Reconciling Linguistic Diversity:
The History and the Future of Language Policy in India
University of Toledo Honors Thesis
THE LANGUAGE ISSUE TODAY
Having explored the background of the language issue, it is possible now to explore what the current situation is and what it means to Indians today. Even though the issue is perhaps less of an issue now, it remains ever present in the background. The DMK recently declared that "Tamil is the natural expression of Tamil nationalism, and the Central Government should declare it an official language on par with Hindi and English, to protect the identity and individuality of the language" (The Hindu on Indiaserver, Jan. 30, 1996). In February, Tamil Nadu's Education Minister stated that "the State Government would stand by the two-language formula of having only Tamil and English and would defeat all efforts to impose Hindi in any form" (The Hindu on Indiaserver, Feb. 24, 1996).
Even apart from such opinions and actions, the simple fact that most Indians still deal with a multiplicity of languages everyday ensures the continued importance of the language issue. Tensions may still rise when one uses the wrong language in some places. It is often recommended that one should not speak Hindi in south India, as N.G. reiterates, "If you try to communicate in Hindi, the people won't answer back, they'll be rude, or they'll say something. That's a common experience" (T13.E2). P.C. (unfortunately this was not taped) once had a problem on a bus in Tamil Nadu. He was unable to communicate with the bus driver in Tamil, so he tried Telugu. This failed, so he tried English. Again this did not work, so at last he tried Hindi, which angered the driver. He threatened to kick P.C. off the bus, but fortunately some people who knew both Tamil and Telugu were able talk to the driver and P.C. was able to remain on the bus.
However, the language need not be Hindi for problems to occur, as B.C. discovered in Tirupathi:
Like it happened once with me. I am not very familiar with my mother tongue (Telugu). So I'd been to this holy place of Tirupathi. I went there, and this was the time I went alone. And I didn't know how to converse with him properly. Basically, the thing out there is between Tamil and Telugu-it's a bit mixed up, you know, the dialect. So I was trying to converse with him and I wasn't successful, so I thought I'd do it in English. I started talking to him in English, and that fellow got really pissed. He was telling-like he was real mad. 'If you don't know, just get out,' or something like that. It was all for booking of a silly room. (T13.E3)
Subramanium ran into a similar problem in Bangalore (T13.E1). One should take care not to over generalize from these isolated incidents, but they do demonstrate that language conflict on a personal level is very real for Indians who are away from their own regions. It is also important not to assume that such occurrences only happen in the south, as Kota's reply, "Same thing in the north also," (T13.E2) to N.G.'s comment reminds us.
Before entering a discussion on the reasons why Hindi has thus far failed, the need for a national language, etc., I would like to address the distinction between a national language and an official language. Quite simply, a national language is that which enjoys use throughout an entire nation in the political, social, and cultural realms. It also functions as a national symbol. An official language is one which is used for the operations of the government. In a word, national languages are symbolic and official languages are pragmatic. It is not uncommon for a national language to also be an official language, but it is less likely that an official language will be a national one as well.
I have used these two terms somewhat interchangeably in reference to the status of Hindi thus far in the report. This is due to the ambiguity which India itself seems to have about whether Hindi is the national language or the official language, or both. Technically, according to the Constitution of India, Hindi is only the official language. In actuality, it seems that Indian leaders at the time of independence thought of Hindi more as the national language. According to Das Gupta (1970, p.36),
If the framers of the Constitution of India took care to choose one single "official language," the status of this category has not always come out clearly in the political and social deliberations in India. A good deal of semantic confusion has persisted from the very first demands for national language during the early phase of nationalist struggle. …A lack of appreciation of the complexity governing the question of a national language in a multilingual society can be discerned in the speeches and writing of the leaders and intellectuals during this phase of Indian nationalism. These leaders rarely drew a distinction between the categories of common language, national language, and official language. They tended to use these as interchangeable categories.
Indeed, this "semantic confusion" seems to persist to the present day, for even in books regarding the language issue, one finds Hindi being referred to as both the national language and the official language. Also, while the participants in the discussions for the most part understood the difference between national and official, they still characterized Hindi as one or the other or both. This certainly stems from the way Hindi was formally labeled an official language but was simultaneously forwarded in a nationalistic manner. If it must be defined, Hindi is an official language which aspires to be national.
