The debate of Languages: Hindi Vs Non-Hindi

On the occasion of Hindi Diwas on 14th September the Home Minister said that India is a country of different languages and every language has its own importance but it is very important to have a language of the whole country which should become the identity of India globally, today, if one language can do the work of uniting the country, then it is the most spoken language, Hindi. This has stirred the ‘Hindi Vs Non-Hindi’ debate. In this debate, the pro- Hindi side states that having a  national language would unite the entire country, whereas the anti side says that the imposition of Hindi would put non-Hindi speaking people at a great disadvantage. They refer to India's diversity to state that when there is no single language spoken by the majority in India, then how can one language unify India.

What is language?

It is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

Significance of language:

Language is closely related to the culture and customs of people. The spread of education and literacy is possible through the medium of the language which can be understood by the masses. Democracy has its relevance when politics and administration is carried out through the language they can understand.

What is the official position on Hindi Vs Non-Hindi?

The Constitution did not declare Hindi as the national language. Article 343 of the Constitution prescribes Hindi as written in the Devanagari script as the official language of the government along with English. In 2010, the Gujarat High Court had dismissed a PIL seeking direction for mandatory printing of details -- price, ingredients, and date of manufacturing -- of goods in Hindi on the ground that it was the national language.

The Hindi Vs Non-Hindi campaign and related issues The language issue It was the most divisive factor in the first twenty years of independent India. Linguistic diversity was giving birth to strong political currents around issues linked to language-  educational and economic progress, jobs and reach to political power. The Indian constitution recognizes twenty-two major languages. Also, there are hundreds of languages spoken by the tribals. There were two major language-related issues: (i) the dispute over the official language of the union and (ii) the linguistic reorganization of the states.

The dispute over the official language of the union  In 1937, E.V. Ramasamy, also called Periyar, opposed the decision of the C Rajagopalachari Cabinet to make Hindi compulsory in secondary schools in Tamil Nadu. He raised the slogan 'Tamil Nadu for Tamilians' and accused Hindi of being a tool of the Aryans for infiltrating the Dravidian culture. 

Hindi Vs Non-Hindi and the Constituent Assembly:

On the basis of the framework provided by the Cabinet Mission, a Constituent Assembly was constituted on 9th December 1946. The Constitution-making body was elected by the Provincial Legislative Assembly. Functions of the Constituent Assembly 1. Framing the Constitution. 2. Enacting laws and involved in the decision-making process.

 Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle had described Hindi as the national language and called for its adoption. He understood Hindi as Hindustani i.e. a blend of both Sanskritised Hindi and Persianised Urdu,  written either in Devanagari or the Persian script. However, with the partition of India, the cause of Hindustani was lost.  He was not for a debate on Hindi Vs Non-Hindi. The Constituent  Assembly was divided on the issue of National language. The Indian national movement had carried on its ideological and political work through the different Indian regional languages. Ultimately the assembly virtually accepted all the major languages as ‘languages of India’ or India’s national languages. Then a question came, what would be this language of all-India communication? What would be India’s official and link language? The two candidates were: English and Hindi.  The Nehru Report in 1928 proposed that Hindustani which might be written in the Devanagari or Urdu script would be the common language of India, but the use of English would be continued for some time. The question was would Hindi or Hindustani replace English? And what would be the time-frame for such a replacement to happen? After much debate, the Constituent Assembly decided on a compromise called the Munshi-Ayyangar formula (named after KM Munshi and Gopalswamy Ayyangar, members of the Constituent Assembly).  It ensured that the Indian Constitution will not specify any National Language. English and Hindi will be the Official Languages of the Union for 15 years. A Language commission could be convened after five years to promote Hindi and phase out English. This compromise effectively postponed the Language question 15 years down the line. 

Was the Hindi Vs Non-Hindi problem solved?

