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What Is India’s Obsession With Hindi

One of the 23 official languages, Hindi gets a maximum promotion at the government level which is seen as a complete ignorance and injustice to the other 22, and a complete belittling of other categories of languages. 

By: Lalima Gupta, 4th Year Student, B.A LL. B(Hons), UILS, Panjab University.

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” – Rita Mae Brown

Since the time humans started to communicate, ‘language’ has just not been a means of communication rather a reflection of thoughts, culture, conduct, and society as a whole. Saying that unlike society, language continues to be used in its original form would not just be incorrect rather unjust too. Being one of the accomplices of homo-sapiens, language has evolved equally as humans. Speaking of Sanskrit, which is the most ancient language and is considered to be the origin of most languages has seen its ups and downs as well.

Once, the language of all (Aryans), today is spoken by just 0.002% of the population, and its derivative form- Hindi has become the language of the masses(48% population of India, majorly North India).

With these changes, it becomes evident that these variations and modifications occur because of one major reason being heterogeneity which is inseparable nature of society.  So, now the question arises if such is the nature of mankind and unrealized linguism, so how far is it justified to put the use of languages in watertight compartments like ‘Official language, National language’ et al

Web of languages on India

Being a cultural diversity, it is natural for a country like ours to experience language diversity too. Although still a matter of dispute,

the mother tongues have totaled 19,569, as stated in the report of the 2011 census out of which some are classified as “rationalized” and some are referred to as “unclassified”.

Apart from this, we have 22 scheduled languages under the Indian constitution recognized under the 8th Schedule. Identifying these mother tongues under the Schedules of the total population of India, 96.71 percent have one of the scheduled languages as their mother tongue, the remaining 3.29 percent is accounted for other languages. Thus putting it simpler, some of the languages in India are:

  1. Official languages are also called modern languages.
  2. The mother tongues which are classified under official and other languages.
  3. The native language is also called other languages.
  4. Classical languages (included in Official Language)
  5. Sign languages 

The web doesn’t end here as the government has its way of giving ranking in terms of usage to these languages. Thus, the official Language Rules 1976, demarcated the use of languages as per their categorization on basis of languages spoken in each state. Therefore, we have three regions: 

  • Region A: Comprises of the states belonging to the Hindi Heartland, which have Hindi as their official language. (Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh along with the Union Territories – Delhi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands). 
  • Region B: Comprises the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, and the Union Territories of Chandigarh, Diu & Daman, Dadra & Nagar Haveli)
  • Region C:  All the other states which do not fall under the above two categories. These States do not have Hindi as their official language. This includes all the southern states, Odisha, West Bengal, etc.

The language distribution for official/government is as:

With Region A: All the official communication between the Central departments and the State departments of the respective states needs to be in Hindi. In case there is any official communication made in English, it ought to be accompanied by a translation in Hindi.

With Region B: The communication between the Centre and any department of the state would be in Hindi. If there is any communication in English, a translation in Hindi needs to be accompanied. In case, the communication needs to be sent in a local language, there is also a provision to send a translation in that local language along with the communication in Hindi or English.  Any communication which is sent to a person can be in Hindi or English.

With Region C: All the communication between the Centre and the state is carried out in English. Even communication with a person in this region will also be done in English.

Tamil Nadu, is a unique case and does not fall under any of the three regions. All the communication with Tamil Nadu is carried only in English

Thus, officially speaking, it is just the use of either ‘Hindi’ or ‘Hindi and English’ or ‘English’ in government works. Thus, the points of concern that arise here are:

  1. Why declare the other 20 languages as ‘official’ if they are not being promoted at the central level?
  2. In failure to above mentioned, why not declare language as a subject under the concurrent list?
  3. Why the promotion of only Hindi in the present regime is being considered to be of utmost importance where English is occupying the place of ‘Classical’, ‘Official’, ‘mother tongue’, and ‘Other languages’ as well?

Promoting only Hindi

Before dealing with the first two points, it becomes inevitable to highlight the present scenario related to language promotions as it forms the root cause of favoritism, and bias.  Of course! The duty to teach mother tongue to a child is that of the mother or family, but the government cannot just withdraw when it comes to other 20 official languages (deliberately not including English for reasons derived out of common sense). Talking of a few examples:

The New Education Policy (2019) submitted by the Kasturirangan Committee, a recommendation to ‘continue three-language formula in schools which re-kindled apprehensions of Hindi being imposed in  Non-Hindi speaking states. The draft mentioned that ‘the study of languages by students in non-Hindi speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English.’

However, amidst the backlash, the government released a revised draft, on June 3rd, 2019, removing this clause and also clarified that the final policy provides states the authority to chose and doesn’t impose any language facing opposition by non-Hindi speaking States like Tamil Nadu.

