GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, Indian

Contact No. – 09404955338

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net

 

Devanagari Script and Mahatma Gandhi

 

Devanagari Script is the most impressive writing system. It depends on scientific principles. Each letter has a distinct sound. We can recognize it through sound. Devanagari has mainly two type letter. One is Vowel and another is consonants. The Devanagari script is used for writing Sanskrit and other Indian languages.  Brahmi script is used in the inscriptions of Emperor Asoka.  The Brahmi script was used more for writing Prakrit, the language spoken by ordinary people. All vowels and consonants of Sanskrit find a representation in Brahmi. 

 About 200 CE, India was ruled by different Hindu Kings and information dissemination continued through inscriptions in The credit for creating the awareness that rock inscriptions provided the most important clues to the development of writing in India, goes to western scholars. Brahmi was deciphered by James Prinsep in 1838. The methods used by Prinsep were somewhat similar to those that led to the successful decipherment of Hyeroglyphics a little earlier. Prinsep had the first clue from a Bilingual coin as well as repeated occurrence of the same syllable in several inscriptions at Sanchi where the oldest of the known Stupas from Ashoka's time is situated. Subsequent contributions from other scholars specifically, Georg Buhler established firmly the links between the language and the script.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I call that language Hindi which Hindus and Muslims in the North speak and which is written either in Devanagari.”1

Mahatma Gandhi told, “The people are trustful and simple. Both the Hindus and the Muslims speak Assamese. Bengali and Assamese are said to be sister languages. The script is the Bengali one. As I tour the country I see that, if all the Indian languages were written in the Devanagari script this would greatly strengthen the idea of our being one nation. There should be only two scripts, the Urdu and the Devanagari. There can be no doubt that there would be little difficulty in understanding Assamese, Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi and other languages if they were written in the Devanagari script. If this could be done, students of all these languages would be saved much time and would find the languages very easy to learn.”2

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The script of the book is Devanagari. May be this was done with the express intention of making Devanagari the common script. The letters are as beautiful as pearls and there are many lucid tables filled with figures.”3 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we are to make good our claim as one nation, we must have several things in common. We have a common culture running through a variety of creeds and sub-creeds. We have common disabilities. I am endeavouring to show that a common material for our dress is not only desirable but necessary. We need also a common language not in supersession of the vernaculars, but in addition to them. It is generally agreed that that medium should be Hindustani a resultant of Hindi and Urdu, neither highly sanskritized, nor Persianized or Arabianized. The greatest obstacle in the way are the numerous script, we have for the vernaculars. If it is possible to adopt a common script we should remove a great hindrance in the way of realizing the dream which, at present, is of having a common language. A variety of scripts is an obstacle in more ways than one. It constitutes an effectual barrier against the acquisition of knowledge. The Aryan languages have so much in common that, if a great deal of time had not to be wasted in mastering the different scripts, we should all know several languages without much difficulty; for instance, most people who have a little knowledge of Sanskrit would have no difficulty in understanding the matchless creation of Rabindranath Tagore, if it was all printed in Devanagari script. But the Bengali script is a notice to the non-Bengalis “hands off”. Conversely, if the Bengalis knew the Devanagari script, they would at once be able to enjoy the marvelous beauty and spirituality of Tulsidas and a host of other Hindustani writers. When I returned to India in 1915,1 I had a communication from a society whose headquarters were, I believe, in Calcutta, and whose object was to advocate a common script for all India. I do not know the activities of that society, but its object is worthy, and a great deal of substantial work can be done by a few earnest workers in this direction. There are obvious limitations. A common script for all India is a distant ideal. A common script for all those who speak the Indo-Sanskrit languages, including the Southern stock, is a practical ideal, if we can but shed our provincialisms. There is little virtue, for instance, in a Gujarati clinging to the Gujarati script.

