Gandhi on National Language

  • A posture in favor of Hindi or Hindustani as the lingua franca or national language of India was there with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi even before he became the undisputed leader of the Indian National Congress. For example, he wrote in his book, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, published in 1909 that:  “a universal language for India should be Hindi, with the option of writing it in Persian or Nagari characters. In order that the Hindus and the Mohammedans may have closer relations, it is necessary to know both the characters. And, if we can do this, we can drive the English language out of the field in a short time.”
  • Gandhi wrote in 1909: “From the point of view of language before we can call ‘our country’ our own, it is necessary that there should be born in our hearts a love and respect for our languages“.
  • While the posture in favor of mother tongue is quite understandable as a natural process, Gandhi’s posture in favour of Hindi-Urdu (Hindustani) even before he got himself actively involved in the Indian freedom struggle in India was due perhaps to his work among the multi-ethnic and multilingual Indian communities in South Africa, who tended to use Hindustani among themselves as a common language even though their home languages were widely different. This lingua franca status of Hindustani among the Indians in South Africa was a reflection also of the tendencies in several parts of India then, and soon this posture in favor Hindustani found its justification in the exigencies of history in north India and its linguistic trends.
  • On March 29, 1918, Mahatma Gandhi had chaired the eighth Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Indore. During this time, at a public address, he had for the first time called for Hindi to be given status of the country’s national language. During the 8th Hindi Sahitya Sammelan here, Gandhi had sent five ‘Hindi ambassadors’ to those states in the country, where the language was not much in vogue. Gandhi’s youngest son Devdas Gandhi was one of the ambassadors. He had said that “Hindi is that language which both Hindus and Muslims speak and is written in Nagri and Persian script. This Hindi is not completely Sanskritised, nor is it loaded with Persian vocabulary. Gandhi had said, “My humble, but a firm opinion is that unless we do not provide Hindi the national language status and other regional languages their adequate importance, till then all talks of a ‘swarajya’ are meaningless.”  [Note: He meant Hindi means Hindustani i.e. Hindi+Urdu].
  • Raising the question “whether English can become our national language,” Gandhi listed the following criteria for any language to become “our national language,” in his presidential address at the Second Gujarat Educational Conference at Broach in 1917:
    1. It should be easy to learn for Government officials.
    2. It should be capable of serving as a medium of religious, economic and political intercourse throughout India.
    3. It should be the speech of the majority of the inhabitants of India.
    4. It should be easy to learn for the whole of the country.
    5. In choosing this language considerations of temporary or passing interest should not count.
  • Gandhi concluded that

    English does not fulfill any of these requirements. We shall have to admit that it is Hindi. There, now remains the question of script. For the present, Muslims will certainly use the Urdu script and Hindus will mostly write in Devanagari. No other language can compete with Hindi in satisfying these five requirements. Thus, we see that Hindi alone can become the national language. No doubt it presents some difficulty to the educated classes of Madras. If Hindi attains to its due status then it will be introduced in every school in Madras and Madras will thus be in a position to cultivate acquaintance with other province.

  • Gandhi’s approach to and solution for the question of a national language for India did not find favor with Mrs. Annie Besant. In her Presidential Address in the Calcutta Congress of 1917, Mrs. Besant laid much emphasis on provincial autonomy and suggested a bilingual policy for the provinces without specifically mentioning a language policy for the Central Government.
  • In the annual sessions of the Indian National Congress in Delhi (1918) and Amritsar (1919) Hindustani was extensively used by the delegates almost to the exclusion of the English language, which prompted Mrs. Annie Besant, a much admired Home Rule and Congress leader among the delegates from the South, to complain that the 1919 session became a provincial rather than a national assembly.
  • Whatever may be the relative merit of the positions taken by Gandhi and Dr. Annie Besant, it should be noted that these two positions have finally evolved to become classical stances, which even today are held by pro-Hindi and anti-Hindi advocates in the country. For the advocates of Hindi as the official and national language, English continues to be a foreign language, whereas for those who oppose Hindi as the official language of India, Hindi continues to be only a provincial language. Be that as it may, in1920 when Gandhi recorded his disapproval of the statement of Mrs. Annie Besant, the Indian National Congress was yet to officially accord any recognition to Hindustani as the national language. This it would do only in 1925 in Kanpur amidst the nation-wide surge of nationalism and Swaraj during the period of Civil Disobedience and Non-cooperation.

