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.