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Do Languages Have a Religion Too?

The study of religion or “theology” has always been a very complicated and controversial subject. According to the Oxford Dictionary, religion is the belief in or worship of a “superhuman” (or divine) force that controls the Universe, especially one’s God/Gods. This belief or worship has always been governed by one’s birth. However, in the present times, religion is also considered to be individualistic. Even the Constitution of India presents “Right to Religion” as a “Fundamental Right”. India has been a democratic and “secular” country since its independence – every individual has the freedom to practice his/her religion in public, dress and accessorize oneself according to a particular religion with a public display of their religious signs/symbols.

Now, as far as, religion is concerned, it is restricted mainly to one’s way of dressing or worshiping. Language or speech is always viewed as an entity that has no influence on one’s religion. language is something that is mainly governed by one’s domicile and also by the parents. It is true that a particular language is always used as the medium in the religious scriptures, chants etc., though that is generally not the language in which one speaks ideally, as far as India is considered in the picture. In India, the most common language, from Kashmir or Kanyakumari, is Hindi, which is believed to have come from Devnagri. However, nobody speaks “pure” Hindi. It has some influence or mixture of Urdu in it at very point. For eg. the Hindi word for ‘use’ is “bhyavhar” but nobody uses this term; its Urdu counterpart “istamal” is the most commonly used term to represent the word “use”. But, nobody really pays attention to it, isn’t it? However, the personal experience of my doctorate days leads me to entitle this piece.

In a Central Govt institute of the country, one cannot really expect discrimination of any kind to exist ideally. However, as we all know that after 2014, the mindset of all individuals of the country has been fueled and flared up to a great extent on “religious” issues. “Spoken hindi” (NOT the one used in literary works!) is the most common language in any Central Institution, and I was no exception to this (though I am an Assamese by domicile and birth).

I was sipping tea in the crowded tea shop near my department when I saw one of my batchmates and smiled at him. I asked the most general question, “Kaise ho yaar?” As the shop was packed with students, I heard his reply but not very clearly – I know he said he was fine but I just wanted to reconfirm the “decorations” he used in his reply because he simply didn’t say “Thik hu.” I said, “Kya bola? Aapki ‘dua’ se thik hu?” He replied, slightly haughtily, “Mai ‘dua’ kyu bolunga? Mai ‘mullah’ ni hu. ‘Dua’ muslim word hai, Mai hindu hu. To mai kaise ‘dua’ bol sakta hu. Maine bola tha “Aapke ‘aashirwaad’ se thik hu.” Yaad rakhna ok?” And he left with his tea and I showed him “Thumbs up.” Though I took this incident very casually, I couldn’t help feeling a little flustered.

From when did words in our everyday language start having a religion? Yes, Urdu script is similar to Arabic as Hindi script is similar to Sanskrit. The Quran Sharif (Islamic holy book) is written in Arabic and The Bhagavad Gita (Holy book of Hinduism) in Sanskrit. But does that mean that our speech should also be conducted by our religion? If that is the case, we will lose most of our wonderful Bollywood songs! This incident, that occurred nearly 2 years back, was very small but it left me with a question, “What is the religion of my mother-tongue (Assamese language)?”

Written as Narrated to the Author

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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