Official Language Issue in India – All you need to know

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Language makes us human. During the process of natural evolution, the human brain acquired the ability to engage with the world primarily through linguistic transactions. The language issue is a prominent topic and major issue of the Post- Independent Indian consolidation. The trigger for this year’s language issue started with the Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Act of 2020 which imposed Hindi as the sole official language to be used in lower courts across the State of Haryana, followed by the publishing of the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification only in Hindi and English, and the three-language formula in the draft national education policy. In this context, let’s make a detailed examination of the official language issue in India.

Mind map of Official Language Issue in India

‘Official language’ debate in India

  • When the Indian Constitution was being framed in the Constituent Assembly, the question of choosing one language as the official language arose in the minds of the Constitution makers.
  • The official language of the Central government was the single most divisive official issue in the Indian Constituent Assembly.
  • There were two problems regarding Hindi being the official language:
  1. The dialect of Hindi
  2. The other languages existing in India.
  • When the Constituent Assembly was on the verge of losing its unity because of the opposition against the move to make Hindi as the official language, a compromise called Munshi-Ayyangar formula was adopted without dissent.
  • It was a half-hearted compromise because no group got what it wanted.
  • According to this formula, English was to continue as the official language of India along with Hindi for a period of fifteen years but the limit was elastic and the power of extension was given to the Parliament.
  • A statute titled ‘Official Languages Act, 1963’ was enacted when the period of fifteen years was about to expire in an attempt to prevent agitation in the non-Hindi speaking States. But the provisions of the Act could not satisfy the views of the protestors.
  • The Official Languages Act was later amended in the year 1967 by Indira Gandhi’s government which provided for the indefinite usage of English and Hindi as the official languages of the country.

Articles Relating to Hindi language in Indian Constitution

Article 351:

  • It shall be the duty of the Union-
    1. To promote the spread of the Hindi language.
    2. To develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India.
    3. To secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule.

Article 120 and Article 210

  • It talks about the language to be used in the Parliament and state legislature respectively, and has given the option of transacting business in Hindi as well in English.

Article 343

  • It gives power to parliament to decide by law, the languages to be used for official work.

Article 344

  • It provides for the constitution of a parliamentary committee every 10 years to recommend to the President regarding progressive use of the Hindi language for the official purposes of the Union and restrictions on the use of English.

Article 29

  • It gives every Indian the right to a distinct language, script & culture.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

Status of Hindi language in India

  • The draft national education policy’s push for Hindi seems to be based on the premise that 54 per cent of Indians speak Hindi. But the Census 2011 figures had come up with different figures.
  • According to Census 2001, 52 crore out of 121 crore people identified Hindi as their language. About 32 crore people declared Hindi as their mother tongue. This means that Hindi is the language of less than 44 per cent Indians and mother tongue of only a little over 25 per cent people in India.
  • But there has been a greater push for making Hindi a pan-India language.

Can Hindi unite India?

  • The 2011 Census listed 1,369 ‘mother tongues’ in the country. Hindi is only one among them.
  • Hindi has largely been influenced by Persian — and then English, among other languages.
  • Also, when the languages were enumerated, Hindi subsumed Bhojpuri, which is spoken by a little over five crore people. The Census has put Bhojpuri as a subset of Hindi.
  • So, it may be true that Hindi is spoken by a large number of people in India, but it is equally true that it is not spoken by a majority of Indians.
  • The fact that the Constitution, which has made space for 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule, upholds the language diversity principle.
  • It is mainly because of our animosity towards English makes us blind to the fact that the idea of One Nation, One language.
  • India always believed in Unity in diversity. The idea of One Nation, One language is not in tune with our history, culture and civilization as India is a multilingual society.
  • Given the linguistic diversity of India, there is a very less possibility that Hindi will unite India.
  • Moreover, Today, nearly 35% of people are migrating daily for work. Therefore, clubbing together multilingual spaces with monolingual habitats is not fair to the large cities today.
  • Any idea of one link language, whether Hindi or English, will be economically disastrous for India. It will slow down migration and reduce the ease of capital flow.