The J&K official language Bill includes Kashmiri, Dogri, and Hindi as the official languages in the newly created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier, only English and Urdu were the official languages in the former State. The Bill has invited criticism (some too vague) like Hasnain Masoodi of National Conference (NC) who said that five official languages will confuse the bureaucracy. The move although includes the majority spoken Kashmiri (56% of the population of J&K) in the Bill, yet the latent motive to include and retain a special place of ‘Hindi’ by the government cannot be ruled out per se.

The legislative Intent: Despite Article 343(1) of the Constitution providing 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 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.

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 certain specified purposes such as Resolutions, General Orders, Rules, Notifications, Administrative, and other Reports, etc. yet, 

  • In compliance with the Official Language Resolution, 1968, an Annual Programme is prepared by the Department of Official Language in which targets are set for the offices of the Central Government concerning originating correspondence, telegrams, telex, etc., in Hindi. A Quarterly Progress Report is called for from the offices of the Central Government regarding achievements vis-à-vis the said targets. An Annual Assessment Report is prepared based on the Quarterly Progress Reports, which is laid on the Tables of both Houses of the Parliament and copies endorsed to State Governments and the Ministries/Departments of the Central Government.
  • The Kendriya Hindi Samiti was constituted in the year 1967. It is chaired by the Prime Minister. It is the apex policy-making body which lays down the guidelines for the propagation and progressive use of Hindi as the Official Language of the Union.
  • The Indira Gandhi Rajbhasha Awards Scheme has been in operation since 1986-87. Shields are given every year to Ministries/Departments, Banks and Financial Institutions, Public Sector Undertakings, and Town Official Language Implementation Committees for outstanding achievements in the implementation of the Official Language Policy of the Union. Cash awards are given to the working/retired employees of the Central Government, Banks, Financial Institutions, Universities, Training Institutions, and Autonomous Bodies of the Central Government for writing original books in Hindi.
  • Under the Hindi Teaching Scheme, administered by the Department of Official Language, training in the Hindi language is being imparted through 119 full-time and 49 part-time centers throughout the country. Likewise, training in Hindi Stenography and Hindi Typing is being provided through 23 full-time and 38 part-time centers. Thus, training in Hindi is being provided in 229 centers located in different parts of the country.
  • The Department of Official Language brings out ‘Rajbhasha Bharati’, a quarterly magazine, dedicated to encouraging writings in the field of Official Language, literature, technology, information technology, etc., in Hindi and also to give wide publicity to the efforts being made in different Central Government Offices for the use and propagation of Official Language Hindi. 

The analysis brings me to my first two points i.e to allow states to spread and promote those official languages that fall within their ambit and if not official, then the local and cultural along with Hindi because of the need to know more than one language is synonymous with time.

Why this obsession is not called for

Worldwide, today the most widely spoken also the fastest spreading language is English, with over 1.1 billion as native and second-language users. Like many others, India, being colonized by the Britishers for the longest period, needless to say, has acquired English not just as a mark of being ‘well-educated’ but now an inter-state mode of communication; especially when it comes to the larger picture of North, South, East, and West inter vivos. Apart from English, the majority of languages that they speak are either classical, native, or their mother tongue. Hence, it can be summarily said that they have now become accustomed and comfortable with English. The logic does not end here as English helps them communicate globally. Thus, a single language serves many purposes. At this point, ‘enforcing’ a new language might seem a ‘language-terrorism.’ Accepting the fact that it being our ‘Matr Bhasha’ needs a proper recognition, we cannot deny the fact that apart from the 48% population, many are still unable to accept it as our first official language. The situation would be a ‘win-win’ for all if we accept the reality and plan accordingly. 

While it would be culturally unjustified to let ‘Hindi’ lose its position in a land where people all over the globe still thinks it to be their ‘National Language’ but it must be understood that it simultaneously moves us away from practicality. We must learn from countries like UAE and Singapore who have not just tackled their language problem but have come up with the concept of ‘Gulf English.’ UAE, where 85% of the population speaks Arabic has accepted and included the fact that English is now a common medium of communication. Being one of the fastest growers in Business, they have made English their lingua franca to satisfy both the culture and growth. 

A humble submission 

The aim of the present research is by no means to demean the use and promotion of Hindi but to present the practical side of the story. In a battle to preserve Hindi when English has a sweeping effect over the local languages, all other languages and their importance is being compromised. Complete neglect towards their diminishing value is of equal concern as that of Hindi vis-à-vis English. Let’s not forget that even these languages trace a long history and have survived the ravages of time. By putting the above-stated suggestion and the idea of providing ‘language’ as a subject under concurrent list would help even the local dialects to gain much due recognition. So, it is in that case only the states have power, vision, and approach to deal with the issue at hand as per the native needs, and still, if the center wants to, let it focus on uniting the country under the blanket cover of Hindi.

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