20 Feb 2020

Fiji's constitution undermines Hindi language - Opposition MP

3:35 pm on 20 February 2020

Indian scholars and cultural groups should demand Fiji's government amend the Constitution because it undermines the Hindi language, an Opposition MP says.

Pio Tikoduadua

Pio Tikoduadua Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0

The 2013 Constitution prescribes the teaching of the local Hindi dialect, known as Fiji Hindi.

However, National Federation Party MP Pio Tikoduadua wants the Constitution changed to require the teaching of the formal Hindi language instead.

"Fiji Hindi is not a language. Fiji Hindi is a dialect. Similarly, conversational i-Taukei is not the official language of our indigenous community.

"Therefore, the 2013 Constitution quite erroneously prescribes both dialects as languages to the detriment of the rich traditions, culture and unique languages of the two major communities."

Fiji Hindi on the airwaves

The Fiji Broadcasting Commission's (FBC) decision to allow announcers to speak Fiji Hindi has sparked debate in Fiji.

The Hindi Parishad Fiji organisation said it was concerned Fiji Hindi was being spoken on FBC's Hindi station Mirchi FM as the state broadcaster's primary market was youth.

Parishad secretary Jainan Prasad told Fijivillage he wanted young Indians to learn and speak formal Hindi and not be influenced by Fiji Hindi being spoken on the airwaves.

Mr Tikoduadua said FBC announcers speaking Fiji Hindi was, "appalling and despicable".

"The descendants of the Girmitiyas practised their culture and religion on the basis of formal Hindi at all times."

Hindi scholars in Fiji were renowned for being extremely proficient in formal Hindi - not Fiji Hindi, Mr Tikoduadua said

"They all spoke, taught and preached the Hindi language."

"This uniqueness was found in Fiji and now in our regional neighbours Australia and New Zealand due to migration from Fiji and India, and it is a pride of the Indian diaspora."

Fiji constitution

Fiji constitution Photo: supplied

But the FBC said it had switched to Fiji Hindi because the majority of Indo-Fijians spoke it.

Chief executive Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Fijivillage that Fiji Hindi was accepted by linguists at a recent Hindi conference as a bonafide language.

He said it was nonsensical to associate language with religion.

However, Mr Tikoduadua said scriptures and religious teachings were written in formal Hindi.

Indian traditions, cultures and customs were preserved because of strict adherence to formal Hindi, he said.

"The 2013 Constitution should not be allowed to destroy this rich history."

Fiji Hindi in schools

Uproar over broadcasters speaking Fiji Hindi has sparked fears the government could implement a plan it first signalled in 2014 to require the teaching of Fiji Hindi in all primary schools.

The Fiji Times reported Education Minister Rosy Akbar saying she was open to discussing the plan with Hindu organisations like Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha, which described Fiji Hindi as a "broken" language.

Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha national secretary Pandit Vigyan Sharma said all schools run by his organisation would not follow teach Fiji Hindi.

"They want to teach Fiji Hindi in schools now when most of the schools are run by our organisation," he said.

"We only speak Fiji Hindi when we talanoa in our homes but during special functions and rituals we speak pure Hindi (shuddh) only."

But the Fiji Sun reported Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama saying the government would not force any Hindu organisation to teach Fiji Hindi to their students.

Mr Tikoduadua said the teaching of Fiji Hindi must be prevented because of "catastrophic consequences on religion, tradition and cultural values".