Some might argue that even though it is not officially recognized as the national language, Hindi does enjoy that status. After all, it is the most widely spoken language in India with the most geographically diverse population of speakers. However, this cannot change the fact that vast regions of India have little or no knowledge of Hindi, and some are quite opposed to its dominance. As K.M.K. put it, "But south Indians, they don't know. From their point of view, they don't care how many people speak Hindi" (T4.E1). Francis Coulmas (1988, p. 11) quite aptly points out that, "if language can be employed as a symbol of national unity by a dominant group, dominated groups may, of course, exert the same logic and make political claims based on their linguistic identity. Thus, while the idea of a national language-ideology and its political enforcement may be said to function as a cohesive force, the reverse is also true." In many ways, the process of trying to make Hindi the national language has caused more division than cohesion. It may serve as a national symbol for some, but this certainly is not universally the case.
Why has this happened? Some are quick to point out Indian politicians and their infamous way of manipulating the uneducated masses. The entire DMK party was able to attain a prominent position by capitalizing on the language issue in the late 1960's. Other politicians used it at times when they knew it would get them votes. An interesting excerpt came out of Discussion Three regarding the influence of politicians:
K.M.K.: "Here we have so many diverse languages-each language in itself is so different from the other languages. Just for the sake of national feeling, if you try to enforce one language on all these people, they tend to revolt against it. And that creates more problem than any good it does."
N.G.: "The people who revolt are the politicians. They have the vested interests in revolting."
K.M.K.: "I agree that the politicians might be the reason. But the thing is when the politicians say that, the common masses tend to believe them. And if you are talking about real life, you have to forget who is starting the problem. I mean, just by knowing the politician is the sole reason, you cannot just strike out the fact that it is creating problems." (T8.E3)
Both K.M.K. and N.G. are absolutely right. When a politician can convince people that the dam up the river is removing the electricity from the stream and get them angered about it, he or she can easily woo them on issues of language. As N.G. says, the politicians are the instigators. However, K.M.K. is also correct in pointing out that once the people have internalized an issue, it can no longer be attributed only to political manipulations. And even though worrying about electricity being taken from the river is a ludicrous fear, concern for one's linguistic rights is certainly not. The politicians have simply pointed out something which would have become an issue sooner or later anyway.
Despite their fervor at various times, the population of uneducated and generally poor people is more pressed to take care of their basic needs when economic difficulties hit. K.K.P. says of the uneducated man: "He doesn't bother with what's happening in the world. Whatever he is doing, he is bothered about everyday food and everything. As long as he gets that he's fine-he doesn't bother about who the prime minister of India is" (T10.E2). On a side note, an accurate and cutting remark was made by one individual that the uneducated people in India are not unlike the general populace of the USA in that neither really know what is going on in the world. Sadly, I must agree.
This indifference does not allay the fact that India's uneducated population has made it possible for many inept and corrupt leaders to win political offices. They are unlikely to have acquired the analytical tools by which they can critically assess a politician's arguments, and thus they, and the rest of India with them, fall prey to the machinations of poorly chosen leaders. India celebrated the beginning of its fiftieth year of independence with some very sober reflections by its own newspapers. In the article "India looks back in despair at 50 years of self-rule" in The Times Internet Edition, Indian newspapers are quoted deriding the state of political affairs and the rampant corruption inherent in them (The Times Internet Edition, Aug. 17, 1996). Discussions about Indian politics consistently bring exasperated sighs from educated Indians who are frustrated that very few qualified individuals are elected, even to the highest offices.
Nonetheless, the language issue simply cannot be blamed on the politicians alone. Though much of the support was provided by the masses, the primary organizers of the protests in Madras were students who were concerned about students from Hindi areas gaining an undue advantage in the job market, particularly in government services. The fact that the issue exists simply cannot be a priori attributed to the blind masses following a false political cause. Many very intelligent and well-informed individuals, with good reason, are adamantly anti-Hindi.
Regarding language, one thing has caused greater division within India than vote-seeking politicians could ever have done: the fact that Hindi was imposed on regions which did not speak it. The only blame here lies with the brash promoters of Hindi who were more interested in forcing these areas to learn Hindi than with allowing them to gradually accept it first. Organized around the promotion of the Hindi language, influential associations such as the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan and the Nagari Pracharani Sabha continuously fought for the dominance of Hindi. Their prominent leaders, some of which held high political offices, tirelessly pushed for Hindi so that the decision in late 1964 was made to go ahead with the changeover to Hindi as sole official language in 1965. When various regions protested this imposition, these groups continued to apply pressure to enforce it without compromise. These overzealous people did not necessarily have ignoble intentions in mind. Actually, they had high hopes that their policies would help strengthen the nation and, through the decisive removal of English from official work, erase the stain of British rule. Nonetheless, it was agreed by almost all of the discussion participants that imposition was the fatal error which stopped Hindi from succeeding as an official language, much less a national language. Nehru himself declared in Parliament "that it was the overenthusiasm of the leaders of the Hindi groups which came in the way of the spread of Hindi" (Das Gupta 1970, p. 226). Perhaps if people had been simply encouraged to learn Hindi, it would be more widely spoken today.