It was  hoped that by 1965 the Hindi supporters would overcome the weaknesses of Hindi and win the confidence of non-Hindi areas. It was also hoped that with the rapid growth of education Hindi too would spread. But, it did not happen. The growth of education was slow. Hindi lacked social science and scientific writing. Also instead of choosing a moderate approach to gain acceptance of Hindi by non-Hindi areas, the Hindi supporters tried imposing Hindi through state action. This tended to provoke a  counter-movement.

Sanskritizing the language: Later on efforts to purify Hindi started. Simple words in public use were replaced by complex manufactured words of Sanskrit. It became more difficult for non-Hindi speakers (or even Hindi speakers) to learn new Hindi. All India Radio, instead of popularizing Hindi, started sanskritizing it's Hindi news bulletins.

Hindi Vs Non-Hindi: Sharp differences on the official language issue surfaced during 1956–60. In 1956, the Report of the Official Language Commission recommended that Hindi should start progressively replacing English in various functions of the central government with the effective change taking place in 1965. To implement the recommendations of the Committee, the President issued an order in April 1960 stating that after 1965 Hindi would be the principal official language but that English would continue as the associate official language without any restriction being placed on its use. Hindi would also become an alternative medium for the Union Public Service Commission examinations after some time. All these measures aroused suspicion and anxiety in the non-Hindi areas and groups. Nor were the Hindi leaders satisfied.

  1. Rajagopalachari declared that ‘Hindi is as much foreign to the non-Hindi speaking people as English to the protagonists of Hindi’. Tamil leaders wanted to retain English as official language compulsory for an indefinite time. English is seen as a bulwark against Hindi as well as the language of empowerment and knowledge. There is a belief that the continued attempts to impose Hindi are essentially driven by those who want to eliminate English as the country’s link language.

Pro-Hindi leaders insisted that the deadline for the changeover to Hindi laid down in the constitution must be rigidly observed.  In response, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave an assurance that English would not be substituted by Hindi until the non-Hindi speaking people desire a change. 

The Official Languages Act, 1963 and the 1965 Hindi Vs Non-Hindi protests In 1965, the fifteen-year period came closer. An Official Languages Act was passed in 1963. The government passed the Official Languages Act, 1963 which authorized the continuation of English as an official language in addition to Hindi. Therefore, both Hindi and English became the official languages of India. The death of Nehru in June 1964 increased fears of South India’s political leaders. Further the govt.  prepared the ground for the changeover to Hindi in the coming year. Tamil Nadu observed Jan 26, 1965 (when the Official Languages Act came into force) as a day of mourning. In two weeks of riots, about 70 people were killed. 

The solution to Hindi Vs Non-Hindi: In 1966, Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister moved the bill to amend the 1963 Official Language Act. The Bill provided that the use of English as an official language would continue as long as the non-Hindi states wanted it. Later on the govt. The policy said that the public service examinations were to be conducted in Hindi and English and in all the regional languages. The National Policy on Education, 1968 recommended that the states were to adopt a three-language formula. In the non-Hindi areas, the mother tongue, Hindi and English or some other national language was to be taught in schools. In the Hindi areas a non-Hindi language, preferably a southern language, was to be taught as a compulsory subject. In 1966, the govt. declared that Indian languages would ultimately become the medium of education in all subjects at the university level, though the time-frame for the changeover would be decided by each university to suit its convenience.

The second problem: the linguistic reorganization of the states In 1947, India consisted of 571 disjointed princely states that were merged together to form 27 states. The grouping of states was done on the basis of political and historical considerations but this was a temporary arrangement. On account of the multilingual nature and differences that existed between various states, there was a need for the states to be reorganized on a permanent basis. In 1948, the SK Dhar commission was appointed by the government to look into the need for the reorganization of states on a linguistic basis. However, the Commission preferred reorganization of states on the basis of administrative convenience including historical and geographical considerations instead of on linguistic lines. In December 1948, the JVP Committee comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabh Bhai Patel, and Pattabhi Sitaramayya was formed to study the issue. The Committee rejected the idea of a reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis but said that the issue could be looked at afresh in the light of public demand.