After Independence

  • The task of the Indian government was an important but difficult one – not only because choosing the link language was a controversial task, but also because it would be difficult to get the public to accept any particular language.
  • As we have, starting years before independence, Gandhi tirelessly supported Hindustani, which is a kind of compromise between Hindi and Urdu, as the best choice for a national language. However, after the partition and the subsequent emigration of millions of Muslims, Hindu leaders in Congress saw little need for Gandhi’s concessions to the Muslims. They accordingly focused on Hindi and left Urdu and Hindustani to their own fates.

Official Language and Indian Constitution:

  • The Indian Constituent Assembly was established on 9 December 1946, for drafting a Constitution when India became independent. The Constituent Assembly witnessed fierce debates on the language issue. The adoption of a “National Language”, the language in which the constitution was to be written in and the language in which the proceedings of the assembly were to be conducted were the main linguistic questions debated by the framers of the Constitution.
  • On one side were the members from the Hindi-speaking provinces like Algu Rai Sastri, R.V. Dhulekar, Balkrishna Sharma, Purushottam Das Tandon, (all from United Provinces), Babunath Gupta (Bihar), Hari Vinayak Pataskar (Bombay) and Ravi Shankar Shukla, Seth Govind Das (Central Provinces and Berar). They moved a large number of pro-Hindi amendments and argued for adopting Hindi as the sole National Language.
  • On 10 December 1946, Dhulekar declared “People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in the House to fashion a constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this assembly. They had better leave.”
  • The pro-Hindi block was further divided into two camps: the Hindi faction comprising Tandon,Ravi Shankar Shukla, Govind Das, Sampurnanand, and K. M. Munshi; and the Hindustani faction represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad.
  • The adoption of Hindi as the national language was opposed by members from South India like T.T. Krishnamachari, G. Durgabai, T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar, N. G. Ranga, N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar (all belonging to Madras) and S. V. Krishnamurthy Rao (Mysore). This anti-Hindi block favoured retaining English as official language.

MunshiAyyangar formula

  • After three years of debate, the assembly arrived at a compromise at the end of 1949. It was called the Munshi-Ayyangar formula.
  • Munshi-Ayyangar Formula was a constitutional compromise reached during the framing of the Indian Constitution. It shaped the Official language policy of the Republic of India. Named after K. M. Munshi and Gopalsamy Ayyangar – both members of the Indian Constituent Assembly – this formula ensured that the Indian constitution did not specify any “National language” and only mentioned “Official languages” of the Union.
  • It struck a balance between the demands of all groups. Part XVII of the Indian Constitution was drafted according to this compromise.
  • Hindi in Devanagari script would be the official language of the Indian Union. For fifteen years, English would also be used as official language for all official purposes. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.  (Article 343).
  • A language commission could be convened after five years to recommend ways to promote Hindi as the sole official language and to phase out the use of English (Article 344).
  • Official communication between states and between states and the Union would be in the official language of the union (Article 345).
  • English would be used for all legal purposes – in court proceedings, bills, laws, rules and other regulations (Article 348).
  • The Union was duty bound to promote the spread and usage of Hindi (Article 351).
  • The adoption of English as official language along with Hindi was heavily criticized by pro-Hindi politicians like Jana Sangh’s founder Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who demanded that Hindi should be made National language.
  • The framers of the Constitution had envisaged that Hindi with the help of other Indian Languages would evolve as a composite language, capable of being accepted by people living in non Hindi speaking regions.

Initial steps to promote Hindi

  • Soon after the Constitution was adopted on 26 January 1950, efforts were made to propagate Hindi for official usage.
  • In 1952, the Ministry of Education launched a voluntary Hindi teaching scheme.
  • On 27 May 1952, use of Hindi was introduced in warrants for judicial appointments.
  • In 1955, in-house Hindi training was started for all ministries and departments of the central government.

First Official Language Commission

Article 344 of the Indian Constitution:

