Official Language of the Union & the issues around

Jul, 20, 2018

[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
Jul, 11, 2018

Rajya Sabha members can use all 22 scheduled languages


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Parliament & State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges & issues arising out of these

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Eighth Schedule of the Constitution

Mains level: Provisions in the constitution for preserving diversity and culture of India and status of their implementation


Use of language in RS

  1. Rajya Sabha members can speak in any of the 22 scheduled languages from this monsoon session
  2. The members will have to give notice of a reasonable period for the interpreter

Current status

  1. The Rajya Sabha already has a simultaneous interpretation for Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu


Eighth Schedule of the Constitution

  1. The Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India lists the official languages of the Republic of India
  2. The Government of India is under an obligation to take measures for the development of these languages, such that “they grow rapidly in richness and become effective means of communicating modern knowledge”
  3. 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
  4. The 22 languages which are listed in the Eighth Schedule are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu
Jan, 04, 2018

Spat over Hindi as official language at UN

Image source


Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Official languages at UN, National and official language of India

Mains level: Debate over official languages at national and international level


Making Hindi one of the official languages at the United Nations

  1. India is pushing hard to include Hindi as one of the official languages at United Nations
  2. Opposition MP’s questioned this move asking the need to push for Hindi when it was not even the national language of India

Procedure at UN

  1. As per rules, two-thirds of the 193 members of UN will not only have to vote for Hindi as the official language but also share the financial cost incurred to do so

Where is the problem?

  1. Economically weaker countries shy away from sharing costs
  2. India has been making attempts to get the support of countries like Fiji, Mauritius, Surinam where people of Indian origin are there

Tamil a better option?

  1. The Tamil language is one of the official languages of Sri Lanka and Singapore
  2. It is one of the recognized languages of India
  3. It is also recognized as minority language in South Africa, Malaysia and Mauritius


Official languages at UN

  1. There are six official languages of the UN
  2. These are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish
  3. A delegate may speak in any official UN language
  4. The speech is interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages of the UN
  5. At times, a delegate may choose to make a statement using a non-official language
  6. In such cases, the delegation must provide either an interpretation or a written text of the statement in one of the official languages
  7. Most UN documents are issued in all six official languages, requiring translation from the original document
Sep, 17, 2016

Including more languages into Schedule VIII

  1. The proposal to include English along with 37 other regional languages like Bhojpuri, Chattisgarhi, Khasi and Bundelkhandi in the VIII Schedule of the Constitution, granting it an official status, has been pending with the Centre for 12 years now
  2. The committee for this purpose has given its report and Govt is examining it
  3. English: Govt Considers that it is an international language used for convenience

A related question on classical language from Prelims 2015:

Which one of the following was given classical language status recently?
a) Odia
b) Konkani
c) Bhojpuri
d) Assamese

Sep, 17, 2016

Hindi is official language

  1. Minister of State (Home): Hindi and English have become the link languages for official correspondence
  2. Centre will continue to promote Hindi as it was the official language as envisaged in the Constitution
  3. But, at the same time, we have important languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati, Odiya and Assamese
  4. In India, nobody should force anybody to adopt a particular language
  5. Background: It was on September 14, 1949, that the drafting committee of the Constitution had agreed to accept Hindi as the official language of India
  6. From then on the day is celebrated as Hindi Divas across all Central ministries, departments and offices
Sep, 17, 2016

Centre against imposition of Hindi

  1. Minister of State (Home): Govt is against imposing Hindi on other regional languages like Tamil, Kannada or Telugu
  2. Policy is very clear: We have to promote all indigenous Indian languages
  3. Prmotion of Hindi: Centre will continue to promote Hindi as it is the official language envisaged in the Constitution
  4. Promotion of regional languages: It is the responsibility of the respective States
  5. Context: 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
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