Another thing which appears to have blocked Hindi was the decision after independence to organize the states of India according to linguistic boundaries. P.C. feels that, "If India were divided in such a way that different regions of people have intermingling of different languages, it would have created more harmony and understanding than what exists today. They should have divided India with state lines, which would have removed that national language problem today. If you have different languages spoken and intermixing of those languages among the population, it is much easier to propagate the national ideas" (T12.E1). S. Sood concurs with this in, bringing up the point that if state lines had been made more arbitrarily, people would have had more nationalistic rather than regionalistic sentiment (T12.E2). While this may be true, whether it could have ever been done is another matter-those infamous politicians probably would have found in it another lucrative issue to cash in upon. However, what this division along linguistic lines has undoubtedly done is foster a very regionalistic perspective in the majority of the people. Perhaps the few who escape it are those who live in the major metropolises and progressive cities.
Could another language have been chosen which would have been more acceptable? When asked what they would have chosen as the national language, most of the discussants picked Hindi. Regarding the choice of language, Ralph Fasold (1988, p. 185) states that, "The biggest problem is that there often simply is no language that a sufficiently large majority of the citizens will accept as a symbol of national identity." Hindi, despite its impressive statistics, cannot claim that majority. This means that it will always remain an imposition on a significant portion of the population.
The idea of Sanskrit as the national language came up in Discussion Three:
N.D.: "Sanskrit should have been chosen. There would have been less of all these things (problems) coming out."
K.M.K.: "If you choose Sanskrit, it is an imposition on the entire country. Now, no one would complain against that."
V.K.: "But no one could use it either."
A.: "That's a different question, whether we would use it or not. …Considering this issue, Sanskrit should have been chosen. We needn't have used it-we don't need to use it. From that could have sprung something through the passage of these years."
R.J.: "Why not choose Dutch?" (T4.E3)
Sanskrit could have very well met Fasold's challenge-as mentioned before, Sanskrit commands respect in almost every region of India. It would also be, as K.M.K. mentions, an imposition on everyone rather than on a large minority. Thus, no one could claim unfairness and no one would have an automatic advantage. Many Indians feel that the modern Indian languages, including those spoken in the south, are derived from Sanskrit (T19.E1;T19.E2). However, as V.K. notes, no one would really be able to use it-it's function would have been only as a symbol of national identity. Considering that no other language can do this, perhaps Sanskrit was and is the best choice for a national language. Rakesh's comment was meant jokingly, but it does bring up the point that when asked, every single one of the discussants who voiced their opinion agreed that the national language would have to be an Indian one. Sanskrit seems ideal provided that it is expected to serve as a symbol, not as a tool of communication.
Any other Indian language will inevitably be an imposition on one portion of the population and not the another, thus creating the imbalance of power that has become associated with Hindi as a national language. Of all of them, Hindi would be an imposition on the fewest number of people. Nonetheless, such dominance has no place in a democratic country like India. One must accept, as Das Gupta (1970, p. 269) points out, that "given the nature of the language situation in India, no single language community can overwhelm all the rest." S. Sood aptly states that "you can't just force people to do one thing. Because we have this great diverse background coming in, you have to provide a more flexible thing" (T8.E5). Any attempts to further enforce one language throughout India only threaten to push the nation towards greater state autonomy or possibly break it up (see T9.E1&E2).
Hindi, not a national language: Court
THE HINDU, Ahmedabad, January 25, 2010
Court has observed that though majority of people in India have accepted Hindi as a national language, there was nothing on record to suggest that any provision has been made or order issued declaring Hindi as a national language of the country.
The observation was made by division bench of Chief Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya and justice A.S. Dave recently while rejecting a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by one Suresh Kachhadia.
Mr. Kachhadia had filed the PIL last year seeking direction to Central and State government to make it mandatory for manufacturers to print details of goods like price, ingredients and date of manufacture in Hindi.