Official, National and Classical Languages of India – An Overview

  • Hindi and English are the official languages of the Central Government for communication and administration purposes, no language in India has been conferred the status of the national language.
  • The Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India lists the official languages of the Republic of India. Presently, it consists of 22 languages.
  • Also, till date, six languages have been conferred the status of ‘Classical Language’ in India. They are Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit, Malayalam and Odia.

What are the major causes of concern associated with the Non-Scheduled Indian Languages?

  • According to the 2001 Census, India has 30 languages that are spoken by more than a million people each. India also has 1,599 languages, most of which are dialects. These are restricted to specific regions and many of them are on the verge of extinction.
  • Many languages that are kept out of Eighth Schedule are in some ways more deserving to be included in the Schedule For Example: Sanskrit, an Eighth Schedule language, has only 24,821 speakers (2011 Census). Manipuri, another scheduled language, has only 17,61,079 speakers. But in the case of Tulu, which is spoken by over 1.8 million people and has inscriptions dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
  • Similarly, many unscheduled languages have a sizeable number of speakers: Bhili/Bhilodi has 1,04,13,637 speakers; Gondi has 29,84,453 speakers; Garo has 11,45,323; Ho has 14,21,418; Khandeshi, 18,60,236; Khasi, 14,31,344; and Oraon, 19,88,350.
  • When a refined language loses its status in literary and daily interactions, the way of life associated with it also vanishes.

Is it time to rethink the three-language policy?

  • It is commonly understood that the three languages referred to are Hindi, English and the regional language of the respective States.
  • The rationale behind the move is to introduce Hindi in non-Hindi-speaking States from an early stage and a non-Hindi Indian language in the Hindi-speaking States. To bring unity in the country and language proficiency in multiple languages.
  • For a country like ours, this was a reasonable solution worked out by all Chief Ministers and backed by educationists in the Kothari Commission.
  • Sadly, the formula was sabotaged from two ends:
    • While most non-Hindi speaking States did introduce Hindi, unfortunately, the Hindi-speaking States bypassed the requirement to teach a non-Hindi language preferably a South Indian language, said the original formulation.
    • Instead of learning Tamil or Telugu — languages that are older and richer than Hindi — they fulfilled the third language requirement with perfunctory Sanskrit. What was a move to encourage national integration began to look like an imposition of Hindi.
    • The other violation was that our elites started shifting to English-only education with perfunctory knowledge of an Indian language.
  • The three-language formula exists just on paper now and need a serious relook.

What are the Pro-Hindi arguments?

Effective administration:

  • The various people who work for the central government or army etc.. always face the language problem when they move to other regions of India. Therefore, the administrative machinery will not be able to deliver efficiently, if the language becomes a barrier in understanding people’s aspirations and needs.

Removal of  barriers in the development:

  • There are various areas where there is a perceived lag only because of lack of national language, like trade, education and research, areas of national security like military, etc… Thus, the lack of national language acts as a barrier to the progress of the nation.

Creation of Knowledge and a Public Sphere:

  • We often see that students avoid going to other places for education and research due to a lack of understanding of local languages.
  • There is difficult to collaborate on various ideas in different spheres; non-participation in national affairs and hesitancy to relocate to other parts of India due to the absence of a national language.
  • Thus, a universal language which will be spoken and understood by everyone will be best suited to become the Lingua Franca of the country.

Leveraging technology:

  • If India adopts a national language, it might automatically become the largest spoken language, thus giving numerous opportunities for software developers to make many applications which is unreachable today mainly due to lack of understanding of the English language.

A global Identity

  • There must be one language to represent India in the world.
  • A uniform national language, will give us a great advantage at global scale due to its large number of users, thus forcing people of other nations to learn that language, to engage with India in trade, business, education etc…

False sense of glory attached to a multilingual image of India:

  • India has always been shown to have a great diversity such as having 22 different languages, 415 different dialects etc…
  • But it cannot be seen as a matter of glory when the knowledge existing in one language can’t be understood by a person of another language.
  • We need to come out from this false sense of glory to the true sense of glory by adopting a single national language.

What are the arguments against Hindi?

Idea of one country, one language:

  • The idea that a language represents a nation is one of the colonial construct.
  • The complex process of modern nation-building in colonial countries involved questions of cultural unity.
  • Language and literature held the key to this project of cultural continuity from a unique and great past.

