This article is written by Surbhi Jindal, a law student at Dr B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Haryana. The article discusses the issue of language in the legal and political system exhaustively.
India is a vast country where people of diverse backgrounds speak different languages. People of different cultures, creeds, religions, and caste interact with each other. That is why India is also known for its ‘Unity in diversity’ or as a ‘Land of diversity’. Interacting with different sects of people in different languages brings unity and a feeling of oneness.
While language is a path to oneness, it has also been subjected to many controversies—putting one’s language at an official status. When India was under the colonial rule, Urdu, English, and Hindi were considered official languages. Later on, when India gained Independence, the Indian Constitution provided Hindi in the Devanagari script as its official language. English was to be considered only till the 15 years from the commencement of the Indian Constitution. But later on, it continued due to the opposition faced by the non-Hindi areas especially South Indian states as they did not want the government to impose Hindi language on the people of their area. Since Independence, a debate has been going on to declare scheduled languages as official languages. Hindi is considered to be a national language, but it is not.
This article discusses the main issue of language in the central and state, legal and political systems in India. Various aspects that revolve around the issue of languages in India will be discussed in this article comprehensively. The debate around the national language and the conflict between the various officials on languages are critical to understanding. Communication between two people takes place through the use of language. Hence, it becomes crucial to use such a language that the other party understands.
Suppose you spoke a few words in English with your friend asking him to do some work for you. But your friend hardly understands English. Do you think he will be able to complete the task that you gave him? Obviously, no. If he didn’t understand what you said, how would he be able to do the task? So, the importance of language cannot be denied.
We shall ascertain the role of language in promoting justice and taking away justice from the nation through this article. We shall also learn about the historical background of languages and the problems created in Indian politics. Under this heading, various commission reports and their observations shall also be discussed.
Historical background of language
Language has remained the most debatable issue in the pre as well as post-independent era. If we discuss before the Indians gained Independence then the issue of language has been going on since the British era. Lord Macaualay recommended that English should be made the main language to study. The recommendation was made in 1835. Therefore, whosoever at that time applied for government service was required to learn english.
At the time of the making of the Indian Constitution, Mahatma Gandhi was of the view to create Hindi as a medium of language. He was in support of adopting one language only as the medium of instruction. However, leaders like Ram Manohar Lohiya opposed this idea and were in favor of adopting a diverse set of languages among the people of India. This is because of the diversity of language that exists in India. The majority of languages spoken in India are Hindi and English. This creates an issue in three arenas i.e. historical, political, and administrative and they often overlap over each other.
The same problem was faced by our Indian Constitution makers. During the struggle for an independent India, the nation’s leaders assured the general public that Indian languages would reach heights under a free country. The states will be reorganized based on languages so that they can be allowed to develop and grow.
But when the Constituent Assembly was given the task to ponder assigning India a national language, they understood that it was not an easy task. This was because of various reasons listed below:
- Most of the people of India wanted to continue with English as the National language of India.
- The provinces believed that their language was so rich that it could be adopted as the national language of India.
- At the time of making of the Indian Constitution, the matter arose in the minds of Constitution makers as to what will be the official language in India. There were two problems in adopting Hindi as the official language of India because of two reasons: Dialect of Hindi and other existing languages in India. Hindi is spoken in 13 different dialects. So, the issue now was which dialect should be given preference. Finally, the Delhi-Agra region with Sanskrit vocabulary was adopted as the Hindi-dialect.
- Mahatma Gandhi had a dream that India should have a national language so as to give it a unique identity. Several members of the Constituent Assembly wanted to fulfill this dream of Mahatma Gandhi. However, as the proposal was laid down for choosing the most popular language as the official language, many members from the Constituent Assembly opposed this idea and termed it as being unfair for non-hindi speaking population.