 A provincial patriotism is good where it feeds the larger stream of all- India patriotism, as the latter is good to the extent that it serves the still larger end of the universe. But a provincial patriotism that says “India is nothing, Gujarat is all”, is wickedness. I have selected Gujarat because it is the half-way house, and because I am myself a Gujarati. In Gujarat, somewhat fortunately, those who settled the principles of primary education decided to make Devanagari script compulsory. Every Gujarati boy or girl who has passed through a school, therefore, knows both the Gujarati and the Devanagari scripts. If the committee had decided upon purely Devanagari script, it would have been better still. No doubt, the research scholars would still have learnt the Gujarati script for deciphering old manuscripts, but the Gujarati boy's energy would have been spared for more useful labour, if he had to learn only one instead of two scripts. The committee that settled the education scheme for Maharashtra was more enlightened, and it simply required the Devanagari script. The result is that a Mahratta reads, so far as mere reading is concerned, Tulsidas with as much facility as he reads Tukaram, and Gujaratis and Hindustanis read Tukaram with equal facility. The committee in Bengal, on the other hand, ruled otherwise, with the result we all know and many of us deplore. The treasures of the richest Indian vernacular have been rendered most difficult of access as if by design. That Devanagari should be the common script, I suppose, does not need any demonstration the deciding factor being that it is the script known to the largest part of India.

These reflections arise, because, I was called upon to solve, during my visit to Cuttack, a practical question. There is a tribe wedged between the Hindi speaking people in Bihar and Uriya speaking people of Orissa. What was to be done for the education of its children? Were they to be taught through Uriya or through Hindi? Or were they to be taught through their own dialect and, if they were, was the script to be Devanagari or a new invention? The first thought of the Utkal friends was to absorb the tribe amongst the Uriyas. The Biharis would think of absorbing them in Bihar, and if the elders of the tribe were consulted, they would most probably and naturally say that their dialect was just as good as the Uriya or the Bihari, and that it should be reduced to writing. And for them it would be a toss whether the script to be adopted should be Devanagari or Uriya, if not even a newly invented script, as has happened in modern times in at least two instances I know. Endeavouring to think in terms of all India, I suggested to my friends that, whilst it was proper for them to strengthen the Uriya language among the Uriya speaking people, the children of this tribe should be taught Hindi and, naturally, the script should be Devanagari. A spirit that is so exclusive and narrow as to want every form of speech to be perpetuated and developed is antinational and anti-universal. All undeveloped and unwritten dialects should, in my humble opinion, be sacrificed and merged in the great Hindustani stream. It would be a sacrifice only to be nobler, not a suicide. If we are to have a common language for cultured India, we must arrest the growth of any process of disintegration or multiplication of languages and scripts. We must promote a common language.

The beginning must naturally be made with the script, and until the Hindu-Muslim question is solved, confined perhaps to Hindu India. If I could have my way, I would make the learning of Devanagari script and Urdu script, in addition to the established provincial script compulsory in all the provinces and I would print in Devanagari chief books in the different vernaculars with a literal translation in Hindustani. Unfortunately, not many Congressmen have taken the trouble of learning the Devanagari script and fewer still the Urdu script.”4

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Third, spreading the use of the Devanagari script. If everyone learnt this script in addition to his own, Hindi would come to be understood with the greatest ease in all parts, and people in the different provinces speaking languages descended form Sanskrit would understand one another’s language with equal ease. The best way of thus propagating Hindi in Bengal, for example, is to bring out editions of the best books in that language in Devanagari script, with a glossary in each book giving the meaning of Bengali words in Hindi. If the rich classes among Marwaris, Gujaratis and others and men of letters take up this work, in a very short time excellent progress can be made.”5

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am of the view that all Indian languages should be written in the Devanagari script, and I do not except the Dravidian languages and Urdu from this. But I see difficulties in getting people to carry out this suggestion. So long as there is hostility between Hindus and Muslims, no Muslim will write Urdu in the Devanagari script. I am not suggesting that the Persian script should be given up, my idea is that common books in Urdu should be written in the Devanagari script. At present, however, even this is bound to remain a mere idea. But, without waiting for unity of hearts to be established between Hindus and Muslims, Gujarat, Bengal and other provinces can make a start if they wish to.