Diverse structure:

  • A uniform language goes against the idea of a diverse and federal structure of the country, where such common language may not be desirable.
  • It also runs contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and our country’s “ linguistic diversity.”
  • All languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution are national languages and must be treated equally.
  • Any attempt to impose any one language will lead to the disruption of our country’s unity and integrity.

Inevitability of English:

  • English is today’s language of science and technology in the whole world.
  • Even if we replace English from all technological usage in India with Hindi, still it will remain the language of science as it would be immensely difficult to translate all the scientific knowledge-base in Hindi language.

Significance of Language Diversity:

  • As there have not been enough success stories globally. E.g. the imposition of Mandarin, Russian or Urdu has rarely fulfilled such aims of unity and integration.

Issue of consensus:

  • There is a lack of consensus- among the population concerning one language, as the whole construct of a national language seems more of an imposition of one language over others.
  • Therefore, any such efforts of imposing a language on the unwilling people is hardly unifying, and rather it could turn out to be divisive.

Delinking language from cultural Identity:

  • Often it is argued that a national language is considered a language which represents Indian culture; however, we can definitely preserve our culture despite adopting other language and also learning one more language besides our regional language would not ruin or destroy us or our culture.
  • So, changing the medium of expression would not change our identity which can be understood by even an ordinary person.

Way Forward

  • We must strengthen our local languages simultaneously without being biased towards any particular language to preserve our ancient philosophy, our culture and the memory of our freedom struggle.
  • While discussing Hindi and its use, let us also focus on the merit of other Indian languages. Instead of focusing on one national language, we should learn a language beyond the mother tongue and get to know a different way of life too.
  • Protection and preservation of diverse languages should give more emphasis and also to be implemented on the ground with adequate provision of funds for language development programs.
  • There is an immediate need to have a linguistic policy in the country.

Conclusion

  • It is our duty to protect and maintain all well evolved or endangered and indigenous languages of the country and is essential for our future generation to understand their real roots and culture.

Practice Question for Mains

1. Language is the lifeline of culture, tradition and customs of people living in a particular region and the best way to preserve or promote any language is to use it extensively. Comment(250 Words)

Referred Sources

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/is-one-language-enough/article32735669.ece

https://theprint.in/judiciary/amend-official-languages-act-to-allow-notifications-in-all-languages-supreme-court-tells-govt/481032/

https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/eia-draft-must-be-translated-into-all-indian-languages-environmentalists-120081301711_1.html

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/translating-draft-eia-local-languages-will-lead-translation-issues-centre-132424

https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/13/19335/EIA-2020-If-Students-and-Civil-Groups-Can-Translate-So-Can-The-Environment-Ministry-

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/050920/centre-moves-plea-in-delhi-hc-over-order-to-publish-eia-draft-in-22-la.html

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/centre-wants-review-of-delhi-high-court-order-for-translation-of-eia-draft-in-all-22-languages/article32520947.ece

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/publishing-draft-eia-in-hindi-english-not-enough-sc-to-govt/articleshow/77536110.cms

https://www.firstpost.com/india/sc-on-draft-eia-consider-amending-law-to-translate-notifications-in-all-official-languages-cji-tells-centre-8705681.html

https://lexlife.in/2020/06/12/official-language-act-1963/

https://www.jstor.org/stable/43134213?read-now=1&seq=7#page_scan_tab_contents

https://www.hindujagruti.org/articles/19.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_language

https://www.uottawa.ca/clmc/language-provisions-constitution-indian-union

https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/hindi-as-our-national-language-myth-and-reality-1541426-2019-06-03

https://peoplesdemocracy.in/2019/0922_pd/no-imposition-hindi

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/can-hindi-unite-india/article29460185.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/law-making-hindi-official-language-in-haryana-courts-challenged-in-sc/article31693400.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/official-language-or-national-language/article4743140.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/language-the-opening-move/article27583354.ece

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwa1mfwA0Rs&feature=emb_logo

https://journalsofindia.com/language-issues-in-post-independence-of-india/

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/bill-seeks-national-official-language-stature-for-those-in-eighth-schedule-6132706/

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