The Centre has abolished a six-decade-old award intended at promoting Hindi among non-Hindi speakers, causing surprise since the NDA government is widely seen as a champion of Hindi and has often been accused of trying to impose the language on non-Hindi states.
Several academics regretted the decision to scrap the annual Hinditar Bhashi Hindi Lekhak Puraskar, which honours published work in Hindi by non-Hindi speakers from non-Hindi-speaking states.
The education ministry this month directed the Central Hindi Directorate (CHD) to discontinue its awards. Apart from awarding the Hinditar Bhashi Puraskar for over 60 years, the CHD has for 30 years been giving out the Shiksha Puraskar for non-fiction writing in Hindi.
Sources said the decision was taken by the home ministry as part of a “rationalisation” of government awards. Ironically, home minister Amit Shah is seen as the government’s foremost champion of Hindi.
Four years ago, a comment by Shah about the expansion of Hindi being a “national responsibility” and his pitch for “the entire country (to have) one language that becomes the identity of the nation” had triggered protests in Tamil Nadu against the “imposition of Hindi”.
The order to the CHD said: “It has been decided to discontinue with the awards given by Central Hindi Directorate, New Delhi. In view of the above, it is requested that henceforth no action be initiated regarding awards for Hindi scholars from your organisation.”
Prem Tiwari, who teaches Hindi at the Dyal Singh College, affiliated to Delhi University, said the abolition of the Hinditar Bhashi Puraskar would hamper the “expansion of the language nationally”.
While the order to the CHD cited no reasons, it also remained unclear why the home ministry was looking to “rationalise” awards and which other awards it wanted scrapped.
The Hinditar Bhashi Puraskar is a Rs 1 lakh award given to up to 19 writers annually in the categories of creative writing, non-fiction and translation. The Shiksha Puraskar is given for books in the natural sciences, social sciences and philosophy.
Tiwari said Jawaharlal Nehru had established the CHD to promote Hindi and establish it as an all-India language through encouragement.
Tiwari disagreed that the Hinditar Bhashi Puraskar could be scrapped since there were many other awards for Hindi writing.
“It’s an award without parallel. It encourages non-Hindi speakers to study Hindi and compose literature in Hindi,” Tiwari said.
“It seems the BJP government is driven by the objective of immediate political gain in all its decisions. The award may have been discontinued because it is not yielding any immediate political benefit.”
He added: “The scheme has proved hugely effective in encouraging young, non-Hindi intellectuals to take up Hindi literature.”
Chaman Lal, a retired JNU professor who had received the award in 2001 and returned it in 2016 in protest against the arrest of JNU students on sedition charges, said the award was a softer and more effective way of promoting Hindi compared with administrative methods.
“For a government that takes pride in promoting Hindi, discontinuing such a prestigious award is a bit surprising. It could mean the government has dropped the idea of promoting Hindi through a soft approach,” Lal, whose mother tongue is Punjabi, said.
An email sent to higher education secretary Sanjay Murthy seeking his comments on the criticism for abolishing the award had brought no answer till Friday evening.