- Lot of arguments took place on the inclusion and non-inclusion of Hindi as the national language. Some of the members were of the view that regional languages should also be given recognition at a state level and the language chosen shall not be made exclusive. While the others were in favor, they demanded that Hindi should be the exclusive language across the country without any exceptions. According to them, it would help in promoting national integrity.
- The Constituent Assembly was divided into groups: one that supported the making of Hindi language as an official language and the second one who did not support the making of Hindi as an official language. But making various languages as official languages did not seem to be feasible. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said,
“One language can unite people. Two languages are sure to divide people. This is an inexorable law. Culture is conserved by language. Since Indians wish to unite and develop a common culture, it is the bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their official language.”
Various commissions and committees have been formed till date on the issue of language. Let us understand them in detail.
Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly, formed the Linguistic Provinces Commission, also known as the Dhar Commission, on June 17, 1948, to ascertain whether reorganizing states based on languages was feasible or not. There was considerable demand, mainly from the south Indian side, to form the shapes on a linguistic basis. This Commission was set up under the chairmanship of S.K. Dhar.
The Commission recommended that the formation of states on the linguistic basis was not feasible, and hence the below-mentioned factors should be considered for reorganizing the states:
- Financial self-reliance;
- Administrative viability;
- Geographical continuity;
- Potential for development.
The report by the Dhar Commission caused a lot of resentment amongst people. As a result, later on, to study the recommendations of the Dhar Commission, the JVP Committee was formed at the Jaipur session in 1948. The Committee appointed by the Congress comprised three members Jawahar Lal Nehru, Vallahabhai Patel, and Pattabhi Sitaramayya. The findings of this Committee also recommended that the reorganization of states based on language was not feasible. However, it stated that the below-mentioned factors should be considered for the reorganization of states:
- Economic prosperity.
But the death of Potti Sreeramulu sparked public riots and resentment in the general public. Potti Sriramulu was on a hunger strike in 1952, demanding an Indian state for the Telugu speaking population of the Madras presidency. In this process, he lost his life. After that, the Indian Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru was forced to announce the creation of a state on a linguistic basis, which came to be known as Andhra Pradesh.
Fazl Ali Commission
The creation of Andhra Pradesh caused an uproar against the people of other states. They started demanding the result of conditions on a linguistic basis. Now, this intense pressure by the general public forced the Indian government to form the new commission known as the Fazl Ali Commission in December 1953. The members of the Committee were Hridaynath Kunzru and K.M. Panikkar. The primary purpose of this Commission was to ascertain whether the separation of states on a language basis can be considered or not.
The report by this Commission was submitted in September 1955. It acknowledged the four significant factors while considering the reorganization of states:
- Linguistic and cultural homogeneity.
- Financial, economic, and administrative considerations.
- Planning and promotion of the welfare of the people in each state as well as in the nation.
- Preservation and strengthening of the unity and security of the country.
The Commission also suggested the reorganization of 27 states on a linguistic basis into 16 states and 3 Union territories. The Indian government accepted all the recommendations, and the State Reorganisation Act, 1956 was passed. The Act led to the formation of 14 states and 6 Union territories on November 1, 1956.
Official languages under the Constitution
The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution mentions the scheduled languages of India. The constitutional provisions related to the Eighth Schedule are Article 344 and Article 351. Initially, the Indian Constitution accorded the official status to only 14 languages. Later on, eight more were given official status through amendments making the total languages 22.
At present, India recognizes 22 languages as its scheduled languages. These are Manipuri, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Sindhi, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri. The language Sindhi was added by the 21st Amendment Act, 1967. Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were added by the 71st Amendment Act, 1992 and Bodo, Dogri, Santhali, and Maithili were added by the 92nd Amendment Act, 2003.
It is pertinent to note that India does not recognize any language as its national language as per the Indian Constitution. Hindi and English are considered to be the official languages of India. Article 343 of the Indian Constitution says that Hindi in the Devanagari script will be the official language of the Union of India. At the time of the making of the Constitution, it was decided that English would be discontinued after 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution. Until 1950, English, Urdu, and Hindi were considered the official languages of colonial India.
