Languages and Eighth Schedule

[op-ed snap] Getting the language count right


Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Diversity of India

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UNESCO, Census of India

Mains level: Status of various languages in India and need for their protection


Census data on languages

  1. Early this month, the Census of India made public the language data based on the 2011 Census, which took into account 120 crore speakers of a very large number of languages
  2. Recent Census data appear to inadequately reflect India’s linguistic composition

Previous census & their data collection

  1. The 1931 Census was a landmark as it held up a mirror to the country about the composition of caste and community
  2. It was during the 1961 census that languages in the country were enumerated in full
  3. India learnt that a total of 1,652 mother tongues were being spoken
  4. Using ill-founded logic, this figure was pegged at only 109, in the 1971 Census
  5. The logic was that a language deserving respectability should not have less than 10,000 speakers

Language enumeration

  1. The language enumeration takes place in the first year of every decade
  2. The findings are made public about seven years later as the processing of language data is far more time consuming than handling economic or scientific data
  3. The Language division of the Census office released stats related to languages
  4. A total of 1,369 names — technically called “labels” — were picked as “being names of languages”
  5. The 1,369 have been grouped further under a total of 121 “group labels”, which have been presented as “Languages”
  6. Of these, 22 are languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, called “Scheduled Languages”

Flawed methodology

  1. Under the heading “Hindi”, there are nearly 50 other languages
  2. Bhojpuri, Powari/Pawri of tribals in Maharashtra and even the Kumauni of Uttarakhand has been yoked to Hindi
  3. The use of English is not seen through the perspective of a second language
  4. Counting for this is restricted to the “mother tongue” category — in effect bringing down the figure substantially
  5. Given the widespread use of English in education, law, administration, media and healthcare, a significant number of Indians use English as a utility language
  6. To some extent, it is the language of integration in our multilingual country

Role of UNESCO in protecting languages

  1. From time to time, UNESCO tries to highlight the key role that language plays in widening access to education, protecting livelihoods and preserving culture and knowledge traditions
  2. In 1999/2000, it proclaimed and observed February 21 as International Mother Language Day, while in 2001 the ‘Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity’ accepted the principle of “Safeguarding the linguistic heritage of humanity and giving support to expression, creation and dissemination in the greatest possible number of languages.”
  3. In pursuit of these, UNESCO has launched a linguistic diversity network and supported research
  4. It has also brought out an Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which highlights the central place of language in the world’s heritage

Way Forward

  1. The Census in India should adequately reflect the linguistic composition of the country
  2. It is not good practice when data helps neither educators nor policymakers or the speakers of languages themselves
  3. The Census, a massive exercise that consumes so much time and energy, needs to see how it can help in a greater inclusion of the marginal communities, how our intangible heritage can be preserved, and how India’s linguistic diversity can become an integral part of our national pride
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