KATHMANDU, APR 10 : Three years after Nepal erupted in violence and saw the rift between its hill and plains people deepen over Vice President Paramananda Jha taking his oath of office in Hindi, a fresh Hindi row has begun to grow as the Himalayan republic readies for a new census after a decade.
Nepal’s media called it the “Hindi hangama” (sic) and “Hindinization drive” as the regional parties from the southern Terai plains began campaigning for a new category in the upcoming census, scheduled to start from June.
“Though Nepal’s hill and mountain people speak different languages, Nepali is regarded as the common tongue,” said Rajendra Mahato, chief of the Sadbhavana Party that is campaigning to establish Hindi as the most-spoken language in the Terai - and a potential rival to Nepali.
“The use of one language helped Nepal’s ruling classes enforce their sway and united the different communities.” According to Mahato, the scene is the same in the Terai.
“Though there are different communities in the Terai who have different mother tongues like Maithili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Tharu, Hindi is the lingua franca spoken throughout Terai and we are seeking that the census recognise that.”
The Sadbhavana Party is asking the census to include a new category besides the mother tongue: the language of communication.
“The earlier censuses produced false data,” says Mahato, a former minister. “We want the new census to rectify the past mistakes and provide a true picture.”
The last census, undertaken in 2001, indicated only 0.47 percent of the population spoke Hindi, which was likely to be inaccurate, given the level of repression and neglect Hindi-speaking people were subjected to by Nepal’s Rana prime ministers and the Shah dynasty of kings.
According to the last census, the second most-spoken language after Nepali was Maithili with 12.3 percent people speaking it. With start of the Hindi campaign, the other regional languages in the Terai are reported to be feeling endangered. A media report Sunday said the southern district of Saptari had kicked off a drive, urging people to root for their mother tongues over Hindi. “Whenever the Terai seeks to establish its own identity and culture, Nepal begins to burn,” said Mahato. “The controversy about Jha’s oath was wrong, he should have been allowed to take the oath in Hindi. Our nine MPs took their oath in Hindi and speak Hindi in the house.”
The census is going to be of paramount importance, being the first one to be held after Nepal, once the only Hindu kingdom in the world, became a secular, federal republic in 2008.
It is expected to show stunning changes in the religious composition of the once Hindu majority nation, with a sharp climb in the number of Muslims and Christians.
It is also expected to show a substantially higher population in the Terai plains, a factor that will be taken into serious consideration when Nepal begins restructuring the country into federal, autonomous states.
The hill people fear the growth of Hindi will lead to growing influence by India on the Terai, which shares the same culture and blood ties with the subcontinent.
The new row comes after Vice President Jha took his oath of office in 2008 in Hindi, triggering public condemnation and a law suit that forced him to take the oath again in Nepali.