  • The President shall, at the expiration of five years from the commencement of this Constitution and thereafter at the expiration of ten years from such commencement, by order constitute a Commission which shall consist of a Chairman and such other members representing the different languages.
  • It shall be the duty of the Commission to make recommendations to the President as to
    (a) the progressive use of the Hindi language for the official purposes of the Union;
    (b) restrictions on the use of the English language for all or any of the official purposes of the Union;
    (c) the language to be used for the purposes mentioned in Article 348;
    (d) the form of numerals to be used for any one or more specified purposes of the Union.
  • In making their recommendations, the Commission shall have due regard to the industrial, cultural and scientific advancement of India, and the just claims and the interests of persons belonging to the non Hindi speaking areas in regard to the public services
  • As provided for by Article 344, Nehru appointed the First Official Language Commission under the chairmanship of B. G. Kher on 7 June 1955. The commission delivered its report on 31 July 1956. It recommended a number of steps to eventually replace English with Hindi (The report had dissenting notes from two non-Hindi members – P. Subbarayan from Madras State and Suniti Kumar Chatterjee from West Bengal).
  • The Parliamentary Committee on Official Language, chaired by Govind Ballabh Pant was constituted in September 1957 to review the Kher commission report. After two years of deliberations, the Pant Committee submitted its recommendations to the President on 8 February 1959. It recommended that Hindi should be made the primary official language with English as the subsidiary one.


  • The Kher Commission and the Pant Committee recommendations were condemned and opposed by from non-Hindi politicians.
  • The Academy of Telugu opposed the switch from English to Hindi in a convention held in 1956.  Rajaji, once a staunch supporter of Hindi, organised an All India Language Conference (attended by representatives of Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Assamese, Oriya, Marathi, Kannada and Bengali languages) on 8 March 1958 to oppose the switch and declared “Hindi is as much foreign to non-Hindi speaking people as English is to the protagonists of Hindi.”

Nehru’s Assurances

  • As the opposition to Hindi grew stronger, Nehru tried to reassure the concerns of non-Hindi speakers. Speaking in the parliamentary debate on a bill introduced by Anthony to include English in the Eighth Schedule, Nehru gave an assurance to them (on 7 August 1959):

    I believe also two things. As I just said, there must be no imposition. Secondly, for an indefinite period – I do not know how long – I should have, I would have English as an associate, additional language which can be used not because of facilities and all that… but because I do not wish the people of Non-Hindi areas to feel that certain doors of advance are closed to them because they are forced to correspond – the Government, I mean – in the Hindi language. They can correspond in English. So I could have it as an alternate language as long as people require it and the decision for that – I would leave not to the Hindi-knowing people, but to the non-Hindi-knowing people.

    This assurance momentarily allayed the fears of the South Indians. But the Hindi proponents were dismayed and Pant remarked “Whatever I achieved in two years, the prime minister destroyed in less than two minutes“.

Tamil’s Opposition

  • In the 1950s DMK continued its anti-Hindi policies along with the secessionist demand for Dravidistan. On 28 January 1956, Annadurai along with Periyar and Rajaji signed a resolution passed by the Academy of Tamil Culture endorsing the continuation of English as the official language.
  • On 21 September 1957 the DMK convened an anti-Hindi Conference to protest against the imposition of Hindi. It observed 13 October 1957 as “anti-Hindi Day“.
  • On 31 July 1960, another open air anti-Hindi conference was held at Kodambakkam, Madras.
  • In November 1963, DMK dropped its secessionist demand in the wake of the Sino-Indian War.
  • The anti-Hindi stance remained and hardened with the passage of Official Languages Act of 1963. The DMK’s view on Hindi’s qualifications for official language status were reflected in Annadurai’s response to the “numerical superiority of Hindi” argument: “If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow.”

Why not English and why Hindi?

  • English, despite its prominence and somewhat even distribution throughout the nation, was unacceptable for several reasons. As the language of the colonial power which had just been ousted, English was to many a “symbol of slavery”. The former colonial language is an absolutely atrocious choice as a national language. Nothing could be a worse symbol of a new nation’s self-awareness than the language of a country from which it had just achieved independence.
  • More importantly, a foreign tongue such as English would not contribute to the national identity in the way that an indigenous one could.
  • Though it did not have an assured dominance over the other languages in India, Hindi seemed the clearest choice from the beginning.
  • English also had few speakers-only about one percent of India’s population. Hindi claimed the greatest number of speakers of all the Indian languages, and it was closely related to several of the other most widely spoken ones. Though it was unrelated to the south Indian languages, it was also thought that Hindi would not be entirely foreign to south Indians because of the strong Sanskrit influence it shared with the four main Dravidian languages.
  • Whether or not this thinking was correct, Hindi was chosen as the official language amidst Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s assurance that it would never be imposed on people in non-Hindi areas.

