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
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
Recent Census data appear to inadequately reflect India’s linguistic composition
Previous census & their data collection
The 1931 Census was a landmark as it held up a mirror to the country about the composition of caste and community
It was during the 1961 census that languages in the country were enumerated in full
India learnt that a total of 1,652 mother tongues were being spoken
Using ill-founded logic, this figure was pegged at only 109, in the 1971 Census
The logic was that a language deserving respectability should not have less than 10,000 speakers
The language enumeration takes place in the first year of every decade
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
The Language division of the Census office released stats related to languages
A total of 1,369 names — technically called “labels” — were picked as “being names of languages”
The 1,369 have been grouped further under a total of 121 “group labels”, which have been presented as “Languages”
Of these, 22 are languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, called “Scheduled Languages”
Under the heading “Hindi”, there are nearly 50 other languages
Bhojpuri, Powari/Pawri of tribals in Maharashtra and even the Kumauni of Uttarakhand has been yoked to Hindi
The use of English is not seen through the perspective of a second language
Counting for this is restricted to the “mother tongue” category — in effect bringing down the figure substantially
Given the widespread use of English in education, law, administration, media and healthcare, a significant number of Indians use English as a utility language
To some extent, it is the language of integration in our multilingual country
Role of UNESCO in protecting languages
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
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.”
In pursuit of these, UNESCO has launched a linguistic diversity network and supported research
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
The Census in India should adequately reflect the linguistic composition of the country
It is not good practice when data helps neither educators nor policymakers or the speakers of languages themselves
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
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
Rajya Sabha members can speak in any of the 22 scheduled languages from this monsoon session
The members will have to give notice of a reasonable period for the interpreter
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
The Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India lists the official languages of the Republic of India
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”
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
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
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
The committee for this purpose has given its report and Govt is examining it
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?
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