Importance for exams:
- Mains: Understanding the pros and cons of promoting a single language in a multilingual India. Drawing parallels from events around the globe on similar issue
- Prelims: Constitutional provisions related to the issue
NDA Govt has come under severe criticism in the past for its efforts to promote Hindi and making it compulsory for all Central government offices to communicate on social media.
Hindi is widely spoken in the north, but southern and eastern states have always opted for local languages or English. Five decades ago, efforts to impose Hindi as the country’s only official language had triggered violent riots in the south.
- There is no national language as declared by the Constitution of India.
- The Constitution lists Hindi written in Devanagari script as well as English as the official language of the govt of India. Hindi and English are used for official purposes such as parliamentary proceedings, judiciary, communications between the Central Government and a State Government.
- States within India have the liberty and powers to specify their own official language(s) through legislation.
- The Constitution imposes a duty upon the Centre to promote the spread and development of the Hindi language so that it may become the lingua franca of the composite culture of India.
- The Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution contains a list of 22 scheduled languages. The Government of India is under an obligation to take measures for the development of these languages.
- The Constitution also contains certain special directives to protect the interests of linguistic minorities.
Why does language continue to be such an emotive issue?
- This is because language is regarded by people as indissolubly connected with their culture. E.g. in Tamil Nadu, disinterest in Hindi stems from the pride of people in Tamil heritage. They are happy, and proficient enough, using English when Tamil doesn’t work.
- This issue continues to be exploited by the political parties for narrow political ends.
- Linguistic problems are not limited to India and have arisen in other parts of the world too. In Ireland there has been a fierce agitation concerning the language of the Irish people; and in spite of the fact that practically every educated Irishman knows English, they have adopted the Irish language as their national language.
The linguistic question has affected the rise of nationalities in the East too. In Iran there has been a movement that a purely Iranian language free from Arabian influence should be the national language of Iran. Similar campaigns have been observed in Poland, Wales and Turkey too.
Reasons behind the Government’s recent push for promotion of Hindi:
- English is seen as a remnant of India’s colonial past.
- The Government, as also empowered by the Constitution, wants to popularize Hindi so that gradually it can become the lingua franca of the India.
Criticism of recent steps taken by the Government for promotion of Hindi:
- The government should not favor one language over the other in a country that has benefitted from its knowledge of English.
- The English language skills of Indian engineers gave momentum to the growth of the country’s famous information technology industry.
- In a globalizing world, India’s familiarity with English is a huge benefit.
Arguments given in favour of promotion of Hindi and other Indian languages:
- We should not abandon what is ours in terms of culture and language.
- Assertion of our linguistic identities is the key to international respect and power. As long as we speak and deal with the west in English, we are essentially playing on fields created for them. If we speak and converse in our languages, the field automatically levels out.
- Greater use of Indian languages would in turn fuel the need for thousands of translators and multi-lingual skills, both from Indian to foreign languages, and between Indian regional languages themselves. We would need as many English-Hindi, Japanese-Tamil translators as Hindi-Tamil, Kannada-Bengali translators.
- As we reinvest money and emotion into our own languages, more original work will be done in them, and more foreign work can be translated into local languages, creating a huge deluge of jobs.
The way ahead:
- A national government promoting a single language in a multi language country is against the idea of multiculturalism and a multilingual, federal polity. The objective of the government should be on the imperatives of communicating with people all over India, rather than trying to decide on the language of communication.
- The Government is well within its rights to promote Hindi, but it must realise that belief of one nation and one language can divide more than unite. In South Asia alone, there are two examples – of West Pakistan imposing Urdu on East Pakistan and Sri Lankan Government imposing Sinhalese on the Tamils – where language conflict led to civil wars.
- Hindi has already made considerable inroads through entertainment and Bollywood. Bollywood movies in multiplexes now attract a lot of local audiences, particularly the new generation, and the entertainment industries seem to be contiguous. The best course of action, thus would be letting languages evolve on their own and allowing people to choose.
- The Government must, instead, build liberal institutions where scholarship of various languages can flourish.
Quotable Quote (useful for essay)
We should keep our windows fully open to ideas from everywhere, but we need not choose to be blown off our feet by anyone of them – M.K.Gandhi