METTUR: Workers of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party and relatives pay respects near the coffin of Thangavel, a leader who self-immolated to protest imposition of Hindi in India’s Tamil Nadu state.—AFP
METTUR: Workers of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party and relatives pay respects near the coffin of Thangavel, a leader who self-immolated to protest imposition of Hindi in India’s Tamil Nadu state.—AFP

NEW DELHI: An octogenarian man burned himself to death in southern India in protest at what he called New Delhi’s attempts to impose nationwide usage of Hindi, a language mostly spoken in the north, police said on Sunday.

Language is an emotive issue in India where hundreds of languages and dialects are spoken, but English serves as the main official medium while state governments use regional languages.

According to the most recent census in 2011, fewer than half of Indian citizens speak Hindi — just under 44 percent.

But last month a group of parliamentarians headed by the powerful interior minister Amit Shah reportedly recommended making Hindi the national official language, including for technical education such as medicine and engineering.

Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken of a “slave mentality” around the use of English, and promoted the use of Indian languages. But opponents accuse his government of attempting to impose Hindi, causing particular anger in the south.

Most southern Indian languages are Dravidian, a completely different language family to the Indo-European group which includes Hindi. MV Thangavel, 85, a farmer in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, doused himself in petrol and kerosene and set himself alight, police said.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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