Linguistic Regionalism – Causes, Effects and Way Forward

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India is a multilingual country and is considered to be a land of a wide range of diversity. Being a land of diversity, it has benefitted and has to deal with several problems at the same time. Linguistic diversity is one such diversity that gives rise to linguistic regionalism in India. Regionalism is not a new concept to India. From time immemorial there have been issues regarding differences among people based on religion, caste, culture, and so on. These differences act as a unifying as well as a dividing force among people. Linguistic regionalism is one such issue that gave rise to many states in India. Time and again, there have been demands for providing some special status to some language in some parts of the country. Many regional-language speaking groups feel isolated amongst the varied diversity of the country. This gives rise to linguistic regionalism which has become a burning issue nowadays.

Linguistic-Regionalism mindmap

What is linguistic regionalism?

Linguistic regionalism is an ideology or a movement that is political and that endeavors to work for the recognition and development of a particular language of a particular region. It is the consciousness of a particular group belonging to a particular region speaking a particular language that their language forms one of the main aspects of their identity and its place in the society is parallel to their standing in the society. It seeks to work for the causes of the language the linguistic group speaks.

Causes of linguistic regionalism

  • Geographical – Geographical areas having regional variations and different local languages feel isolated from mainstream society. These linguistic variations promote local identity and distinctiveness. This promotion of local identity gives rise to regionalism.
  • Historical causes – Historically, it has been noticed that the language spoken by the majority of people is recognized. As the minority people living in an area remain isolated from mainstream society for a long time, they consider themselves a distinct part of the given area as their languages are not recognized as an integral part.
  • Economic causes – Economic backwardness and uneven development of the country is another reason. Several linguistic groups have not been able to enjoy the benefits of development and have remained backward. Many linguistic groups feel discouraged when certain languages are promoted by the government. The government’s monetary inducements and provisions for the development and recognition of a particular language create the feeling of alienation among other language groups.
  • Political causes – Certain political parties create differences among people on linguistic lines. Many a time, these differences created by political motives give rise to linguistic regionalism.
  • Psychological and emotional causes – Language is a vehicle of communication. It is a device for socialization and invokes a feeling of brotherhood and ethnocentrism among those who speak it. This creates in the speaker a feeling of regionalism and sectarianism which eventually leads to separatist tendencies.

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Effects

  • Increasing regionalism – Increase in the feeling of promotion of the interest of one’s language leads to rising regionalism and parochialism. People tend to think in the terms of their interests which act as a hindrance to national integration.
  • Persecution of linguistic minorities – The rise of such feelings of linguistic regionalism sometimes leads to the persecution of other linguistic minorities in an area. Many people become the victims of violence due to such feelings of linguistic supremacy of other communities
  • Anti-center propaganda – Many parties use it as an instrument of dividing people and creating differences among people. They do this to criticize the center and derive their strength out of this regionalism. This propaganda of dividing people on linguistic lines helps them in consolidating power and thus works as an obstruction to national integration.
  • Formation of regional political parties – Linguistic regionalism gives rise to the formation of several political parties. These parties with time get elected and act as a hindrance to a smooth center-state relationship.
  • Secessionist demands – Regionalism based on linguistic lines often gives rise to secessionist feelings among people. Political parties with their motives of personal gain exploit this feeling of pride in one’s language and try to form separate states to rule according to their whims.
  • Inter-state border dispute – Many a time, people living in an area close to each other speaking different languages have disputes with each other due to linguistic regionalism. This leads to border disputes between states. There is always a tug of war persisting in such areas based on linguistic differences.
  • A threat to unified national feeling – People living in a country speaking diverse languages feel alienated from each other based on language differences and this acts as a threat to the national feeling. These regional loyalties based on linguistic lines deteriorate the unifying national feeling in the minds of people.