The Vishalandhra movement - This movement was for the creation of a separate state for Telugu speaking areas out of Madras province. The death of Potti Sriramulu after a 56-day hunger strike forced the government to appoint a States Reorganization Commission in 1953.  In 1953, the first linguistic state of Andhra for Telugu-speaking people was born. In its report, the commission stated that the boundaries of the states must reflect the boundaries of different languages.

Later developments Consequently, there were similar demands for the creation of states on a linguistic basis from other parts of the country. In 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru appointed a commission under Fazl Ali to consider these new demands. The commission submitted its report in 1955 and it suggested that the whole country be divided into 16 states and three centrally administered areas.  The government, while not agreeing with the recommendations entirely, divided the country into 14 states and 6 union territories under the States Reorganisation Act that was passed in November 1956. The states were Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Bombay, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Mysore, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. The six union territories were Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands, Manipur and Tripura. In 1960, the state of Bombay was bifurcated to create the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra following violence and agitation.  In 1963, the state of Nagaland was created for the sake of the Nagas and the total number of states stood at 16.  The areas of Chandernagore, Mahe, Yaman and Karekal from France, and the territories of Goa, Daman, and Diu from the Portuguese, were either made union territories or were joined with the neighboring states, after their acquisition.  Based on the Shah Commission report in April 1966, the Punjab Reorganisation Act was passed by the Parliament. Following this, the state of Haryana got the Punjabi-speaking areas while the hilly areas went to the Union Territory of Himachal Pradesh. Chandigarh, which was made a Union Territory, would serve as the common capital of Punjab and Haryana.  In 1969 and in 1971, the states of Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh came into being respectively. With the Union Territories of Tripura and Manipur being converted into states, the total number of Indian states rose to 21.  Thereafter, Sikkim in 1975 and Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh in February 1987 also acquired the status of states. In May 1987, Goa became the 25th state of the Indian Union, while three new states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttaranchal were formed in November 2000.  On June 2, 2014, Telangana officially became India’s state.

Why language was used as the criteria for the division of states? 

It would lead to the local people participating in the administration in larger numbers because of being able to communicate in a common language.  Governance would be made easier in areas, which shared linguistic and geographical features.  This would lead to the development of vernacular languages, which had long been ignored by the British.

Why the new states were created? 

One main reason was cultural or social affiliations. For instance, the state of Nagaland in the Northeast was created taking tribal affiliations into account.  Another reason was economic development. For instance, Chhattisgarh felt that the region could grow economically only through separate statehood because the region’s development needs were not being met by the state government.

Recent language issues Hindi Vs Non-Hindi & Draft National Education Policy Controversy The teaching of Hindi across the country was crystallized into policy in an official document in the National Policy on Education, 1968. Recently, the draft National Education Policy, 2019, prepared by a committee headed by scientist Dr. Kasturirangan recommended the three-language formula from the primary education level.

Salient features of the draft policy:

The medium of instruction must either be the home language/mother-tongue/local language until grade five and preferable until grade eight, wherever possible. Introduced by the first NEP, the three-language formula states that state governments should adopt and implement the study of a modern Indian language, preferably one of the southern languages, apart from Hindi and English in the Hindi-speaking states, and of Hindi along with the regional language and English in the non-Hindi speaking states  To promote Indian languages, a National Institute for Pali, Persian and Prakrit will be set up.

What is the ‘Three-language formula’

  • First language: It will be the mother tongue or regional language.
  • Second language: In Hindi speaking states, it will be other modern Indian languages or English. In non-Hindi speaking states, it will be Hindi or English.
  • Third Language: In Hindi speaking states, it will be English or a modern Indian language. In the non-Hindi speaking state, it will be English or a modern Indian language.

The southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala protested. Finally, the clause was omitted in the modified new draft issued. Since 1968 Tamil Nadu is following the two-language formula of learning only Tamil and English.