Promotion of Hindi

  • As the deadline stipulated in Part XVII of the Constitution for switching to Hindi as primary official language approached, the central government stepped up its efforts to spread Hindi’s official usage.
  • In 1960, compulsory training for Hindi typing and stenography was started. The same year, India’s president Rajendra Prasad acted on the Pant Committee’s recommendations and issued orders for preparation of Hindi glossaries, translating procedural literature and legal codes to Hindi, imparting Hindi education to government employees and other efforts for propagating Hindi.
  • The Indian government funded associations which promoted Hindi throughout India, the most successful of which were organizations which provided Hindi instruction in the south. The government also gave money to writers, poets, and translators to produce works in Hindi.
  • Committees were formed to develop Hindi in order to give it a more comprehensive vocabulary which would allow it to fulfill its official functions. The primary source for new words was Sanskrit; however, the new terminology was often unfamiliar and exceedingly long for the average person, and the majority of these words never took hold. Instead, English words or variants of them were often used..

Revolt against Hindi imposition

  • To give legal status to Nehru’s assurance of 1959, the Official Languages Act was passed in 1963. The Bill was introduced in Parliament on 21 January 1963. Opposition to the Bill came from DMK members who objected to the usage of the word “may” instead of “shall” in section 3 of the Bill. That section read: “the English language may…continue to be used in addition to Hindi”. The DMK argued was that the term “may” could be interpreted as “may not” by future administrations. The Bill was passed on 27 April without any change in the wording. As he had warned earlier, Annadurai launched state wide protests against Hindi.
  • On 25 January 1964, a DMK member, Chinnasamy, committed suicide at Trichy by self-immolation, to protest the “imposition of Hindi”. He was claimed as the first “language martyr” of the second round of the anti-Hindi struggle by the DMK.
  • Nehru died in May 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister of India. Shastri and his senior cabinet members Morarji Desai and Gulzari Lal Nanda were strong supporters of Hindi being the sole official language. This increased the apprehension that Nehru’s assurances of 1959 and 1963 will not be kept despite Shastri’s assurances to the contrary.
  • Concerns over the preference of Hindi in central government jobs, civil service examinations and the fear that English would be replaced with Hindi as medium of instruction brought students into the anti-Hindi agitation camp in large numbers.
  • On 7 March 1964, the chief minister of Madras State, M. Bhaktavatsalam at a session of the Madras Legislative Assembly recommended the introduction of Three-language formula (English, Hindi and Tamil) in the state. Apprehension over the Three-language formula increased student support for the anti-Hindi cause.
  • As 26 January 1965 approached, the anti-Hindi agitation in Madras State grew in numbers and urgency. The Tamil Nadu Students Anti Hindi Agitation Council was formed in January as an umbrella student organisation to coordinate the anti-Hindi efforts.

Mourning Day Riots

  • On 16 January, Annadurai announced that 26 January (also the Republic Day of India) would be observed as “Day of Mourning”. Chief minister Bhaktavatsalam warned that the state government would not tolerate the sanctity of the Republic day blasphemed and threatened the students with “stern action” if they participated in politics.
  • The DMK advanced the “Day of Mourning” by a day. On 25 January, a clash between agitating students and Congress party workers in Madurai went out of control and became a riot. Rioting soon spread to other parts of the State.The Bhaktavatsalam Government considered the situation as a law and order problem and brought in para military forces to quell the agitation. Incensed by police action, violent mobs killed two police men. Several agitators committed suicide by self-immolation and by consuming poison.

Shastri backs down

  • Within the Congress, opinion was divided: one group led by K. Kamaraj wanted the government not to impose Hindi on the Tamils; but others like Morarji Desai did not relent. On 11 February, C. Subramaniam and O. V. Alagesan, two union ministers from Madras state, resigned protesting the government’s language policy. President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan refused to accept the Prime Minister Shastri’s recommendation that their resignations be accepted. Shastri backed down and made a broadcast through All India Radio on 11 February. Expressing shock over the riots, he promised to honour Nehru’s assurances. He also assured Tamils that English would continue to be used for centre-state and intrastate communications and that the All India Civil Services examination would continue to be conducted in English.
  • Shastri’s assurances calmed down the volatile situation. On 12 February, the students council postponed the agitation indefinitely.  Shastri’s climbdown angered the pro-Hindi activists in North India. Members of Jan Sangh went about the streets of New Delhi, blackening out English signs with tar.

Defeat of Congress in Madras

  • The agitation slowly changed into a general anti-Congress organisation. In the 1967 election, student leader P. Seenivasan contested against Kamaraj in the Virudhunagar constituency. A large number of students from all over the state campaigned for him and ensured his victory: the Congress party was defeated and DMK came to power for the first time in Madras State.
  • The agitations of the 1960s played a crucial role in the defeat of the Tamil Nadu Congress party in the 1967 elections and the continuing dominance of Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu politics.