Linguistic regionalism in India

  • India has a long history of linguistic regionalism. Many states in India were created on linguistic lines and hence language forms an integral part of a state’s identity.
  • The British occupation of Odisha led to the economic devastation of the state. The Oriyas lost their identity and culture at the same time. The Oriya people felt neglected among the Bengali, Telugu, and Hindi-speaking people. Soon, the struggle began for “Orissa for Oriyas”. This led to the formation of the state of Odisha in 1936 during British rule. This was a classic example of linguistic regionalism during British rule.
  • After independence, there was a need to reorganize states permanently. There were demands to reorganize states based on various aspects, linguistic difference was one such aspect. Therefore, the Government of India appointed the Dhar Commission in 1948 to examine the case of reorganization of states on a linguistic basis. The Commission admitted the importance of organizing the states on this basis but attached more importance to administrative convenience. Similarly, the JVP committee was appointed in December 1948 to examine the issue afresh. It also refused to organize the states on a linguistic basis.
  • The demand for the creation of a separate state of Andhra was one such movement that wished to establish a state on linguistic lines. The state of Andhra was a part of Madras state. The Telugu-speaking people of that area felt neglected in the Tamil-speaking area. This led to a long-drawn agitation and the death of Potti Sriramalu who was on hunger strike for the formation of a separate state of Andhra. In 1953, the government was forced to create a separate state of Andhra Pradesh for Telugu-speaking people. Thus, the first state on a linguistic basis was formed in independent India.
  • Later on, many other states were formed in India on linguistic lines. The most recent of them formed on linguistic lines is the state of Telangana. The Telangana movement has its roots in the early 1950s. The movement aimed to have a separate Telugu-speaking state. After the impactful protests for many years, the state of Telangana was formed in 2014.

The conflict over the national language of India

  • India has a history of conflict over the national and official language of India. On the recommendation of the First Official Language Commission, the Government of India decided to make Hindi the official language of India after 1965. This created unrest and disappointment among the southern states of India. They were in opposition to the idea of imposing Hindi on them. To contain a possible outbreak of riots, English continued to be an associate language for an indefinite period. As of today, the Union of India has adopted a bilingual policy where both Hindi and English are used as the official languages of India.
  • There are numerous conflicts still noticed in India at various places due to linguistic regionalism. The tussle between Marathi-speaking people and Konkani-speaking people in Goa is one such. Similarly, there are issues between Marathi and Kannada-speaking people in Belgaum and between Bengali-speaking and Assamese-speaking people in Assam.

Government’s initiatives

  • The Official Language Amendment Act 1968 has made provisions so that language riots do not take place in the future. The Act allows the optional use of Hindi or the State’s official language in addition to English. States, which have not adopted Hindi as their official language, can continue with the use of English for communication between the Union and the State. The Act also allows states to use their regional language as their official language and also as the language for instruction at the higher education level.
  • The Government has taken several initiatives to promote regional languages in the country. The Government has included several regional languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • The Government to promote regional languages in higher education has also taken initiatives like the university level textbooks are being translated and published in all the 22 languages of the Eighth Schedule of Constitution of India under various schemes of the Government of India.
  • The National Translation Mission (NTM) is being implemented through the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore under which the books of knowledge texts mostly textbooks of various subjects prescribed in Universities and Colleges are being translated in all Languages of the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India.
  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) also promotes regional languages in higher education courses in the country and supports nine Central Universities under the scheme “Establishment of Centre for Endangered Languages in Central Universities”.
  • Since digital media has very little to offer to learners seeking content in regional languages, the National Education Policy(NEP), 2020 seeks to produce e-content in eight regional languages. To ensure the preservation, growth, and vibrancy of all Indian languages, the NEP recommends setting up an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITI), National Institute (or Institutes) for Pali, Persian, and Prakrit, strengthening of Sanskrit and all language departments in Higher Education Institutions, and use mother tongue/local language as a medium of instruction in more Higher Education Institution programs.
  • There have been efforts by the Governments at various levels to preserve and promote classical languages. The central government seeks to promote Sanskrit and has taken various steps to do so.

The way forward

Linguistic regionalism will remain a key issue in India as India is a land of diversity. The best way to deal with this issue is to do away with regional imbalances. Other measures include checking regional political parties, giving priority to economically deprived areas, proper education, and restructuring of society. To sum up, we can say that the time has come up to look into such issues carefully and deal with them efficiently to ensure the unity and integrity of the nation.

Practise Question

  1. What do you understand by linguistic regionalism? What are the causes and effects of linguistic regionalism in India? Illustrate suitable examples of linguistic regionalism in India.
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