The court observed, “Normally, in India, majority of the people have accepted Hindi as a national language and many people speak Hindi and write in Devanagari script but there is nothing on record to suggest that any provision has been made or order issued declaring Hindi as a national language of the country.”
“No mandamus can be issued on any manufacturer or others for giving details or particulars of package in Hindi in Devanagari script,” it further said.
It was contended by Mr. Kachhadia’s lawyer that Hindi was the national language and was understood by a large number of persons in the country.
The Counsel representing central government submitted that specific provision has been made under the Standard of Weight and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules of 1977 that particulars of declaration should be in Hindi in Devanagari script or in English.
The court said that the Constituent Assembly while discussing the Language Formula noticed the recommendation of the Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights, which recommended the formula as per which, “Hindustani, written either in Devanagari or the Persian script at the option of the citizen, shall, as the national language, be the first official language of the Union. English shall be the second official language for such period as the Union may, by law, determine.”
However, in the constitution, Hindi was declared as an official language and not a national language.
The court in its order said Part XVII of the Constitution deals with Official Language. Under Article 343, official language of the Union has been prescribed, which includes Hindi in Devanagari script and English.
There's no national language in India: Gujarat High Court
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Jan 25, 2010, 12.34am
AHMEDABAD: Does have a national language? No, says the Gujarat High Court. The court also observed that in India, a majority of people have accepted Hindi as a national language and many speak Hindi and write in Devanagari script, but it's not officially the national language.
With this observation, a bench headed by Chief Justice S J Mukhopadhaya refused to issue directions that packaged commodities must contain details about goods in Hindi.
Petitioner Suresh Kachhadia had, in 2009, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat HC seeking mandamus to the Centre as well as the state government to make it mandatory for manufacturers of goods to print in Hindi, all details of goods like price, ingredients and the date of manufacture. His contention was that the consumers are entitled to know what they are consuming.
It was argued that because Hindi is the national language and is understood by a large number of people in the country, directions should be given to publish all such details in Hindi. His counsel placed reliance on the deliberations in the Constituent Assembly in his arguments. Even the Centre's counsel referred to the Standard of Weights and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules and told the court that such declaration on packets should be either in English or in Hindi in Devanagari script.
But the court asked whether there was any notification saying Hindi is India's national language, for it's an ``official language'' of this country. No notification ever issued by the government could be produced before the court in this regard. This is because the Constitution has given Hindi the status of the official language and not the national language.
The court concluded that the rules have specific provisions for manufacturers that particulars of declaration should be in Hindi in Devanagari script or in English, and it's their prerogative to use English. Therefore, no mandamus can be issued on manufacturers or governments for giving details or particulars of package in Hindi.
Learning with the Times: India doesn't have any 'national language'
THE TIMES OF INDIA,
Article 343 of the Constitution and the Official Languages Act say that the official language of the Union will be Hindi. However, the attempt to adopt Hindi as the official language was strongly opposed by several non-Hindi speaking states, especially Tamil Nadu, which erupted in violent protests leading to a compromise in allowing the use of English also for official purposes. Thus, the Constitution and the act allowed English to be used for transaction of business in Parliament, by Centre and states and for certain purposes in high courts for 15 years. Later, the act was amended in 1967 to allow continuation of English for official purposes. It is argued that while Hindi is the official language it was never given the status of national language, as India, being a multilingual country, has no single national language. Article 351, a directive, says it is the duty of the Union to promote the spread of Hindi language, so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India, never using the term national language to refer to Hindi.
CHAPTER I.—LANGUAGE OF THE UNION
343. (1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.
(2) Notwithstanding anything in clause (1), for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement:
Provided that the President may, during the said period, by order authorise the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union.
( 3 ) Notwithstanding anything in this article, Parliament may by law provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years, of—
(a) the English language, or
(b) the Devanagari form of numerals, for such purposes as may be specified in the law.
Our Constitution did not give the status of national language to any one language. Hindi was identified as the official language. (Federalism, Democratic Politics-II, NCERT, Grade X, First Edition: 2007)
Hindi Nationalism- Alok Rai, Chapter 7, page 106...
Language, Religion and Politics in North India- Paul R. Brass. Page 16...
Language in India:http://www.languageinindia.com/april2002/officiallanguagesact.html
University of Toledo Honors Thesis
Democratic Politics-II, NCERT
The Times of India