September 22, 2019

No Imposition of Hindi

THE statement by union home minister, Amit Shah, that it is essential for India to have one language and it is Hindi that can unite the country has not come as a surprise given the stand of the RSS and the Hindutva forces. Amit Shah was also indirectly stating that Hindi should be the national language. 

V D Savarkar was the first to call for “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan”.  The RSS has been advocating “One nation, One language, One culture”. The efforts of the Hindutva forces to have one national language go against the linguistic and cultural diversity of the country. 

There were demands in the Constituent Assembly for Hindi to be declared as the “Rashtra Bhasha”. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who was the head of the Hindu Mahasabha at that time and later became the president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, had demanded in the assembly that Hindi be made the national language.  But this was not accepted. Instead, the constitution provided for Hindi as the official language and also stated that English would be the official language for a period of 15 years.  The Official Language Act was amended in 1965 to extend the use of English. 

Instead of one national language, the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution listed 14 regional languages. That list has now grown to 22. All these scheduled languages have an equal status.  There is also provision in the constitution for the states to declare their own official language or languages.

a construct of languages in the constitution took into account the multilingual character of India.  Soon after, the Indian State structure had to be reorganised with the formation of linguistic states. This was a further recognition of the linguistic principle on which basis rests the Union of States. As against this federal character and linguistic diversity, the BJP-RSS model is a unitary one with Hindi as the national language.

During the previous term of the Modi government itself, there were various attempts to impose Sanskrit and Hindi on the non-Hindi states. This was met with opposition at that time too.

Amit Shah’s pronouncement on Hindi as a sole language to unite the country has evoked strong protests from the leaders of the non-Hindi states, particularly from the south. Any attempt to impose Hindi will only harm the prospects of Hindi which has an important role to play in the Indian polity and society, given the fact that it is the language which is spoken by the largest group of people and also more widely understood. 

The attempt to make Hindi a State-sponsored national language will harm the unity of the country. All the Indian languages should have an equal status and be promoted in all spheres of life in their respective states. Equality of languages and recognition of the rights of linguistic minorities will strengthen democracy and federalism. Anything which detracts from this democratic language policy will have to be opposed. 

(September 22, 2019)