Insights into Editorial: Undesirable and divisive: on Amit Shah’s push for Hindi
Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertion that Hindi, as the most spoken language, could work to unite the country continued to draw sharp reaction from the Opposition parties.
It may be customary for the Union Home Minister, who is also in charge of the Department of Official Language, to make a pitch for greater use of Hindi in official work on the occasion of ‘Hindi Diwas’, observed every year on September 14.
However, Home Minister’s remarks this year have raised the hackles of political leaders in some States that do not speak Hindi.
Critics argued that Union Home Minister’s “announcement that Hindi should be treated as the national language runs contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and our country’s linguistic diversity”.
Indian Constitution on Languages:
- The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution lists 22 languages, which have been referred to as scheduled languages and given recognition, status and official encouragement.
- 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.”
- In addition, the Government of India has awarded the distinction of classical language to Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu.
- Classical language status is given to languages which have a rich heritage and independent nature.
- Article 343(1) of the Constitution provides that Hindi in Devanagari script shall be the Official Language of the Union.
- Article 343(2) also provided for continuing the use of English in official work of the Union for a period of 15 years (i.e., up to 25 January 1965) from the date of commencement of the Constitution.
- Article 343(3) empowered the parliament to provide by law for continued use of English for official purposes even after 25 January 1965.
- 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.
- Despite the misconceptions, Hindi is not the national language of India. The Constitution of India does not give any language the status of national language.
- Accordingly, section 3(2) of the Official Languages Act, 1963 (amended in 1967) provides for continuing the use of English in official work even after 25 January 1965.
- The Act also lays down that both Hindi and English shall compulsorily be used for Resolutions, General Orders, Rules, Notifications, Administrative Reports, Press Communiques etc.
- The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union were supposed to be the international form of Indian numerals, distinct from the numerals used in most English-speaking countries.
Data: Just 26% of Indians speak Hindi as mother tongue:
A language is an umbrella term which contains many mother tongues.
43% of Indians speak the Hindi language, which includes many mother tongues such as Bhojpuri, Rajasthani & Hindi.
Only about 26% of Indians speak Hindi as mother tongue under the broader Hindi language grouping (according to Census 2011).
Close to 40% of the Hindi language speakers speak mother tongues other than Hindi.
Despite being spoken by a large number of people, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani are not listed as scheduled languages, while Bodo and Nepali which are spoken by relatively fewer people are in the Eighth Schedule.
What is the backdrop to the Hindi imposition row?
Some States has been traditionally opposed to any attempt to introduce Hindi as a compulsory language of learning or administration.
The origin of the linguistic row, however, goes back to the debate on official language.
In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language by a single vote.
However, it added that English would continue to be used as an associate official language for 15 years.
The Official Languages Act came into effect on the expiry of this 15-year period in 1965. This was the background in which the anti-Hindi agitation took place.
However, as early as in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in Parliament that English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it.
It is our strength that we have many languages and dialects. We have to see that a foreign language does not overtake a native language.
Experts reviewed that it would be disastrous for the country’s famed diversity if the promotion of Hindi is considered a step towards a ‘one nation, one language’ kind of unity.
According a hegemonic role to the “most-spoken” language in the country may promote cultural homogenisation, but that is hardly desirable in a country with a diverse population, a plural ethos and is a cauldron of many languages and cultures.
Further, national identity cannot be linked to any one language, as it is, by definition, something that transcends linguistic and regional differences.
The need today is to respect, protect and nurture diversity of our nation so that unity is ensured.