What the Hindi Vs Non-Hindi lobby says: Not against Hindi but against the imposition South India’s political leaders say that they are not against Hindi. They are just opposing its imposition by the government. They give an example of Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha. M.K. Gandhi instituted the Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha,  headquartered in Madras, in 1918. It was declared an Institution of National Importance by an act of Parliament. The institution imparts Hindi teaching at various levels to anyone who enrolls for its program. Also, there is no bar on private schools, most of them affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, offering Hindi.

Now let's learn about the Constitutional provisions related to the language issue

Article 29 of the Constitution of India protects the interests of minorities. The Article states that any section of the citizens who have a “…distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.”

Article 343 is about the official language of the Union of India. According to this article, it is to be Hindi in Devnagri script, and numerals should follow the international form of Indian numerals. This article also states that English will continue to be used as an official language for 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution.

Article 346 is about the official language for communication between the states and between a state and the Union. The Article states that the “authorized” language will be used. However, if two or more states agree that their communications shall be in Hindi, then Hindi may be used.

Article 347 gives the President the power to recognize a language as an official language of a given state, provided that the President is satisfied that a substantial proportion of that state desires that the language be recognized. Such recognition can be for a part of the state or the whole state.

Article 350A facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at the primary stage.

Article 350B provides for the establishment of a Special Officer for linguistic minorities. The Officer shall be appointed by the President and shall investigate all matters relating to the safeguards for linguistic minorities, reporting directly to the President. The President may then place the reports before each house of the Parliament or send them to the governments of the states concerned.

Article 351 gives power to the union government to issue a directive for the development of the Hindi language. PART 17: OFFICIAL LANGUAGE (343- 351) Article 343- Official languages of the Union. Article 345- Official languages or languages of states. Article 348- Languages to be used in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Article 351-Directive for development of the Hindi languages. Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India contains a list of 22 languages recognised schedule languages. These are: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri. Article 348(1) stipulates the use of English in the Supreme Court and High Courts as well as for drafting Bills, Acts, and Orders. But Article 348(2) read with Section (7) of the Official Languages Act 1963 provides for Hindi or other official languages to be used in High Courts “in addition to English”. In a nutshell, the Union government has to use English and Hindi for its official purposes, whereas the state governments are empowered to choose one or more official languages for the state.  The states may choose the languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule as their official language. 

What the Census 2011 data says about the Hindi Vs Non-Hindi issue

The number of Scheduled languages was 22 and the Non Scheduled languages, 99 in 2011 as against 100 in 2001. The decrease in number is due to the exclusion of Site and Persian and the inclusion of Mao. Of the 121 languages recorded in the 2011 language census, Hindi is the only scheduled language that has shown progress in the general speaking population, with an almost 6% increase, census data shows. Kashmiri is the second with a 22.97% speaking population.

Latest Census trends: Hindi Vs Non-Hindi

The percentage of the Indian population with Hindi as their mother tongue has risen to 43.63% from 41.03% in 2001, according to data on language released as part of Census 2011.  Bengali remains the second most spoken language while Marathi has replaced Telugu in third place.  Sanskrit was the least spoken of the country’s 22 scheduled languages. Bhili/Bhilodi, spoken in Rajasthan, was the most spoken unscheduled language with 1.04 crore speakers, followed by Gondi with 29 lakh speakers.

What is the mother tongue?

According to Census authorities, mother tongue is defined as the language spoken in childhood by the person’s mother to the person or, where the mother has died in the person;s infancy, the language mainly is spoken in the person’s household during childhood. The proportion of South Indian language speakers falling While high population growth in North India has helped Hindi surge, lower population growth in the five Dravidian language-speaking states – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana – has resulted in the proportion of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam falling. Hindi is growing even in South India In addition, growing migration from north to south has meant a greater presence of Hindi in the five southern states. 