Significance of Madras Agitation

  • Madras agitation made visible what the official leaders had consistently refused to see. Violence brought into the open what was seething underneath and thereby opened a way to the seeking of a solution of the problem. In this sense it performed an important political function. The manifest function of this violence was to help construct a bridge of communication between the leaders in power, who lacked sensitivity, and the sensitive people, who lacked power.
  • This is not to say that the Madras agitation was entirely based on violence. In fact, the magnitude of violence in the initial stage was minimal, and the acts of violence were largely products of the ruling authority’s failure to establish communication with the people who had intense feelings concerning the language issue. The effect of violence was to initiate this communication and to open up the subsequent opportunities for compromise.

Resolution by Congress Working Committee

  • A compromise was worked out, but it was plagued by the equally adamant and opposing pro-Hindi and anti-Hindi forces. Efforts to amend the Official Languages Act according to Shastri’s assurances given in February 1965 faced stiff resistance from the pro-Hindi lobby. Congress and opposition parties hesitated to debate the issue in Parliament as they did not wish to make their bitter divisions in public.
  • The Congress working committee finally agreed to a resolution which amounted to slowing down of Hindi-isation, strong implementation of the three language formula in Hindi and non-Hindi speaking states, and conduct of the public services exam in all regional languages. These decisions were agreed upon during the Chief Ministers’ meeting which was held on 24 February.
  • In February 1965, a resolution was passed by the Congress Working Committee which stated that the position of English as an official language would not change unless all states consented to it.

The Three Language Formula

  • One of the greatest concerns of the students in Madras was that any prominent use of Hindi in the government services would disadvantage them for employment within those services. They also felt it was unfair that they would have to learn Hindi and English, whereas native speakers of Hindi would need only learn English.
  • In response to this, the Three Language Formula of education was instated so that the educational load would be more fair. People from non-Hindi areas were to study their regional language, Hindi, and English (or another European language). Hindi speakers were to study Hindi, English, and another language.
  • Three Language Formula is “a compromise between the demands of the various pressure groups and has been hailed as a masterly-if not perfect-solution to a complicated problem. It seek to accommodate the interests of group identity (mother tongues and regional languages), national pride and unity (Hindi), and administrative efficiency and technological progress (English).
  • Like so many things, this was fine in theory, but it was not followed in practice. Hindi states did little to enforce this curriculum. Despite the fact that Hindi classes were not seriously taken in Tamil Nadu, the anti-Hindi DMK government in Madras decried the northern states’ lack of implementation of the Three Language Formula and removed all teaching of Hindi from schools in Tamil Nadu. The Three Language Formula has proven a failure in India.

Amendment of 1967:

  • Shastri died in January 1966 and Indira Gandhi became prime minister. The election of 1967 saw Congress retaining power with a reduced majority. In Madras State, Congress was defeated and DMK came to power. In November 1967, a new attempt to amend the Bill was made. On 27 November,the Bill was tabled in Parliament; it was passed on 16 December.
  • The Official Language (Amendment) Act, 1967 guarantee the “virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism” (English and Hindi) in official transactions.

Two Peculiar Cases: West Bengal and Kerala

  • There was two peculiar cases: West Bengal should be like any other of the states where the most prominent languages are Indo-Aryan and closely related to Hindi. However, the attitude was as greatly anti-Hindi in West Bengal as it is in Tamil Nadu. The Bengalis took great pride in their language and its rich literary tradition. They did not see why they should have to let Hindi, which they saw as less developed and refined as Bengali, have precedence over Bengali. Rather than spend time learning Hindi, they felt that their children should be allowed to study classical languages-in particular, Sanskrit.
  • The second seemingly odd state is Kerala, which is in the deep south, yet holds very high standards of Hindi education. This is partly due to the great success of Hindi promotion organizations in this state. However, the main reason for Kerala’s strength in Hindi comes from its great emphasis on education, which has made Kerala the state with the highest literacy rate in India.

