Yale hosts 15th annual Hindi National Debate
32 students from across American universities gathered on campus to debate as part of a 15 year effort to bring together Hindi students.
Courtesy of Daevan Mangalmurti
For 15 years, Yale University has aimed to disrupt Eurocentric biases at the heart of competitive debate through an intercollegiate debate competition hosted exclusively in the Hindi language.
The preliminary round of the Yale Hindi Debate took place on Apr. 7, and the national debate will be held on Apr. 14. A first and second-place prize are awarded in each of the event’s three categories: Native Speakers, Heritage Speakers, and Non-Native Speakers. Thirty-two students — from schools ranging as far as Los Angeles — participated in the preliminary round, and about 25 will compete in the national round this weekend.
“Born as a student’s idea in a Yale classroom, the Yale Hindi Debate has grown exponentially, from an ambitious venture to an intellectual, cultural, and social institution,” the debate’s website reads.
This year, the debate includes three separate topics for each category for a total of three resolutions. These topics include whether or not to eliminate the prison system, if arranged or love marriages are more successful and if only the government can control climate change.
For co-presidents Daevan Mangalmurti ’24 and Bilal Moin ’24, this year’s topics reflect YHD’s goal of allowing students to select what topics most interest them.
“The Hindi Debate was and remains a student driven idea, as our topics around things like arranged marriage suggest, and we think that’s key to the event: it’s a good time for the people who participate and who come to listen,” Mangalmurti told the News.
Only one student from each participating university is able to qualify to nationals within each category, a stipulation that also applies to Yale competitors.
Moin told the News that the YHD program works to provide travel grants for students whose universities may not be able to financially support their participation.
Mangalmurti and Moin worked with the South Asian Studies Council and the University’s “robust Hindi program,” as Mangalmurti wrote, to put on the event. Mangalmurti specifically named Hindi lectors Swapna Sharma, Seema Khurana and Mansi Bajaj as key figures in organizing YHD.
“They build student interest in the debate, integrate it into Hindi classes’ curricula, and provide the overall vision for the event,” Mangalmurti wrote.
Sharma is the SASC language program director. Khurana initiated the debate in 2008 and, though she has since retired, continues to attend each year.
Bajaj formerly competed in YHD, and — having joined Yale’s Hindi department this year — now is involved in an organizational capacity.
“I have participated in the debate since 2014 from the University of Texas, Austin and this is the first time, I am in the organizing committee,” Bajaj wrote to the News. “I am very excited to attend the debate in-person for the first time and see our enthusiastic Hindi learners debate. It is a different feeling to be in the auditorium.”
YHD is the United States’ only national Hindi debate. To Moin, the fact that Yale specifically hosts the event is interesting because other schools — such as the University of Texas, he noted — have greater promotion of and emphasis on Hindi education within their academic life.
The organizing committee works to make the debate a cultural event as well as an academic one. South Asian a cappella group Yale Avaaz and dance team Yale monstRAASity performed at the preliminary round earlier in the month, as did juggler Arnav Narula ’25.
At the national event this weekend, monstRAASity will make a return, joined this time by dance team Yale Jashan Bhangra and classical music group Yale Dhvani.
“It forms part of a larger effort to create a space for South Asian dialogue, culture, and study on campus, and we feel that holding the debate in Hindi provides a special experience,” Mangalmurti wrote. “The event is totally unique in the US, and this year we’ve tried to build it out by increasing outreach to other universities. There simply isn’t enough of an academic focus on the teaching of Hindi in the US—to say nothing of other South Asian languages—and this helps institutionalize language study of and in South Asia in the United States.”
During the debate, each speaker gives a three-minute speech which they have previously prepared. During the speech, they are allowed to consult notes and resort to more conversational language. Though use of English is strongly discouraged, clarity of thought is emphasized. After three minutes, students are interrupted. After students deliver their speeches, they are prompted to respond to one audience-member question off-the-cuff.
Sharma explained that all students in the L5 level of Yale’s Hindi language program participate in the preliminary round, and that many students in lower levels elect to participate as well. Though Sharma said a majority of Hindi students at Yale have some Indian heritage, many students from diverse cultural backgrounds elect to study the language as well.
“They [Yale students] get a very good chance to meet other Hindi students from different parts of the U.S. and ask how they are doing in their Hindi classes,” Sharma said.
Sharma also reflected on the importance of bringing together students through the debate, explaining that students from other Universities are hosted by Yale students during their stay in New Haven instead of staying at hotels. During the 2022 debate, students were not hosted on Yale’s campus due to COVID restrictions, and so Sharma expressed her excitement about returning to the hosting system.
For Moin, YHD offers a community through which Hindi students can stay connected to the language even after completing their Yale-mandated distributional language requirement.
“It’s a way of getting Hindi students together and a way to keep students engaged with the language,” Moin said. “You don’t see that with a lot of [other] languages at Yale.”
The YHD team also organizes dinners, chais and other events that are open to all students — whether they are organizing, participating or just interested in spending time together.
The first Yale Hindi Debate was in 2008.