Urdu numbers falling Only two scheduled languages have seen a fall in absolute numbers, Urdu and Konkani. There are 5,07,72,631 Urdu speakers in India, a fall of about 1.5% since 2001. Since Urdu in modern India is associated only with Muslims, this fall is unusual given that the Muslim population in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has grown between 2001 and 2011. What this might, therefore, means that a new generation of Muslims is turning to Hindi since Urdu education has nearly ceased to exist in much of North India. Also given the global backdrop against terrorism, Urdu speakers might be reluctant to declare it to be their mother tongue.

Assam’s language divide Assam is the only major state in the Union (population of more than 1 crore) that does not have any language group in a majority. Assamese speakers, the largest group, make up 48% of the state – a number that is, in fact, decreasing even as the proportion of Bengali speakers went up in 2001-2011. Assamese nationalist organizations expressed concern over these trends.

More Indians are speaking English English is the link-language between India’s various states and the language of its upper-crust elite. English seems to have registered a 15% jump since 2001, making it one of the fastest-growing languages in the decade.

Wild cards: Sanskrit, Arabic, and Pashto Sanskrit is India’s smallest official language with 24,821 speakers. However, Arabic – with no official status – is double its size with 54,947 speakers.  Speakers of Pashto – spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan – have, meanwhile, doubled in size in India from 2001. Jammu and Kashmir account for 83% of the Pashto-speaking population while Delhi has 8%.

Non-scheduled Languages: At present, there are demands for inclusion of 38 more languages including Tulu and Rajasthani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. This set includes languages such as Bhil and Gondi. Gondi spoke by Gonds who primarily inhabit Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Bihar, and Karnataka. Lahaul spoken in Lahaul and Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh, has the lowest speaking population of 11,574 in the non-scheduled languages, followed by Ladakhi, with 14,952. The Tulu-speaking population is around 60 lakh and has also appealed to be considered as a scheduled language As the evolution of languages is influenced by socio-eco-political developments, it is difficult to fix any criterion for languages, whether to distinguish them from dialects, or for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India. Thus, two attempts, through the Pahwa (1996) and Sitakant Mohapatra (2003) Committees to evolve such fixed criteria have not borne fruit.

The falling curve of tribal languages: Bodo spoken primarily by the Bodo people of Northeast India, Nepal and Bengal, was the lowest 0.12%, among the scheduled languages.  Manipuri, with an overall 0.14%, has 41% of the State's own population speaks in non-schedules languages. Manipuri dialects, such as Gangte and Kom are among the lowest spoken languages.

Signals from the Census 2011 The Census 2011 data shows that there are many languages and dialects which need protection in India. The  Sanskrit, Urdu and other tribal languages are facing threats. So promoting Hindi at their cost is not feasible.  Also Hindi, as per the data, accommodates about 56 mother tongues including \"Hindi\" as a dialect as well as Bhojpuri, Chhattisgarhi, Rajasthani, and Haryanvi, all these three are among several who have requested to become separate scheduled languages. So Hindi speaking population itself seems to be divided.

A dialect is a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.

Conclusion There is a lack of a conclusive Supreme Court decision on the Hindi Vs Non-Hindi issue. But Supreme Court makes its judgments available not only in Hindi but also in other regional languages. Hindi is not the natural language of a majority of states in India. These include Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka in the south; Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west; Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir in the north-west; Odisha and West Bengal in the east; Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam in the Northeast. These make 20 States of the existing 29 States. Declaring Hindi as the national language would definitely benefit a north Indian (as Hindi is the most prominent language in the region) over citizens from the other regions. This disadvantage is removed with the use of English, as it is a neutral language not attached to any region.  The English also has relevance globally, its use benefits a developing country like India. The Hindi should not be imposed till the non-Hindi speaking states agree to it. It may be promoted so that it becomes a standardized link language. But, it should not offend the emotions of other citizens of India who speak their languages proudly. The Constitution of India talks of the composite culture of the nation. All languages should be equally respected and promoted. One should not be forced to learn a language, which she/he does not connect with. It would violate constitutional norms.

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