Article 343 also mentioned that after 15 years, if the Parliament of India wishes to continue with English the language or any other Devanagari numerals, it should provide a law for the same. When India decided to discontinue English, it received a massive backlash in 1965 by the non-Hindi speaking belt of the country. They were against the idea of making Hindi the sole official language of India.
Therefore, the Parliament of India, by the Indian Constitution, had to bring a law that provided both English and Hindi as the official languages of India. The law brought was the Official Languages Act, 1963. The primary purpose of this Act was to provide for the languages which may be used for official purposes in the Union of India. The State government is free to declare its official languages.
Many had a myth that exists even today that Hindi is the national language of India. But this is not true. The Gujarat High Court in 2010 dismissed a PIL that sought the direction for mandatory printing of details of goods like price, quantity, ingredients etc., in Hindi because Hindi is the national language of India. The Hon’ble Gujarat High Court observed that though most people accept Hindi as their national language and speak and write in the Devanagari script, it is not officially the national language of India. There are no records to suggest the federal status of the language Hindi.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), on the inclusion of languages in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution observed the following, “As the evolution of dialects and languages is dynamic, influenced by socio eco-political developments, it is difficult to fix any criterion for languages, whether to distinguish them from dialects, or for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India. Thus, both attempts, through the Pahwa (1996) and Sitakant Mohapatra (2003) Committees to evolve such fixed criteria have not borne fruit. The Government is conscious of the sentiments and requirements for inclusion of other languages in the Eighth Schedule and will examine the requests keeping in mind these sentiments, and other considerations such as the evolution of dialects into language, widespread use of a language etc.”
Part XVII of the Indian Constitution deals with matters of official languages. The constitutional principles related to the Eighth Schedule are described here as below:
- Article 344: Article 341 (1) provides for continuing the commission by the president on the termination of five years from the commencement of the Indian Constitution.
- Article 351: Article 351 provides for the spreading of the Hindi language to develop and serve as a medium of expression for the composite culture of India.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019
In 2019, Shri Vaiko, MP of Rajya Sabha, introduced a private member bill named the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019. The main objective and reason to introduce the Bill was to provide all the 22 languages of India the status of the official language of India. Presently, only the English and Hindi languages have the status of official language. The reason given was that India is a nation of diversity, and unity was of its unique feature despite the diversity India represents.
Furthermore, it sought to amend the two Articles and subclauses and insert a few clauses that promoted the development of regional languages.
- It also sought to amend Article 343 of the Indian Constitution. Article 343 says that the official language of the Union would be Hindi in the Devanagari script. The Bill proposes to add that all the languages mentioned will also be the official language of the Union in addition to Hindi in Devanagari script.
- It also seeks to amend sub-clause 3 of Article 343 of the Indian Constitution. Article 343(3) provides that Parliament has the power to give any law for English as an official language of the Union of India. The Bill proposes that apart from the English, the Parliament may also provide a direction to promote the languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
Therefore, to promote national integrity, it was proposed that all the languages described in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution should be accorded the status of the official language of the Union of India.
Is there any law prescribing a particular language for official work
The Indian Constitution and the Official Languages Act, 1963 prescribe the language used for official work. In this section of the article, we shall ascertain the constitutional provisions on languages to be used in different arenas for official purposes.
Language to be used in the Parliament and the Legislature
Article 120 and Article 210 prescribe the languages used in the Parliament of India and Legislature, respectively. Both the Articles say that by Article 348 of the Indian Constitution, the Parliament shall use both English and Hindi for transaction purposes. It also provides that if any member of the Parliament cannot express themselves in either Hindi or English, then the chairman of the council of states or speaker of the Lok Sabha may permit them to speak in their mother tongue.
