial official communications could be carried out. For the record, there is no national language of India.
How one of these link languages—Hindi — has been misrepresented in the public sphere as “the national language” merits a separate inquiry. The Gujarat High Court in 2010 stated clearly that India does not have a national language and though a majority accepted Hindi as a national language, it is not officially the national language. However, every inter-state paper is printed in either Hindi or English, or both, which makes it inaccessible to anyone without proficiency in either. This is especially harmful since several Scheduled languages are state languages in provinces and government schools carry out education in these. In many provinces, even undergraduate and post-graduate students receive instruction in “regional” languages. You may possess a research degree, but not know enough Hindi or English to decipher official communication, when exclusively carried out in Hindi or English.
A postgraduate, of course, is likely to know enough Hindi or English to fill in bank forms. But what about those who do not possess even that, and are entering the banking process for the first time? Do they employ professional operators for their transactions? Some of them may have received some schooling, but entirely in the local language, which is absent in bank forms and inter-state official communication papers. These are people for whom the national is the regional. They read, write, think in their “mother tongue”. Their heroes are local, their pasts rooted in regional history. They hold their cultural practices dear. These embody the essence of a sovereign collective selfhood. They respond with hostility to interrogation of these practices for they don’t understand the logic that frames questions put to them.
I went to the ATM near my office in Kolkata recently. There were two women, seemingly middle-class, standing ahead of me in the queue. One had no knowledge of English or Hindi and got the other to update her passbook with an automated passbook updater. She sighed that there was no place for Bengali in Bengal, meaning the “national” bank offered her no provision to operate her account in the language she was schooled in.