Analysis: One nation, one language?

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The Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, had recently invited trouble in an attempt to make Hindi as the national language of the country. He, on 14 September 2019 (also celebrated as Hindi Diwas), had tweeted (as translated to English), “India is a country of different languages and every language has its own significance, but it is very important to have one language that should become the identity of India in the world.

If one language can unite the country today, it is the widely-spoken Hindi language”. This led to the widespread protests in various Non-Hindi speaking states, especially in south India, rekindling the past Hindi opposition movements.

Background of the Language controversy:

The Anti-Hindi ideology surfaced immediately after Indian Independence when the leaders chose Hindi as the official language in a bid to phase out English. But due to certain errors made by the promoters of Hindi, there were counteractions from the non-promoters fearing that Hindi was being imposed on them. Because of this and certain other factors, neither English was removed from the list of official languages nor was Hindi made the national language of India. Later in 1965, in accordance with the 15-year plan, instructions were given to proceed with linguistic change-over from English to Hindi with an exception that communication from the centre to Non-Hindi speaking states will be accompanied with English translation.

This move was highly opposed by various states throughout India, with Madras opposing it with a greater intensity than the others. Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK), the ruling party in Tamil Nadu at that point of time, organised Madras State Anti-Hindi Conference on January 17, 1965, few weeks before January 26, the day scheduled for Hindi to take position as sole official language of India. Following this, the students of Madras agitated for a period of two months.

There were also protests in the Northern part of India staged by Pro-Hindi groups opposing English and urging the Union Government to proceed with the shift to Hindi. Despite this, the Madras agitation gained more attention as nearly 66 people died, out of which 2 committed suicides by self-immolation in the streets. This in fact halted the realisation of the Centre’s one nation one language ideology.

In February 1965, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) passed a resolution which stated that the position of English as an official language will not be changed unless all states consent to it. Later, a three-language system was introduced which also failed miserably. Recently, the new Education Policy of 2019 proposed teaching Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states but, when Tamil Nadu leaders warned of protests, the policy was revised, and the suggestion of teaching Hindi was made not mandatory.

Hindi as national language: Possible?

Article 343(1) of the Indian Constitution reads as “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”. As per this provision, Hindi is the official language and not the national language.

The Constitution neither provides for any language as the national language of India nor does it prohibit in recognizing a national language. In addition to this, since Article 351 imposes a duty on the Union government to promote the spread of Hindi in order to develop it to serve as a medium of expression, Hindi can be made a national language and it would not be against the provisions of Constitution provided that this does not interfere with other languages.

Consequences of Nationalisation of Hindi:

Nationalising Hindi is however a tedious process as there would definitely be agitation and protests against it like always. Various non-Hindi speaking states would not come to a common consensus, for they would look at this move as Hindi Imposition. The consequences are divided into positive and negative.

Positive consequences:

  1. There will be easy movement of people throughout India without any language barrier.
  2. Hindi shall represent India in the International arena.
  3. After so many years of Independence, Hindi will finally oust English from India.

Negative consequences:

  1. It adds extra burden on non-Hindi speaking states for they have to learn a new language, while Hindi speaking states need not.
  2. There would be an imbalance in employment opportunities.
  3. More than 1000 Indian languages’ existence would be threatened by Hindi.

Conclusion:

India is a multi-lingual country with more than 1000 languages and dialects spoken by its people. Recognising Hindi as the national language would be a burden on all non-hindi speaking population. They would regard it as an imposition on them. As stated earlier, nationalising Hindi needs the consensus of all the states, which is a difficult task for they have a strong pride over their regional languages.

Any attempts to proceed with this ideology will end up in protests throughout India and immeasurable damage to the spirit of nationalism. As far as Amit Shah’s tweet is concerned, he had later clarified that he never advocated for Hindi imposition but only suggested learning Hindi as a second language. Despite this clarification, there still prevails a common notion that his previous statement might be hinting at the Union Government’s future agenda of One Nation, One Language.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Jaimithra from School of Excellence in Law, TNDALU, Chennai.

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