Mind your language ties


In the wake of Hindi Day celebrations, Poornima Koonath explores the importance of connecting with the language

On 14 September 1949, the Indian Constituent Assembly adopted Hindi as the official language of India and since then this day has been celebrated as Hindi Divas.

But for immigrant Indians, Hindi is more than just a language. Mala Mehta, the founder of the Indo Australian Bal Bharatiya Vidyalaya says, “We, as non-resident Indians, try to hold on to our culture and values and find that by connecting ourselves with Hindi we are able to see for ourselves and are able to show our children here what the official Language of India stands for and how it unites us all.”

Mala Mehta

Learning a new language is always good and if second generation Indian Australians, learn Hindi as the second language, the benefits are multifold! Hindi teacher Rekha Rajvanshi says, “We as parents should inculcate in our children the importance of culture and Hindi language from childhood. Our heritage and culture is more than 9000 years old. It has a lot of significance in our daily lives. We need to preserve it and pass it to younger generation.”

A new study also states that learning a second language may help improve brain function regardless of when you start. Dr Thomas Bak, University of Edinburgh states that, “Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the ageing brain.”

Hindi Day is the celebration of not only Hindi but everything that is Indian, the culture we belong to. Mala Mehta (MM), who has been a campaigner for the Hindi language for more than two decades, has also been a member of the Police Multicultural Advisory Council for the last four years and efforts being made to work together with communities to prevent social issues such as resettlement of migrants is ongoing.

Rekha Rajvanshi (RR), who is a published poetess, both say that language is intrinsically connected to the culture of the place. While Mala believes the relationship between language and culture is deeply rooted, Rekha says she believes language and culture are the two sides of one coin.

The Indian Sun spoke to Mala and Rekha language learning.

Why is language important?

MM: There may be many who connect with what it’s like growing up in a migrant family in the western world. Language is a significant marker of identity. Questions of identity are linked to how we understand ourselves and others. Am I an Indian Australian or an Australian of Indian origin? Being bilingual or multilingual means having more than one identity—they can adapt to any situation with a sense of pride.

RR: We express many ideas through language about a culture and similarly our language is influenced by our culture.

What do you see as the major role of the Hindi school?

MM: For us the journey began with establishing the Indo-Australia Bal Bharathi Vidyalaya (IABBV) Hindi School in June 1987, a non-profit organisation run entirely by volunteers. It is the first structured Hindi-language institution in Sydney NSW Australia dedicated to the teaching of Hindi and has been operating ever since with support from the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities’ Community Languages Schools Program.

The IABBV Hindi School has completed 30 years of teaching Hindi and now has 6 centres for Hindi. Classes are run every Sunday morning at Thornleigh West Public School and we have five additional centres for Hindi before and after school at John Purchase Public School, Waitara Public School, Hornsby South Public School, Epping Public School and Marie Bashir Public School. We are hopeful to start another three centres for Hindi in 2018 in Epping West Public School, Chatswood Public School and The Ponds HS. There is an increase in numbers in other community language schools like ours.

The inclusion of Hindi in the national curriculum with the release of the “Australia in the Asian Century White Paper” and the development of a K-10 Curriculum by ACARA in 2015, reflects Australia’s acknowledgement of India as part of Asia, and of the 21st Century as the ‘Asian Century’. It realised a long-held hope for the Indian community, affirming their sense of identity as Hindi seemed to take its place alongside Mandarin and Korean as a language of study in Australian schools. In NSW, Hindi is being taught only in six schools. Each year we are hopeful and try to increase this number.

Why do you think it is important to promote Hindi even if today’s generation will never ever use the written form in their lives? Isn’t it enough to learn to converse?

MM: Indians are a sizeable minority in Australia. According to the last census, the number is 450,000, making it Australia’s fourth-largest community group. Hindi is now the ninth most widely spoken language in Australia. In the years to come India will be the primary services provider as it has the youngest population in the world with an average age of 26 years. For parents of non-Indian backgrounds, the motivation to study Hindi or any language arises out of their interest in retaining the link with culture or a desire to ensure that children can communicate with their grandparents easily. Hindi learning is a sociable and ultimately enjoyable experience. Students from our school have gone and experienced the Bollywood industry as actors and playback singers. Others have had opportunities in Australia to commentate for the cricket matches in Hindi and use their language skills as interpreters and translators.

RR: In the era of migration and globalization, Indians have moved all over the world and they want to keep their culture and language alive. India is growing in trade and business, and many non-English speaking tourists are visiting India. They like to communicate with the local businesses in their language. Young people learn Hindi so that they can have a good understanding of our culture and history. My students learn Hindi for reasons such as tourism, learning of religion, philosophy and Yoga, intercultural marriages, exchange programs, roles in Bollywood films, social work, business and trade, among others.

And finally, what do you think is the main purpose of observing Hindi Divas?

MM: IABBV Hindi School students, teachers and parents take great pride in celebrating Hindi Divas 2017. Each year we have over 60 students who look forward to taking part in the poetry recitation competition and students who can’t wait to take part in the Hindi play or the cultural items. Other Hindi Schools and community organisations Australia-wide also get together to have kavi sammelans (poets gathering) and celebrations. A lot of effort goes into celebrating Hindi Divas and the Indian Government supports these celebrations, therefore I don’t think it is tokenistic.

RR: I do not believe in making Hindi Divas ‘tokenistic’ as it plays a vital role in spreading our culture all around the world. I translated Aboriginal Dreamtime stories in Hindi, so that Hindi-speaking people can understand Aboriginal culture of Australia. Bollywood movies have played a major role in promoting Hindi, one of my students learned Hindi because she wanted to act in Bollywood movies.


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