National Hindi Diwas: Language shaping our polity and society?
- September 21, 2017
- Posted by: admin
- Category: General Knowledge
National Hindi Diwas was celebrated on September 14 last week. This date signifies the date in 1949 that the Constituent Assembly of India adopted Hindi (written in Devanagari script) as the official language of the country, and also happens to be the birthday of Beohar Rajendra Simha who lobbied and debated in favour of Hindi to be adopted as the official language.
Hindi is our official language and there have been efforts to promote it. But there has also been a debate about its acceptance, considering that it is not universally spoken. Let us explore the concept of languages – official and national, what our Constitution holds on the subject and how Hindi can be developed in a reasonable manner.
Articles 343 to 351 of Part XVII of the Constitution deal with the official language. These provisions are categorized into:
- Language of the Union
- Regional languages
- Language of the judiciary and texts of laws
- Special directives
The most important aspect to note here is the distinction between a language being called the ‘official’ language and the ‘national’ language. The former pertains to the use of the language for official purposes in the country while the latter denotes the recognition of the language as being connected with the people and territory and representing them as it were.
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, as per the Constitution, Hindi was declared as an official language and not a national language.
The Gujarat High Court, in 2010, while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking to make printing on goods mandatorily in Hindi, observed that though a majority of the people in India has 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 Constitution provides that Hindi written in Devanagari script will be the official language of the Union. But the form of numerals to be used for official purposes of the union will be the international form of Indian numerals and not their Devanagari form. The Constitution also provided for appointment of a commission by the President, at the end of five years, and again at the end of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, to make recommendations in respect of the progressive use of the Hindi language, restrictions on the use of the Hindi language, restrictions on the use of the English language and other related issues. This commission would consist of a chairman and other members representing the different languages specified in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Following this, a committee of the Parliament was to be constituted to examine the recommendations of the commission and to report its views on the same to the President.
In 1955, an Official Language Commission was appointed under the chairmanship of BG Kher by the President, which submitted its report to the President in 1956. The Parliamentary committee that examined this report was constituted in 1957, under the chairmanship of Gobind Ballabh Pant. However, a second Official Language Commission, as envisaged by the Constitution, was not appointed in 1960.
The Official Language Act, 1963
The Official Language Act, 1963 was enacted to allow the continued use of English (indefinitely after 1965, as provided in the Constitution), along with Hindi, for all official purposes of the Centre and for transacting business in the Parliament. This legislation was amended in 1967 to make the use of English, in addition to Hindi, compulsory in certain cases, for example, in case of contracts and agreements executed, licences, permits, notices, etc., issued by the Central government or by a corporation or a company owned by the Central government.
Promotion of Hindi language
The Constitution imposes a duty upon the Centre to promote the spread and development of the Hindi language so that it may become the common language (lingua franca) of the diverse Indian culture. In the same vein, the Supreme Court, in 1976, declared Tamil Nadu’s pension scheme to anti-Hindi agitators as unconstitutional.
Moreover, the Centre has also been directed to ensure the enrichment of Hindi by assimilating the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in other languages listed in Schedule VIII of the Constitution, and by drawing its vocabulary, mainly on Sanskrit and secondly, on other languages.
The curious case of Hindi
While the Constitution provides for development of the Hindi language, there is much to be said about whether aggressive efforts to push it forward will yield any fruit.
As per the 2001 Census of India, around 42.2 crore people listed Hindi as their mother tongue, of which 25.79 crore spoke Hindi in its pure form, and another 16.41 crore spoke in 49 mother tongues similar to Hindi. Overall, around 41.03% of the population declared Hindi or its sub-groupings as its mother tongue, which translates to the fact that majority of the population may know Hindi but do not list Hindi as their mother tongue. Hardly a dozen states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Jharkhand, had a majority of their population listing Hindi as their mother tongue.
Circulars seeking to promote use of Hindi in office work and official social media accounts have, in the past, elicited angry reactions. Similarly, various political parties such as DMK and Janata Dal (Secular) have also criticized the Centre for “imposing” Hindi in their states, and there was a series of protests in Bengaluru over Hindi being used as a language in the Metro sign boards.
While it is true that Hindi is one of the most spoken languages in India and is a symbol of our common roots and heritage, any aggressive efforts to promote it will only result in backlash and defeat the purpose that language serves- constructive communication and binding people together.
Instead, the events organized on National Hindi Diwas by involving people and felicitating those who have contributed to the language are in consonance with the Constitutional duty. For example, the former President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, had conferred awards in different categories for the excellence in different fields pertaining to Hindi at a function in New Delhi.
At the end of the day, we need to decide for ourselves as to whether we want language to divide us or to act as a medium to unite us.