Languages and Eighth Schedule

Need for one common language


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Scheduled languages

Mains level: Hindi imposition row

Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah suggested that states should communicate with each other in Hindi rather than English, while stressing that Hindi should not be an alternative to local languages.

This again sparked the debate of “Hindi imposition”.

How widely is Hindi spoken in India?

  • The 2011 linguistic census accounts for 121 mother tongues, including 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Hindi is the most widely spoken, with 52.8 crore individuals, or 43.6% of the population, declaring it as their mother tongue.
  • The next highest is Bengali, mother tongue for 97 lakh (8%) — less than one-fifth of Hindi’s count (Chart 2).
  • In terms of the number of people who know Hindi, the count crosses more than half the country.
  • Nearly 13.9 crore (over 11%) reported Hindi as their second language, which makes it either the mother tongue or second language for nearly 55% of the population.

Has it always been this widespread?

  • Hindi has been India’s predominant mother tongue over the decades, its share in the population rising in every succeeding census.
  • In 1971, 37% Indians had reported Hindi as their mother tongue, a share that has grown over the next four censuses to 38.7%, 39.2%, 41% and 43.6% at last count (Chart 1).
  • This begs the question as to which mother tongues have declined as Hindi’s share has risen.
  • A number of mother tongues other than Hindi have faced a decline in terms of share, although the dip has been marginal in many cases.
  • For example, Bengali’s share in the population declined by just 0.14 percentage points from 1971 (8.17%) to 2011 (8.03%).
  • In comparison, Malayalam (1.12 percentage points) and Urdu (1.03 points) had higher declines among the mother tongues with at least 1 crore speakers in 2011.
  • Punjabi’s share, on the other hand, rose from 2.57% to 2.74%.
  • At the other end of the scale (among the 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution) were Malayalam, whose numbers rose by under 59% in four decades, and Assamese, rising just over 71% (Chart 3).

What explains Hindi’s high numbers?

  • One obvious explanation is that Hindi is the predominant language in some of India’s most populous states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
  • Another reason is that a number of languages are bracketed under Hindi by census enumerators.
  • In 2011, there were 1,383 mother tongues reported by people, and hundreds were knocked out.
  • These mother tongues were then grouped into languages.
  • You will find that under Hindi, they have listed nearly 65 mother tongues.
  • Among them is Bhojpuri, and 5 crore people have reported Bhojpuri as their mother tongue, but the census has decided that Bhojpuri is Hindi.
  • If one were to knock out the other languages merged with Hindi, the total figure goes down to 38 crore.

And how widely is English spoken?

  • Although English, alongside Hindi, is one of the two official languages of the central government, it is not among the 22 languages in the 8th Schedule; it is one of the 99 non-scheduled languages.
  • In terms of mother tongue, India had just 2.6 lakh English speakers in 2011 — a tiny fraction of the 121 crore people counted in that census.
  • That does not reflect the extent to which English is spoken.
  • It was the second language of 8.3 crore respondents in 2011, second only to Hindi’s 13.9 crore.
  • If third language is added, then English was spoken — as mother tongue, second language or third language — by over 10% of the population in 2011, behind only Hindi’s 57%.
  • It is still not a scheduled language in India, when it should be.

Where is English most prevalent?

  • As mother tongue, Maharashtra accounted for over 1 lakh of the 2.6 lakh English speakers.
  • As second language, English is preferred over Hindi in parts of the Northeast.
  • Among the 17.6 lakh with Manipuri (an 8th Schedule language) as their mother tongue in 2011, 4.8 lakh declared their second language as English, compared to 1.8 lakh for Hindi.
  • Among the non-scheduled languages spoken in the Northeast, Khasi, predominant in Meghalaya, was the mother tongue of 14.3 lakh, of whom 2.4 lakh declared their second language as English, and 54,000 as Hindi.
  • The trends were similar for Mizo, and for various languages spoken in Nagaland, including Ao, Angami and Rengma.
  • Beyond the Northeastern languages, among 68 lakh with Kashmiri as their mother tongue, 2.8 lakh declared their second language as English, compared to 2.2 lakh who declared Hindi.

Back2Basics: Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution

  • The Eighth Schedule lists the official languages of the Republic of India.
  • At the time when the Constitution was enacted, inclusion in this list meant that the language was entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission.
  • This language would be one of the bases that would be drawn upon to enrich Hindi and English, the official languages of the Union.
  • The list has since, however, acquired further significance.
  • In addition, a candidate appearing in an examination conducted for public service is entitled to use any of these languages as the medium in which he or she answers the paper.
  • As per Articles 344(1) and 351 of the Indian Constitution, the eighth schedule includes the recognition of the 22 languages.

‘Classical’ languages in India

Currently, six languages enjoy the ‘Classical’ status: Tamil (declared in 2004), Sanskrit (2005), Kannada (2008), Telugu (2008), Malayalam (2013), and Odia (2014).

How are they classified?

According to information provided by the Ministry of Culture in the Rajya Sabha in February 2014, the guidelines for declaring a language as ‘Classical’ are:

  • High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years;
  • A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers;
  • The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community;
  • The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms o

UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch