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Hindi: Our National Language?
According to the Constitution which came into force on Jan 26, 1950, English was to be the official language of the Central government for 15 years. Now, any language accepted by a State of India as its official language would be a national language.

FOR THE PAST 21 years, I have been under the impression that Hindi is the national language of India. Just a couple of days back I realised that India does not have a national language.  I felt ashamed. How come I did not know this?  Thank God, I am not alone in this. My friends are also under the impression that Hindi is the Raashtra Bhasha of India. Also, I can safely conclude that more than half of India’s population is under the same impression. Oh, come on, India!

But now it surprises me to hear that India never had a national language. This explains why India attached importance to each of its constituent languages. I do not know who first put this thought in my mind.  There is one very interesting fact about the languages of India. Though India may boast of being home to many major languages of the world, this abode of languages, ironically, does not have a national language of its own. According to the Constitution of India, any language, accepted by a State of India as its official language will be given the status of national language. In India, no language is accepted or spoken by the States unanimously. Even Hindi, the language spoken by most people, is unable to attain the status of national language as it is does not fulfil the condition laid down by the Constitution of India. Though Hindi is spoken by a large number of people, only ten States of India have accepted it as their official language.

Article 343 of the Constitution declares Hindi as the official language of the Un-ion of India. English remains the additional official language. It is the authoritative legislative and judicial language. In fact, one could say that English is the official language of India for all practical purposes. For many educated Indians, English is virtually their first language though a large number of Indians are multi-lingual. 

Then what is the difference between national and official language?  The national language defines the people of the nation, culture and history.  The official language is used for official communication.  While the national language can become the official language by default, an official language has to be approved by law in order to become the national language. All languages spoken in India, starting from the language spoken by the most people to that spoken by the least are our national languages. This is because all of them define the people of this nation, culture and their history, collectively.  India has no legally-defined national language; it has only 18 official languages according to the Constitution.  There is a special provision for the development of Hindi under Article 351, though.

According to article 351, “It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages”.

The Constitution of India came into existence on January 26, 1950. It said that Hindi and English would be the "official languages" of the Central government of India till 1965 (for a period of 15 years); subsequently, Hindi was expected to become the sole "national and official language" of India.  This applied to Central as well as State governments. Hindi and English became the "official languages" in every department controlled by the Central government.  This explains why Hindi is prominent in the Indian Railways, the nationalised banks, etc, which come under the purview of the Central government.

As January 26, 1965 neared, some in the non-Hindi belt, particularly the Tamils, started voicing their apprehensions openly. The idea of making Hindi the sole national language was blasphemous to the students as it involved the simultaneous and complete withdrawal of English, even as a medium for competitive examinations for jobs and education! This meant that the northern region would bag government jobs and dominate the field of education, given the proficiency in Hindi of the people of the region. Since government jobs were the most sought after in the pre-1991 era, the measure was seen as an indirect attempt to deny jobs to the English-educated South Indians. The non-Hindi-speaking people from South India feared that they would be discriminated against in government employment and in other possible ways.  Between 1948 and 1961, on an average, every year, close to 24% of Central government officials had been selected from the State of Madras (the present-day Tamil Nadu). Uttar Pradesh came second best, accounting for about 16%.

The 1940s, 1950s and the first half of the 1960s witnessed many anti-Hindi pro-tests in the form of public meetings, marches, hunger strikes and demonstrations before schools and Central government offices; black flag demonstrations greeted Central government ministers. Most of these were organized either by the DK or the DMK and the general public supported them fully. There were hundreds of such protests from Tamil Nadu and thousands were jailed. Several hundreds were injured when police used lathi-charge to disperse the peaceful protesters. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then PM, even though supportive of the pro-Hindi group, came up with a set of compromises that denied Hindi the "sole national language" status, realising the seriousness of the issue.


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By going through the comments, it seems that most of us are concerned with only one aspect or other of the National Language Policy. We are a pluralist country and the absence of a single national language is a proof of that. Agreed that Hindi is the third most spoken language on the planet (and if we consider Hindi-Urdu to be a diasystem of the same root language borrowing technical jargon from much older classical languages of different regions, it might even come on the second place), but then even a Chinese guy has to speak in English if they want to be heard globally. Even the EU requires all its communications be held in English (although UK & Ireland are the only predominantly English speaking countries). This speaks volumes of the internationalist status of English. Although English is seen as the remaining vestiges of imperialism in India, but it is high time that we turn the tide in our favor just as we did with Cricket. Now, it is no longer considered a British game and playing in IPL is more profitable than playing county Cricket. To attain the purpose, lets aim to get rid of British English and have the Desi English (Indian English) institutionalized in our Constitution. This way no particular linguistic group will feel alienated on a national level and the state are free to adopt the locally dominant language for their day-to-day communications.Moreover,we will feel the Global language much closer to home because of its Desi touch. Just an after thought - if the Hindi speakers can achieve 3rd place for Hindi; just imagine what a billion plus people can do for the Indian English (that too taking into account the whole Subcontinent). Just imagine the Brits and American sweating-off to learn 'Indian' English so that they are understood well globally. If we can claim Cricket for ourselves, then English should not be a big deal. PS: I am a native Hindi speaker and wish from the bottom of my heart for this issue to be put to rest for good.
tarun sharma
no comments
Its sad to know that INDIA does not have a national language. I actually have no problems in accepting the widely spoken language (which is obviously, Hindi) as a national language. But the people responsible for these amendments should understand the sentiments and importance of other languages and the concerned-people. For instance, tamil is such an old and classic language, which is one of the few languages selected by UNESCO to be protected/preserved along with greek and other languages. We must be celebrating this as a language from INDIA is selected by UNESCO for a noble purpose. It is widely spoken in other countries like Singapore, Sri lanka, Malaysia and partially in other countries too. Infact its an official language in Singapore and Srilanka. Moreover, "TAMIL" is the most searched word in google (according to 2005-6 report). After so much fuss, tamil was recognized as classical language by INDIAN government in 2004 (Guess the year is right ;-)). The world famous Angkor wat temple in Cambodia was beleived to be built by a king of tamil origin and had deep roots of dravidian culture. With all this credibility, if the language is suppressed just because it is not majorly spoken in a country.... does that make any sense or is that fair? This is the reason why people of South India are not ready to accept Hindi as National Language. I used tamil as just an example. Many such languages are there throughout INDIA. First of all people should understand that each language has its own credibility and history. Lets just accept and celebrate it. This will give confidence and "we are one"-kind feeling in us. Then no body have to force people to accept Hindi as National language. It will be automatically accepted by all Indians whole-heartedly. So lets start respecting other languages and give them the status they deserve. Saying this I hope, I am not considered anti-hindi.
The question of national language merges to the larger question of 'What defines the statehood of India?' One school of thought considers the British rule in India as a main cause of Indian statehood. Most of the commentators in this discussion seem to hold this view. This view can not explain different national movements like Sri Lankan, Burmese, Nepali, Afghani and lastly Pakistani as separate movements from the big landmass ruled by Britishers. It also can not explain why no separate Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam etc. national movements grew in British India? Perhaps, the explanation of these unanswered questions, lies in the fact that contrary to the largely held belief, British rule in India was not the element that defined India as a nation. One thought considers that the nation is defined by the land mass over which the interests of the vanguards of the society, are secured and protected. It was accepted by many in the world in twentieth century. In case of India, it is the cast system in India which protected the interests of the Trai Varniks, i.e. Brahmins, Xatriyas and Vaishyas, historically, that made India, a nation, historically. However unacceptable the cast system be in todays world, there can be no denial of it as a legacy for nationhood. Wherever, the cast system ceased to exist, India also ceased to exist there. Then, the logical choice as national language can be "Modified and simplified" Sanskrit. Its implementation can be planned phase wise. "Modified and simplified" Sanskrit is easier to accept as all the regional languages owe their origin to Sanskrit. It has great upper hand over English as it is closer even to the illiterate villagers whose present day language derives more than 70% of its vocabulary to Sanskrit. What is needed is a will to act within the rulers of present day India. As far as Hindi is concerned, it has originated more or less simultaneously and developed to the same extent as the many regional languages in India. It can only be a regional language of many regions within India and as a stop gap arrangement till Modified and simplified Sanskrit takes place as National language.
Saurabh Jain
It was indeed a very informative article and I googled this topic after reading the MNS news. Though everything has its own pros and cons but if the issues could have been handled by our ex-ministers then we would have seen a more synchronised country. Had it not been Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel's effort and his toughness, we would not have been living in India. We would rather have been living in either the Mysore Country or may be Hyderabad Country or may be Madras Country. But had he been given a politically free hand to deal with all the issues, we would have seen "A Better India". A Nation means a nation, it does not mean Marathis, Biharis, Kannadis, Tamilians or Mallus. It was meant to be Indians but seeing the state even the soul of Sardar will be weeping that why he left the task in between. And it is actually what is being taught to the generations coming ahead. The regional biases, religional biases, cultural biases and what not. People do talk about Developed Countries like America, Singapore, UK, France and wonder that why they cannot become like them or when they will become like them. But have these people really did a "manthan" that why they become developed countries so fast. I guess the answer lies in oneness, removing barriers whether internal or external, working towards only one goal - betterment of society. People might argue with certain instances that this has happened wrong but what I am saying is that atleast there is an effort. Are we lacking that effort?
The central govt in Delhi has plans to wantonly ignore other languages and pave the way for their decline by sole use of Hindi and by the portrial of India to the outside world as Hindia. Except for some sentiments raised by Tamils, other language speakers are simply taking it for granted to accept Hindi as their officated mother tongue. Some examples of Hindian propoganda by both the Hindian central government and large MNCs: 1>Gas books across India printed only in Hindi and English 2>Air Hindia, Hindian Airlines, S(J)et(h) Airway etc having announcements only in English and Hindi. 3>Hindi being compulsory in CBSE schools while Hindian can choose to skip the state language in favour of Sanskrit 4>Lack of opportunity of native Tamils in the north leave alone North Indians to learn Tamil and other southern languages in their areas 5>Tamil being portrayed with lude ‘comical’ roles in Hindian films 6>Hindian railways train tickets skipping the state language 7>Airports (like in Madras) hiring Hindians who cant speak Tamil/state language 8>Hindian Railway and other Hindian institution websites restricted to only Hindi and English 9>Hindian movies only being sent to the Oscars and other cultural events ignoring other languages 10>Hindian bank passbooks skipping the state language 11>ATMs of most banks (Citibank, Hindian Bank etc restricting to Hindi and English) 12>Looking down on states of Tamil Nadu because of refusal to prescribe to “accept-Hindi-as-your-language” attitude 13. The very use of the term “Regional language” to non-Hindi languages 14. The use of Hindian stickers in trains and else portaying “speaking Hindi is nationalism” and other propoganda messages stating use of English or non-Hindi as not being nationalistic. 15. The very absence of languages other than Hindi on the symbol of citizenship of the country– the passport The above is a part of a sinister policy create to transform India to simply Hindia or Hindistan. These remarks are taken as fascist…but you need to ask yourself whether the National Language policy of India itself isnt fascist. If you trace the history since independence regarding the use of language apart from Hindi, you can foretell the future plan for this fascist policy. This Hindian fascism should not make it a big mistake for India to be a lingual union. The last thing for the country is encouragement a colonial attitude by speakers of the “elevated” lingo. DMK, PMK and other Tamil traitors are happy with this scenario as they are in business with their Hindian masters who safeguarding the TN reservation policy, where several Hindi OBCs get reservation in TN while Tamil FCs are thrown out. Their vote bank has been assured by their Hindian masters.
Sujay Rao Mandavilli
Here are some alternative national integration strategies Major problems with Hindi are (a) Some states have one some language and some have two languages in case English is removed in the long run (First discriminating factor) (b) Those who have Hindi have it as their mother tongue (Second discriminating factor) (c) In Telegu medium schools, we can only have Hindi as second language (Third discriminating factor) (d) Those who take over the job market through unnatural means can automatically destroy other cultures.(Fourth discriminating factor). This would keep on producing counter reactions, create long-term instability if imposed through artificial means, would be opposed to fedaralism and eventually minority rights, encourage English even more, encourage laziness at the expense of merit, encourage politically-induced uni-directional migrations, allow both English and Hindi to kill other Indian languages, encourage the learning of foreign languages at the expense of Indian languages, have other side effects (Hindi as an entry level link language in Non-Hindi speaking states) and end up destroying its own creators. While this may be a short term strategy, this would clearly be a unworkable long term policy This kind of a language policy is clearly opposed to the dynamics of a free market and even common sense (why will anybody learn something if he thinks it can destroy him) and is a relic of the Nehruvian era. Furthermore Hindi cannot even replace English according to the Indian constitution. Furthermore, Hindi (khadi bholi) is only the official language of the Central government. Rajasthani, Mythili (45 million speakers) are separate languages according to the eighth schedule, Bhojpuri (150 million speakers) has a rival entertainment industry, Urdu (75 million speakers) and Angika (30 million speakers) are clearly separate languages. Urdu, Santhali and even Mythili have separate scripts. Furthermore, apart from Marxist societies, there was never any concept of "selecting" "national" languages. However kings and rulers often selected administrative languages based on discussions with various people. Alternative strategies We can implement a combination of all these) (a) Language of the state, English and Sanksrit (those who don't want to take Sanskrit may opt for Urdu) (In vernacular schools) In English medium schools, English, Sanskrit/ Urdu. However, people must learn a little bit of the local language. (b) Some kind of Prakrit as third language (all states and communities must give an in principle approval before hand. All states and communities must get together and form a committee ) (c) Present three language formula. However, instead of Hindi , we can opt for any one living Indian language (excepting for the language of the state / urdu and sanskrit). This must be implemented by Hindi speaking states also. (d) Have schools only in the local language till 5th standard. (All states and boards must simultaneously agree) English will be taught as a second language. People coming to another state must study in the language of the state. However, one other Indian language must be taught based on demand (e) We can have a composite third language (a mixture of two three other Indian languages taught) (f) The centre sets up a body to promote Indian languages, sets up libraries, research institutes, in every town and district, translates international books into all Indian languages, makes technical information available avaialable to the common man (especially information which is most needed by him Agriculture etc, gives away prizes to scholars, provides translation services in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in all Indian languages so that only people from a few states do not benefit. Thousands of such other strategies can be thought of.
Sujay Rao Mandavilli
Again except in Marxist countries, nowhere is the language of the statistical majority "selected". Besides are Bhojpuri, Urdu, Mythili and Santhali really hindi? Politicians don't select mother tongues. In a federation Official languages of the central Government must be decided only when ALL states fornmally agree. If the central government wants to represent the language of one community in the UN, ALL states must formally agree. Otherwise other states can complain to the government. This shows how abusrd and unnatural India's language policy is: Some states have two / some have three languages. If English is removed some states would have one, some would have two languages (and furthermore Hindi is the native language of the Hindi belt. This is so unnatural that India and clearly designed to benefit only one community that India has spent literally billions of dollars encouraging English(not Hindi)since independance. Hindi spread only as an entry level link language. Such paradigms are also incompatible with 21st century ideals. The hindi belt has been spending literally billions of dollars on itself only to destroy itself. Let us start a debate immediately. There are thousands of ways we can acheive national integration. What about Prakrit /Sanskrit? People from all states and union territories and all communities especially those who may be disadvantaged by it must get together and form a commitee immediately to discuss strategies for natioanal integration and language .
Sujay Rao Mandavilli
No government can support the language of one community in a multilingual country. It can potentially create a situation which brings it directly in conflict with international and UN principles (majorityism). In India, this is however not possible as the Indian constitution has enough checks and balances) Except for some old marxist, ex-marxist countries, no other multiligual country in the West follows this model i.e taking the langiuage of the statistical majority and plonking it on others. (i.e Canada, Mauritius, Switzerland all follow Unity in diversity models) It would only create chaos and confusion (some states have two and some have three languages or if you remove English some states will have one language in the syllabus and some will have two since Hindi states didn't care to implement the three language formula.) I don't think any other country follows such a system). This is not based on sustainable or win-win paradigms and will always produce a counter reaction: either break up (Pakistan - Bangladesh example or Tamil Eelam example) or encourage another language like English even more (India, Bhutan and Singapore may be following this pattern). since the Indian constitution has enough checks and balances. Let's have national integration based on mutual respect and not one half of the country thinking it can destroy the other half. My objection to such a policy is that it only creates more confusion and is unworkable in the long run. Till date Hindi has spread only based on "The law of convenience" because it is closely related to other Indian languages unlike English which is not a language of the masses). But you are creating chaos and confusion and misleading people even more. Such policies should have been scrapped in 1991 itself. It is opposed to the spirit of fedaralism and makes people of one community think they are superior to others. I have seen many people who are openly communal-minded. Who is repsonsible for this? Hindi cannot replace English under normal or natural laws of language spread or even according to the Indian constitution since Hindi is only the official language of the central government. India is a five thousand year poised to emerge as a major economic power in the 21st century: let us have upto date national integration strategies which work ! There are so many ways the central government can promote national integration strategies: The central government sets up a body to promote all Indian languages without bias or prejudice. Giving incentives to scholars, setting up libraries in all states, setting up institutes for the study of Indian languages in all states, translating books into all Indian languages, setting up virtual libraries in all Indian languages, Making the study of ANY one Indian language for a specific number of years mandatory for all Indians
Sampathkumar Iyangar (Natteri Adigal)
What is there to be "felt ashamed" at the realisation that India does not have a national language? The author has explained the situation lucidly for Hindi fanatics who blindly campaign for a larger-than-life status to this language: "The national language defines the people of the nation, culture and history. The official language is used for official communication. While the national language can become the official language by default, an official language has to be approved by law in order to become the national language." While nobody can object to the 10 cow-belt states (originally referring to the Hindi belt, also known as BiMaRU representing Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and UP) spending their resources on the development of this language, it cannot be acceptable for the Central government - funded by the whole country - to give any special treatment for Hindi. Just because New Delhi happens to be situated in the Hindi belt, it cannot make the language “more equal” than others. The truth is that there can be no "national language" for India because it is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-national entity that came to be a single administrative unit for the first time only under the East India Company. For that reason, only English can enjoy the status of the "link language" or common official language between all States, including the BiMaRU States. It will be foolish to expect a Bengali to accept Hindi as his "national" language when his/her own mother tongue reigns in Bangladesh. Similarly, no Tamilian will accept being a second-class subject of any nation with another language as its "national" language. It must be remembered that Tamil is recognized as a national language in countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia. It cannot be a argument that the Constitution stipulates, "It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language . . ." under article 351. The Indian constitution has several such deadwood provisions asking the State to do things, which currently are considered illegitimate interferences with market economy—prohibition, ban on cow-slaughter, swadeshi and khadi nationalism etc. North Indian politicians must dump their pipe dream of making Hindi as the "national language" without delay. Otherwise, every coastal State of India will cede one by one, starting with Tamil Nadu, leaving only the Hindi belt as (H)india!
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