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General Studies 2 >> Governance



Source: indainexpress

Why in news?

The annual celebration of Hindi Diwas commemorates September 14, 1949, the day when the Constituent Assembly of India decided to make Hindi the official language of the Union government, while English was to hold the status of associate language for 15 years.

It was a compromise, famously called the Munshi-Ayyangar formula, named after the drafting committee members K M Munshi and N Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, that took into account the demands of the Hindi protagonists and the delegates from South India who wished English to have a Constitutional status.

Key takeaways

The debate over the predominance of Hindi was hardly new. From the mid- 1800s onwards, it conflicted with Urdu in those parts of the subcontinent that we today call the ‘Hindi belt.

Hindu-Urdu debate

  • Historian Sumit Sarkar in his celebrated book, ‘Modern India: 188-1947’ (1989) noted how “Urdu had been the language of polite culture over a big part of North India, for Hindus quite as much for Muslims.”
  • He elaborated by noting that in the period between 1881-90 twice as many Urdu books had been published in the United Provinces as Hindi.
  • The same was true for newspapers as well. There existed 16,256 Urdu newspapers in circulation in comparison to 8002 ones in Hindi
  • Things began to change with the English East India Company (EIC) making inroads in the Indian subcontinent. In the mid-1800s when the EIC started consolidating its position in India, large parts of the country were under Mughal rule with Persian as the official court language.
  • By the 1830s, the EIC replaced Persian with English at the higher levels of administration and the local vernaculars would be in use at the lower levels.
  • Given the existing popularity of Urdu among the local population of North India, it came to enjoy a newfound predominance in lower levels of government service.
  • The socio-political changes in North India in the mid-19th century were accompanied by a rapid expansion of the government education system with its bifurcation of the two vernaculars, Hindi and Urdu.
  • While both the languages were not exclusive to any particular community, surveys of the period noted how those belonging to Brahmin, Rajput and Baniya castes were more likely to go to Hindi schools, while the Persian and Urdu schools were more popular among the Muslims and Kayasthas.
  • Consequently, the latter communities found it easier to be employed in government services.
  • The desire to find a place in the administration prompted many proponents of Hindi to spell out its merits, including the fact that it was the language of the original inhabitants of the subcontinent, and that it was subdued in the course of the Mughal rule.
  • Those like Bhartendu Harishchandra, who is known as the father of Hindi Literature, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, who established the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Parishad, were key figures in the movement to popularise Hindi.
  • Organisations such as the Nagari Pracharini Sabha Banaras, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Allahabad and Rashtra Bhasha Prachar Samiti cropped up in large parts of North India with the specific objective of furthering the case for Hindi.
  • Finally, in 1900, the government of the North West Provinces and Oudh gave equal status to the Devanagari and Urdu scripts, much to the disappointment of the Muslims in the region who came to believe that their language was at risk of being extinct.
  • Many argue that the seeds of the Hindu-Muslim conflict that culminated in the Partition of the subcontinent lay in the Hindi-Urdu debate of the 19th century.
  • The linguistic dichotomy gained further currency when Pakistan opted for Urdu as its official language and India chose Hindi.

Post- Independence debate over Hindi

  • The choice to make Hindi the official language of an independent India was rooted in the necessity of finding a unifying force in a country with diverse languages, scripts and dialects.
  • Since Hindi was the spoken language of large parts of North India, it was seen as a safe option for the national linguistic unification of the country. However, large parts of the non-Hindi-speaking regions of the country were unhappy with the idea.
  • Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pointed out that while English had done a lot of good to the nation, no country can succeed based on a foreign language.
  • He recalled Gandhi’s support for Hindustani, which he believed represented the composite culture of India. However, he also cautioned against the imposition of Hindi in opposition to the wishes of large parts of India.
Nehru said "not only an incorrect approach but …a dangerous approach, You just cannot force any language down the people or group who resist that"
  • Finally, a compromise was reached wherein English along with Hindi was made the official language of India for 15 years. After the period, Hindi would replace English as the only language to be used for official purposes.
  • Further, Article 351 of the Constitution asked for the promotion and development of the Hindi language in a way that it could serve as a means of expression in all matters.

Important Data

  • When the 15-year period came to an end protests broke out over the fear of imposition of Hindi in large parts of non-Hindi speaking India, particularly in Tamil Nadu.
  • Riots broke out in Madurai in January 1965 and soon spread to Madras. The resistance resulted in the Centre passing the Official Languages Act, which stated that English would continue to be upheld as the official language along with Hindi.
  • In the years that followed, the government has made several efforts to propagate Hindi as the unifying language of India, the celebration of Hindi Diwas being one among them.
  • The 2011 linguistic census accounts for 121 mother tongues, including 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Hindi is the most widely spoken, with 52.8 crore individuals, or 43.6% of the population, declaring it as their mother tongue.
  • The next highest is Bengali, the mother tongue for 9.7 crores (8%), less than one-fifth of Hindi’s count.
  • In terms of the number of people who know Hindi, the count crosses more than half the country. Nearly 13.9 crores (over 11%) reported Hindi as their second language, which makes it either the mother tongue or second language for nearly 55% of the population.
  • Hindi has been India’s predominant mother tongue over the decades, its share in the population rising in every succeeding census.
  • In 1971, 37% of Indians had reported Hindi as their mother tongue, a share that has grown over the next four censuses to 38.7%, 39.2%, 41% and 43.6% at the last count.
  • Between 1971 and 2011, the number of individuals who declared their mother tongue as Hindi multiplied 2.6 times, from 20.2 crores to 52.8 crores. The numbers more than doubled for Punjabi, Maithili, Bengali, Gujarati, and Kannada, and almost doubled for Marathi.
  • English, alongside Hindi, is one of the two official languages of the central government, but it is not among the 22 languages in the 8th Schedule. It is one of the 99 non-scheduled languages. In terms of mother tongue, India had just 2.6 lakh English speakers in 2011.
  • As a second language, 8.3 crores spoke it in 2011, second only to Hindi’s 13.9 crores.
Article 343 in The Constitution Of India 1949

The official language of the Union

(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

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