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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney: With 70,000 Hindi speakers in Australia, Indians in the country are demanding that the language and its literature be given the recognition it deserves in educational institutions.

The number of Hindi speakers has doubled since 1996. But while the demand for it is growing at the Class 12 level, some universities are cutting down courses, citing lack of interest and funding cuts.

An increasing number of Indian origin students in Australia are choosing Hindi as a subject for the High School Certificate (HSC) or Class 12 exam to improve their overall percentage and seize the opportunities offered by India's economic growth.

"Learning Hindi has opened up many opportunities. It will be of great help if I choose to work in India as I can now interact with different people with ease," Jasmine Sodhi, who migrated here at the age of eight, told IANS.

In Sydney, most migrant children attend the Sunday Hindi classes at The Indo-Australian Bal Bharathi Vidyalaya. The school has come a long way since its inception in 1987 when a group of mothers, some with teaching backgrounds, started the Hindi classes.
Mala Mehta, the honorary founder, coordinator and teacher at the Vidyalaya, told IANS: "I used to teach Hindi to my daughter at home, but she kept winging and found learning by herself a chore. So a group of mothers got together to set up the school and make learning Hindi fun. We started with 35 students and now have about 150 students and 11 trained teachers.

"The way Hindi is taught here is very different from the 'learn by heart' concept followed in India. Here, we do a lot of listening tasks and translation, which tests one's command over Hindi and English. The text is interactive and contemporary, based on current affairs and topical events," Mehta added.

The Vidyalaya also has classes for adults. For example, some medical students are learning Hindi to gain clinical experience in India and a few Australians are learning the language to live up a dream in Bollywood.

While private community schools offer Hindi at all levels from kindergarten to Class 12, a Hindi teacher for the past seven years, Rekha Rajvanshi, feels the Department of Education and Training should introduce Hindi in the mainstream school curriculum alongside European and Chinese languages.

Various Australian universities have been offering Hindi at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, some since the 1960s. But recently the University of Sydney decided to axe the Hindi language from its undergraduate course.

"We will not be offering courses in Hindi-Urdu for new students commencing in 2009. Unfortunately, there is very little demand from students for these languages - there are currently 10 students enrolled in 1st year, one in 2nd year and one in third year," a spokesperson for the university told IANS.

The grim situation is said to have been compounded by two factors.

"The Australia National University withdrew from a collaborative arrangement and funding promised by the Indian and Pakistani community to supplement the costs has not been forthcoming. The university has been left with a growing deficit," the spokesperson said.

It was the establishment of Hindi Samaj that pioneered the cause of the Hindi language during the 1980s.

The Samaj's Shailaja Chaturvedi says: "Unfortunately, our foreign missions have not been the true ambassadors of our culture, heritage and progression of our national language. There is no convincing evidence on the part of the government to maintain the prestigious position of Hindi at least in Australia."

"It is time for Doordarshan news in Hindi to be telecast on SBS Radio (an Australian government funded radio station), which telecasts news in several other languages," says Darpan Hindi Radio's Pradeep Kumar.

With new Hindi-speaking immigrants arriving on the shores, cultural and religious organisations are taking up the cause of keeping the language alive.

For the first time, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Australia recently organised a nationwide celebration of `Hindi' to recognise people who have made a significant contribution to the language here.

As president of Bhavan Australia, Gambhir Watts told IANS: "All individual groups and organisations engaged in teaching and promotion of Hindi need to pool their resources together to make a critical mass of action. We at Bhavan Australia are endeavouring to act as the catalyst."

Almost 400 different languages are spoken in homes across Australia. In the 2006 census, 34.4 percent of Indian-born people spoke English at home followed by 19.9 percent speaking in Hindi.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

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