Agitation of 1968

  • The anti-Hindi activists from Madras State were not satisfied with the 1967 Amendment, as it did not address their concerns about the three language formula.On 19 December 1967, the agitation was restarted. It turned violent in 21 December and acts of arson and looting were reported in the state. Annadurai, now in power, defused the situation by accepting most of their demands. The Three-Language policy was scrapped and Hindi was eliminated from the curriculum. Only English and Tamil were to be taught

Factors against Hindi

  • Even though Hindi was perhaps the most natural choice, there were many blocks to its achieving success as the national language. One of these was the high position of English-a position it has retained until today despite the plan to phase it out of all government communications by 1965. The desire to have an Indian language replace English was actually part of nationalist thinking since the 1920’s . However, because of English’s importance internationally and the many advantages conferred upon those who could speak it, the study of English continued with even greater vigor than before, whereas Hindi suffered in many regions where people perceived little need for it. Accordingly, English has merely shared its position as an official language with Hindi rather than relinquishing the role entirely.
  • Where English has acted as a stumbling block for Hindi, the other major Indian languages have provided a wall. The major Indian languages are all highly developed and have impressive literary traditions of their own. People have great pride in their own languages and fail to see why Hindi should be given a dominance which it cannot claim on its own.
  • Even so, it is more than just  a matter of psychological resentment, for while this elevation of one language to the status of official language endows great benefits and advantages on those whose mother tongue it is, it also places a discriminatory burden on others. This can lead speakers of non-favored languages to push for a foreign language as the link medium in order to neutralize this imbalance. Certainly, this condition has helped English keep its place in India.
  • Gradual purification of Hindi by Sanskitised words became obstacle for its diffusion. Some words were not understood by even native hindi speakers as Nehru had said about Hindi radio news

The language issue loses prominence but tension continues

  • The language issue in recent years has attracted much less attention than it previously did. The India-Pakistan war in 1965 pushed the language issue to the background for only a short while, but the second war with Pakistan in 1971 compounded this effect.
  • The population explosion which began in the 1970’s has become one of the foremost problems in India up to the present day. When basic human needs must be taken care of, people simply have no time to worry about such things as linguistic differences.
  • The DMK party in Madras gained its initial popularity and power because of its anti-Hindi stance.Now it no longer relies on the language issue for votes. Even though the issue is perhaps less of an issue now, it remains ever present in the background.
  • Most Indians still deal with a multiplicity of languages everyday ensures the continued importance of the language issue.

National language or official language?

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hindi was formally labelled 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 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. 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 Hindi failed to become the national language?.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 over enthusiasm of the leaders of the Hindi groups which came in the way of the spread of Hindi” . 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. 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 . If state lines had been made more arbitrarily, people would have had more nationalistic rather than regionalistic sentiment.

Difficulties in choosing a national language

  • Could another language have been chosen which would have been more acceptable? Sanskrit commands respect in almost every region of India. It would also be 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. However,no one would really be able to use it- it’s function would have been only as a symbol of national identity. Sanskrit seems ideal provided that it is expected to serve as a symbol, not as a tool of communication.
  • Hindi would be an imposition on the fewest number of people. Nonetheless, such dominance has no place in a democratic country like India.

Monolingualism and multilingualism

  • Some scholars blame linguistic and cultural heterogeneity as the root cause of all developmental problems in the developing countries in the zeal of generalizing the idea of having one nation with one language something that is true in the West. The idea of having one nation with one language is essentially a Western paradigm.
  • India is its multitude of perspectives, its diversity, and therefore, the concept of national language can only be true in nations which have only one language, which are homogeneous. It can never be true in India,
  • Monolingualism does not imply that the intent of Indian leaders was to make India a truly monolingual state with Hindi supplanting the other languages. Rather, they had the more moderate goal of having a pan-Indian language which could be used for governing and which the people could use to communicate with others who did not speak their language.

The need for a national language

  • India has managed to conduct its affairs for the past fifty years with its many regional languages and two official languages. Certainly, not realizing that declaring a national language would do more harm than good.
  • The economic factor of the market should force the blending of the languages, not the government. Not adhering rigidly to some notion of “pure” Hindi makes this language easier for others to learn. Economics now seems to have become the primary mechanism for spreading a common language. The beauty of this is that it is a very non-invasive way for this to occur. It may not be fast, but it is not mandated and does not constitute a direct imposition on anyone. They would learn such a language to increase their chances of employment – something most people would like to do.

Recommendations of Sarkaria Commission

  • In 1983, Sarkaria Commission was constituted to look in to, among other things,  the language problem in India and suggest measures. The Commission was headed by R.S. Sarkaria. The Commission made the following recommendations:
  1. Three language formula: It included the implementation of regional language, Hindi and English at the school level education.
  2. English was to be retained as the official language.
  3. Reorganisation of states into administrative units.
  4. Ban on Political parties and other organisations trying to promote Linguism.

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