Rutgers students participate in annual Yale Hindi Debate


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Courtesy of Shaheen Parveen | Shivaniben Patel and Heta Patel competed in the Yale Hindi Debate against students from several Ivy League institutions.


Last weekend, two Rutgers Hindi students joined the ranks of Columbia, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, at the annual Yale Hindi Debate, taking home the second place prize in the Non-Native Heritage category.

Shivaniben Patel and Heta Patel boarded a train from Edison to New Haven on Friday for the event.

“The minute we walked in, Seema (Khurana), the coordinator of the whole event, greeted us ... she was so polite and nice,” said Shivaniben Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

This was Rutgers’ second time at the debate after Shaheen Parveen, a professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Literatures at Rutgers first submitted a request for the school to participate in 2014, a year after she first began working at the school.

Other students from the various northeastern colleges filed in slowly, including Bhoomika Joshi and Shikhar Singh, Ph.D. students at Yale University who served as judges alongside Parveen, Shivaniben Patel said.

The students were split into four different groups based on their fluency in Hindi and whether they were of the heritage or not, she said.

The turnout was very diverse, she said.

“I was amazed to see American people speak Hindi so well,” she said. “I was feeling bad about myself … like, am I speaking worse than them?”

As Indian-born Gujarati speakers, both Shivaniben and Heta Patel placed into the Non-Native Heritage group. Both had learned Hindi in the past, but felt they were no longer as proficient in the language.

“After nine years of not speaking Hindi, I felt like I was losing a part of my culture,” said Heta Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “I knew that just because I moved to America, it does not mean that I am done with my culture and I should forget it.”

Shivaniben Patel, who moved to the United States in 10th grade, said she wanted to participate in the debate to improve her Hindi and work on her public speaking anxiety.

Because her parents do not speak English fluently, she often has to translate into Gujarati for them, and she wants to extend that to help other people, she said.

“I knew how to speak — I took Hindi in India, but it was almost five or six years ago, so I don’t even remember half of the grammar … but I also mix Hindi and Gujarati,” she said. “Even during the speech, I started one or two words in Gujarati.”

The students were given a motion to discuss, debating in Hindi whether the current generation is too coddled. Shivaniben Patel argued for the stance, focusing mostly on younger children in her three-minute speech.

After each speech, the debaters took audience questions from “interjectors,” who were mostly Yale students also studying Hindi.

The nuances of the language came into play when one interjector quizzed Shivaniben Patel on her use of the term “thapki,” a Hindi word for tapping someone to stop them from doing something, because it is typically used for small children. 

She countered, arguing that the word could also be used generally, to extend to having discussions with older children, and is not restricted to punishing small children.

“I was very afraid of public speaking, and I have to learn that,” she said on her decision to participate in the debate. “When I have to speak, I panic, and in my voice you could hear it.”

It was also Shivaniben Patel’s first excursion out of New Jersey without her parents.

The debate was followed by a performance by Yale’s South Asian A Capella group Sur et Veritaal and an Indian dinner.

“I had the best experience and it was the most memorable trip of my life thus far,” Heta Patel said. “It was truly an honor to be able to speak in front of so many high level people in an Ivy League University in a language we are just yet beginning to learn.”


Susmita Paruchuri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in mathematics and journalism and media studies. She is the design editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @susmitapar for more.


Susmita Paruchuri

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