Languages and Eighth Schedule

Promoting Hindi language rationally


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Official language, Eighth schedule

Mains level : Hindi imposition row



  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on English in a recent campaign rally, the controversy over medical education in Hindi and the parliamentary report on promoting Hindi, will give new life to Hindi vs non-Hindi debate.

The status of Hindi language in India

  • The 2011 linguistic census: Accounts for 121 mother tongues, including 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Widely spoken language: 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. In terms of the number of people who know Hindi, the count crosses more than half the country.
  • Hindi as second language: 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.


What does constitution say about Hindi?

  • What is the Eighth Schedule?
  1. The Eighth Schedule contains a list of languages in the country. Initially, there were 14 languages in the schedule, but now there are 22 languages.
  2. There is no description of the sort of languages that are included or will be included in the Eighth Schedule.
  • Constitutional position of Eighth Schedule

There are only two references to these languages in the text of the Constitution.

(i) Article 344(1):

  1. It provides for the formation of a Commission by the President, which should have a chairman and members representing these scheduled languages.
  2. The purpose of the Commission is to make recommendations for the progressive use of Hindi for official purposes of the Union and for restricting the use of English.

(ii) Article 351:

  1. It says it is the Union government’s duty to promote the spread of Hindi so that it becomes “a medium of expression for all elements of the composite culture of India”.
  2. It also aims to assimilate elements of forms and expressions from Hindustani and languages listed in the Eighth Schedule.


What are challenges for promotion of Hindi Language?

  • Higher knowledge is not available in Hindi: The challenge of Hindi is that inhabiting the world of Hindi is seen as closing off access to the frontiers of knowledge, not just in science but in civic knowledge, like higher echelons of law.
  • Perceived as inferior language: It is also treated as a marker of parochialism and inferior status.
  • Hindi as language of Identity not as knowledge: The problem may be less acute with other languages like Tamil, Kannada or Bengali, but it exists. The anomaly of the India experiment is not diversity: It is the claim that the language of self, identity and culture be different from the language of knowledge, privilege and access. This is the experiment India is conducting on a large scale. Is it a sustainable one?
  • Cultural assertion through language: It is the untapped resentment of a Hindi culture that often is made conscious of its own second-class status in global hierarchies. Millions of vernacular speakers feel disenfranchised in the worlds of knowledge and prestige.
  • Poor translation mechanism: Our translation missions are so meagre that except for literature, they do not grow the language by translating knowledge into it. So, the division of the function of languages has also become a division of persons, between those whose fluency in English is greater than their fluency in a vernacular, and those who might know English but struggle with it.
  • English transition is not easy in mid high school: There was also a generation that was taught in a vernacular language very well. They found it easy to switch to English later. Now the education system does not prepare you for either trajectory, not at least on a mass scale, leaving the Hindi speaker relatively stranded.


What should be the way forward?

  • Hindi should be used for knowledge sharing and communication: The discussion of the language issue ought to be pedagogical rather than political. It will be, for instance, important for doctors to have English to easily access a continually evolving world of research; just translating a few textbooks into vernaculars will not solve the challenge. But it is equally true that the ability to communicate fluently in vernacular languages will be a great asset.
  • Higher Education in Hindi should be made available: It is also possibly true that for those who did not get an English education, continuing vernacular education should be a medium of expanding their opportunities.
  • Government has to do its homework: Our education system will have to do the homework to make any language strategy work fully. The skepticism of teaching medicine or engineering in the vernaculars (and not just Hindi) is that our knowledge eco system is not prepared for it; the skepticism of English is that it has left so many people behind.


  • The genius of India is that it has, historically, not locked itself into binaries over language choice. With creative pedagogies, we can reclaim that heritage. But raising the political pitch on language serves neither the cause of knowledge or national unity.

Mains Question

Q. Why government indulges in promotion of Hindi? Does it right in Indian context to promote only one language nationally?

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