DMK MP Kanimozhi said on Wednesday that equating knowledge of Hindi with nationalism was "shameful" and expressed concern that it had already edged out languages in establishing one's identity.
The Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi also rubbished claims by H Raja, a BJP leader in the state, that despite her assertions to the contrary she was fluent in Hindi and served as a translator for the late former Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhary Devi Lal on his visit to the southern state.
"The issue is not about knowing Hindi or not. It is shameful (to say) I can be Indian only if I know Hindi," Ms Kanimozhi, who is the daughter of former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, told reporters in Chennai this evening, according to news agency PTI.
Politics over language, a sensitive issue in the south, found a new flashpoint on Sunday, after Ms Kanimozhi said an airport security officer asked her if she was "an Indian" because she said she didn't know Hindi.
Today at the airport a CISF officer asked me if “I am an Indian” when I asked her to speak to me in tamil or English as I did not know Hindi. I would like to know from when being indian is equal to knowing Hindi.#hindiimposition— Kanimozhi (கனிமொழி) (@KanimozhiDMK) August 9, 2020
"I would like to know from when being Indian is equal to knowing Hindi," she tweeted after the experience, with several political leaders, including the Congress's P Chidambaram (and his son Karti Chidambaram).
The following day H Raja claimed that she did, in fact, know Hindi.
"When former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal came to Tamil Nadu his speech in Hindi was translated into Tamil by Kanimozhi. So her claim... is a white lie," Mr Raja's tweet, which was written in English, read.
The tweet raises many doubts. When the former https://t.co/MHGGtFGcl3 Devilal came to TN his speech in Hindi was translated into Tamil by Kanimozhi. So her claim that she did not know Hindi is a white lie. So @blsanthosh was right in observing that the election is still far away. https://t.co/4V6d8YOPed— H Raja (@HRajaBJP) August 10, 2020
Today Ms Kanimozhi hit back at the claims, reiterating she had never studied Hindi while in school.
"I did not translate Hindi for anyone, even English also I did not translate. How can I translate without knowing the language? In my school I learnt only Tamil and English. Even (after) staying in Delhi for many years I don't know Hindi," she was quoted by news agency ANI.
"Many leaders also know that I don't know Hindi. It's not whether me or anyone knows Hindi or not. It's how learning Hindi will make one an Indian... the thought that only if we follow one ideology, speak Hindi and follow one religion are we Indians. It is strongly condemnable," she declared.
Language has always been an emotive issue in Tamil Nadu, where the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which proposes teaching in either the mother tongue or the regional language till Class 5, has been stirring up controversy.
Calling it imposition of Hindi, the state - where the AIADMK, an ally of the BJP, is in power - has rejected the centre's proposed implementation of a three-language formula in schools - two of which should be native. The opposition, including the DMK, has also opposed the NEP 2020 and has called for a review of the sweeping reforms it has proposed.
In the 1960s, there was a massive anti-Hindi agitation in the state after the Congress, which was in power at the centre then, attempted to make Hindi the official language.
With input from ANI, PTI