All good causes cannot be taken up by one person. Even if anyone tried to take them up, he would only render himself ridiculous. Someone else, therefore, should make this cause his own and devote all his time and energy to it. However, readers of Navajivan can certainly prevail upon me to act upon one of the suggestions made by this correspondent. If a majority of them approve of Navajivan being printed in the Devanagari script, I would immediately discuss the matter with my coworkers.

I do not have the courage to take the initiative about this without knowing readers’ views. I attach greater importance to propagating my ideas about problems over which I have reflected for many years and which I regard as very urgent, than to the popularizing of a script. Navajivan has taken many risks in the past, but all of them were for the sake of fundamental principles. I would not take the risk of affecting the circulation of Navajivan for the sake of the Devanagari script.

Among readers of Navajivan there are many women, as also some Parsis and Muslims. I am afraid that all of them would find it difficult, if not impossible, to read the Devanagari script. If my view is correct, I cannot print Navajivan in that script. Since popularizing this script is not my special field of work, I feel that I cannot take the risk of making a start in this regard. Even if the Gujarati Navajivan were published in the Devanagari script, the need for Hindi Navajivan would remain, for its readers cannot follow Gujarati.

But the correspondent’s suggestion is worth being adopted and deserves the support of newspapers, etc., it is also worth ascertaining the views of Navajivan’s readers about it, and that is why I have published his letter. I would advise him not to rest content with writing the letter but, if he has the necessary time, to dedicate his life to propagation of his idea.”6

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Hindi-Hindustani means the language commonly spoken by the masses of the North both Hindu and Mussalman and written in the Devanagari or the Arabic script.”7 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Hindi Prachar Conference that met in Calcutta during the Congress Week lasted not more than two hours and had only two speeches, one by Sjt. Subhas Chandra Bose who in spite of the busy time he had with his volunteers and the Congress reception work made time for becoming the Chairman of the Reception Committee of this Conference. The other was by me as President. Sjt. Bose’s speech was printed. He read the Devanagari script without difficulty. His pronunciation was almost faultless. The address was short and businesslike.

He effectively disposed of the calumny that Bengal was indifferent to Hindi by reminding his audience that it was Bhudev Mukerji who strove to popularize Hindi and Devanagari script in Bihar, it was Navinchandra Ray who strove likewise in the Punjab, it was Swami Shri Chintamani Ghosh who was responsible in the United Provinces for the publication of many useful Hindi books, it was Justice Sharadacharan Mitra who was the father of the idea that there should be one script for all India and that it must be Devanagari, it is Amritlal Chakravarti who is issuing a Hindi newspaper, it is Ravindranath Tagore who has published the popular translation of some of Kabir’s songs, it is Sjt. Kshitish Mohan Sen of Shantiniketan who has made and is still making researches in the writings of Hindi saints, it is Sjt. Nagendranath Vasu who is issuing his monumental Hindi Encyclopaedia and it is Sjt. Ramanand Chatterjee who is issuing a Hindi monthly called Vishal Bharat. He recognized the necessity of Hindi for establishing touch with labour. He ended by promising to be the first to enlist him for learning Hindi.

 My speech simply suggested that a beginning should be made by establishing free Hindi classes in Calcutta after the style of Madras and made an appeal for subscriptions on the spot. A resolution was passed forming a Committee, at least for one year, for the purpose of carrying on Hindi propaganda in Bengal with a view to making it a permanent body. The Committee consists of Sjt. Ghanshyamdas Birla who has consented to act as Treasurer, Sjt Subhas Chandra Bose, Sjt. Prabhu Dayal, Sjt. Satish Chandra Das Gupta, Sjt Banarasidas Chaturvedi, Editor, Vishal Bharat, Sjt. Ranglal Jajodia, Sjt. Baijnath Kedia, Sjt. Mahavirprasad Poddar and Baba Raghavdas, Prachar Mantri, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. The following have offered their services as part-time honorary Hindi teachers: Sjt. Satyadev Sjt. Devadatt; Sjt. Ramshankar Sjt. Madanlal; Sjt. V. K. Ghosh Sjt. Rameshchandra; Sjt. Bhajavaram Sjt. Vikasitji; Sjt. Rajaram Pande Sjt. Krishna Gopal Tewari

There was a handsome response to the appeal for collections, over Rs. 3,000 having been collected on the spot.

Those who offered their services as teachers were duly warned by me of the responsibility they shouldered. They were to be not merely Hindi teachers but interpreters of Indian culture and Indian purity. Hindi was to be taught not merely as any language but as the national language. As Hindi for Hindus it was a language of religion and morals. Millions could not be expected to learn Sanskrit but they could receive the message of the Vedas through Tulsidas, Surdas, Kabir and a host of other saints who kept the well of religion undefiled. They were moreover to teach Hindi as also Hindustani, not as a rival to Urdu. It was to be a blend of Hindi and Urdu. They had therefore to be repositories of purity of character and strength of purpose. Theirs was a noble mission demanding nobility of conduct. In spite of a resolution of the Congress and its constitution the Congress proceedings are still often carried on in English for the benefit principally of the delegates from the South and Bengal. If in both the provinces those who propose to do national work make full use of the facilities provided in these provinces, the way will be clear for the forthcoming Congress to conduct its proceedings wholly in Hindi-Hindustani surely a consummation devoutly to be wished for

in view especially of the momentous resolution of the Calcutta Congress.

There is no independence for the masses if their representatives cannot conduct their proceedings in the national language. When the true yearning for swaraj comes, there will be no need for English speech in the national assembly. English will still have its place and a place of importance at that. It will be and must remain the language of international diplomacy and intercourse. But it must not be allowed to usurp the function of the national language.”8

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, recently held at Indore, passed some useful resolutions. Among them was one giving a definition of Hindi, and another expressing the opinion that all the languages that had descended from or had been largely influenced by Sanskrit should be written in the Devanagari script.

The first resolution is designed to emphasize the fact that Hindi does not supplant the provincial languages, that it supplements them, and that it extends the knowledge and usefulness of the speaker as an all-India worker. By recognizing the fact that the language written in the Urdu script but understood both by Mussalmans and Hindus is also Hindi, the Sammelan disarms the suspicion that it has any design upon the Urdu script. The authorized script of the Sammelan still remains Devanagari. The propagation of the Devanagari script among the Hindus of the Punjab, as elsewhere, will still continue. The resolution in no way detracts from the value of the Devanagari script.

It recognizes the right of Mussalmans to write the language in the Urdu script as they have done hitherto. In order to give practical effect to the second resolution, a committee was appointed with Kakasaheb Kalelkar as Chairman and Convener, to explore the possibility of such introduction and to make such changes and additions in the Devanagri script as may be necessary to make it easier to write and more perfect than it is so as to represent the sounds not expressed by the existing letters.

Such a change is necessary if interprovincial contacts are to increase and if Hindi is to be the medium of communication between provinces. The second was ever an accepted proposition for the past twenty-five years with those who subscribe to the creed of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. The question of script has often been discussed but never seriously tackled. And yet it seems to be a natural corollary to the first proposition. Learning sister languages becomes incredibly simple and easy. Gitanjali, written in the Bengali script, is a sealed book to everyone except the Bengalis. It is almost an open book when it is written in the Devanagari script. There is in it a vast number of words derived from Sanskrit and easily understood by the people of the other provinces. Everyone can test the truth of this statement. We ought not unnecessarily to tax the future generations with the trouble of having to learn different scripts. It is cruel to require a person desiring to learn Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kanarese, Oriya and Bengali to learn six scripts, besides Devanagari, let alone the Urdu script if he would know what the Muslim brethren are saying and doing through their writings. I have not presented an ambitious programme for a lover of his country or humanity. Today the impenetrable barrier of different scripts has made the learning of sister languages and the learning of Hindi by the sister provinces a needlessly heavy task. It will be for Kakasaheb’s committee on the one hand to educate and canvass public opinion in favour of the reform, and on the other to demonstrate by practical application its great utility in saving the time and energy of those who would learn Hindi or the provincial languages. Let no one run away with the idea that the reform will diminish the importance of the provincial languages. Indeed it can only enrich them even as the adoption of a common script has enriched the languages of Europe by making intercourse between its provinces easy.”9

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “There remains the question of script. At the present moment insistence on Devanagari by Mussalmans is not to be thought of. Insistence on the adoption of Arabic script by the vast mass of Hindus is still less thinkable. What therefore I have suggested as the definition of Hindi or Hindustani is ‘that language which is generally spoken by Hindus and Mussalmans of the North, whether written in Devanagari or Urdu’. I abide by that definition, in spite of protests to the contrary. But there is undoubtedly a Devanagari movement with which I have allied myself whole-heartedly and that is to have it as the common script for all the languages spoken in the different provinces, especially those which have a large Sanskrit vocabulary. Anyway, an attempt is being made to transcribe in Devanagari script the most precious treasures of all the languages of India.”10

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “A word about the question of script. Even when I was in South Africa, I thought that all the languages derived from Sanskrit should have Devanagari script, and I am sure that even the Dravidian languages could be easily learnt through the Devanagari script. I have tried to learn Tamil and Telugu through the Tamil and Telugu scripts, as also Kannada and Malayalam, for a few days, through their respective scripts. I tell you I was frightfully upset over having to learn four scripts when I could see that if the four languages had a common script Devanagari I should learn them in no time. What a terrible strain it is on those like me who are anxious to learn the four languages? As between the speakers of the four South Indian vernaculars, does it need any argument to show that Devanagari would be the most convenient script for the speaker of one to learn the other three? The question of Hindi as lingua franca need not be mixed up with the question of script, but I have referred to this simply in order to point out the difficulty of those who want to know all the Indian languages.”11

Mahatma Gandhi distinguished, “Roman script cannot and should not be the common script of India. The rivalry can only be between Persian and Devanagari. Apart from its intrinsic merit the latter should be the common script for all India because most of the provincial scripts have their origin in Devanagari and it is for them by far the easiest to learn. At the same time no attempt whatsoever should be made to foist it upon Mussalmans and for that matter on those others who do not know it.”12 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I understand that some of the tribes in Assam are being taught to read and write through the Roman script instead of Devanagari. I have already expressed my opinion that the only script that is ever likely to be universal in India is Devanagari, either reformed or as it is.

Urdu or Persian will go hand in hand unless Muslims, of their own free will, acknowledge the superiority of Devanagari from a purely scientific and national standpoint. But this is irrelevant to the present problem. The Roman cannot go hand in hand with the other two scripts. Protagonists of the Roman script would displace both. But sentiment and science alike are against the Roman script. Its sole merit is its convenience for printing and typing purposes. But that is nothing compared to the strain its learning would put upon millions. It can be of no help to the millions who have to read their own literature either in their own provincial scripts or in Devanagari.

Devanagari is easier for the millions of Hindus and even Muslims to learn, because the provincial scripts are mostly derived from Devanagari. I have included Muslims advisedly. The mother tongue of Bengali Muslims, for instance, is Bengali as is Tamil of Tamil Muslims. The present movement for the propagation of Urdu will, as it should, result in Muslims all over India learning Urdu in addition to their mother tongue. They must, in any case, know Arabic for the purpose of learning the Holy Koran. But the millions whether Hindus or Muslims will never need the Roman script except when they wish to learn English. Similarly, Hindus who want to read their scriptures in the original have to and do learn the Devanagari script. The movement for universalizing the Devanagari script has thus a sound basis. The introduction of the Roman script is a superimposition which can never become popular. And all superimpositions will be swept out of existence when the true mass awakening comes, as it is coming, much sooner than anyone of us can expect from known causes. Yet the awakening of millions does take time. It cannot be manufactured. It comes or seems to come mysteriously. National workers can merely hasten the process by anticipating the mass mind.”13

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “There are two reasons for printing this edition in the Devanagari script. The main reason is that I want to see how far the Gujarati readers can welcome the Devanagari script. My dream that there should be one script for all the languages derived from Sanskrit and that should be Devanagari goes back to my South African days. However it still remains a dream. There is a good deal of talk going on for one script but, as the saying goes, who will bell the cat, who will take the initiative? The Gujaratis say, ‘Our script is beautiful and easy.

Why should we give it up?’ And then there is another party that has emerged. I myself belong to it. According to it Devanagari it itself a difficult and imperfect script, it should be reformed and perfected. But our purpose will be defeated if we do nothing till the script is perfected. This should not be. This edition, therefore, is being brought out on an experimental basis. If it is welcomed by people we shall try to bring out other Navajivan Trust books in the Devanagari script. The other motive behind this enterprise was to give to the Hindi speaking people a Gujarati book in the Devanagari script. I am of the opinion that learning Gujarati will become less difficult if Gujarati books are published in the Devanagari script.”14

Mahatma Gandhi told, “There is force in your argument. But I would like you to delve a little deeper into the question. I admit that in asking people to learn the Persian script I have at the back of my mind a contribution to Hindu-Muslim unity. There has been a long-standing conflict between the Hindi and Urdu tongues as between the two scripts. Today it has assumed a virulent form. In 1935 in Indore the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, while defining Hindi, gave a definite place to the Persian script. In 1925 the Congress gave the national language the name of Hindustani. Both scripts were made permissible. Thus Hindi plus Urdu was recognized as the national language. The question of Hindu-Muslim unity was definitely in the forefront in all these decisions. I have not raised this issue today. I have only given it a concrete form. It is a logical outcome of events. If we want to develop the national language to the fullest extent, it behoves us to give the two scripts an equal status. In the end whichever is appreciated more by the people will be the more widespread.

The provincial languages are closely allied to Sanskrit, and it is true that lacs of Muslims are conversant only with their provincial languages, and that Hindi and the Devanagari script will, therefore, be easier for them to learn than Urdu and the Persian characters. My scheme will not interfere with this. In fact the people will benefit more than ever by learning the Persian script. Your trouble arises because you look upon this as a burden. Whether it is a gain or a burden depends on the outlook of the learner. He who is filled with a love of country will never consider such learning a burden. There will be no compulsion by my scheme. Only those who consider it a gain will learn the Persian script or the Devanagari as the case may be.” Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Much has been written on why the language is called “Hindustani” and not “Hindi” and why it should be written in both the Devanagari and Urdu scripts.”16 Mahatma Gandhi knew it very well that one script for India is very necessary. So he tried for it. He wrote in his maximum letters for using Devanagari. He suggested in his maximum speeches to used Devanagari Script.

 

References:

 

  1. VOL. 16 : 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 - 23 APRIL, 1918, Page- 86
  2. VOL. 24 : 22 JULY, 1921 - 25 OCTOBER, 1921, Page- 172
  3. Navajivan, 7-9-1924
  4. Young India, 27-8-1925
  5. Navajivan, 18-10-1925
  6. Navajivan, 26-6-1927
  7. VOL. 42 : 2 MAY, 1928 - 9 SEPTEMBER, 1928, Page- 113
  8. Young India, 10-1-1929
  9. Harijan, 4-5-1935
  10. Harijan, 16-5-1936
  11. Hirijan, 27-6-1936
  12. Harijan, 3-7-1937
  13. Harijan, 11-2-1939
  14. Sarvodaya, October 1940
  15. VOL. 82: 9 FEBRUARY, 1942 - 6 JUNE, 1942 Page- 213
  16. Harijanbandhu, 4-1-1948

 

 

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