Official languages of India
Article 343 prescribes Hindi in Devanagari script and English as their second languages to be used by the Union of India. However, it was provided in this Article that English will be continued only till 15 years, and after that, only Hindi will be used for official purposes.
But it also provided that through a law, the Parliament can wish to continue with the English language after bringing the ordinance. A provision in the Indian Constitution gave rise to the Official Languages Act, 1963 that prescribes the use of both Hindi and English as the official languages of India.
Official languages of State
Article 345 states that subject to Article 346 and Article 347, the State shall adopt one or more languages that may be used for official purposes by the State. It also provides that the English language shall be continued for the official purposes of the State as it was used before the commencement of the Constitution.
The official language for communication between the Union and States and among States
Article 346 provides for the communication between the Union and states and among states. It also states that if the two states agree that Hindi will be the language between them, it may be used for official purposes.
The debate around national language
In Indian society, a myth exists that Hindi is the national language of India. However, this isn’t true. We already understood that India only has official languages. It cannot be denied that Hindi serves as the link across the country. But this doesn’t imply that Hindi is a national language. From the Constituent Assembly till today, there already has been a lot of debates on this matter. Language has become merely a political issue where each political party makes language its plan to influence the minds of the general public.
In 2019, on Hindi day, the Home Minister of India Amit Shah, in his address, demanded the call for one language in the nation. He said that having different opinions on language is natural, but he argued that Hindi should be the ‘raj bhasha,’ i.e. national language. Even the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution had unanimously agreed to have Hindi as our national language. This statement of making Hindi as raj bhasha had sparked protests all over the nation.
According to the 2011 census on languages, 43.63% of the Indian population speak Hindi as their mother tongue. Hindi is one of the most spoken Indian languages. Between 2001 and 2011, the rate of Hindi speaking people grew by 25%, increasing 100 million new Hindi speakers.
From ancient times, these debates have been going on with no concrete solution at all. Every section of people want to promote their language. The South Indians hardly promote the culture of speaking and teaching Hindi in their curriculum. They have mainly focussed either on their tongues or English for their education.
We all know that India still follows the colonial system. Though we gained Independence in 1947, India, being an Independent nation, hasn’t recovered from colonial rule. We are following the old laws, the administrative and political system that have been followed since British times. We have been in touch with old and obsolete laws such as sedition, unlawful assembly, same-sex marriages, a social taboo, and many more regulations. These laws have been repealed long ago in the U.K., but still, we follow them.
The same is the case with the language. English was the language of Britishers. However, the Constituent Assembly decided to scrap English after 15 years. But the inclusion of one more provision stating it may be continued after bringing a law has led to not Hindi being the official language. Also, the use of Hindi has become very minimal. This is because now every work you see revolves around English. You need to know English for your studies, job etc.
Need for reforms to ensure vernacular inclusive policies
The glamour for speaking English is why India isn’t progressing ahead with its languages. We are living in an elite society where most of the importance is given to speaking English. English has become the norm of today’s society that won’t be going very quickly.
There is a need for policy reforms related to the inclusion of vernacular languages in daily use. The Hon’ble President of India Ram nath Kovind urged the high courts to make its judgments and verdicts available in regional languages. But the progress has remained very meagre. If we talk about our Indian legal education system, then a continuous stress has been laid on use of English language for the purpose of imparting education. English and Hindi should not be the only languages to be considered for administration purposes.
The Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde was of the view that governments should consider amending the Official Language Act, 1963 and include the vernacular languages in the governance of the administration.
The present Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana had laid special emphasis on bringing radical changes in the atmosphere of the courts and making the litigation more friendly for the citizens. The Hon’ble justice himself had taken a step forward. He played the role of a good samaritan for a woman when she was faced with an issue of not being able to speak comfortably in the English language. He allowed her to speak in Telugu which is also the mother tongue of Hon’ble Chief Justice. After listening to her arguments, he then explained her arguments to the bench.
The Britishmen imposed English on the Indians but only for the time period they ruled. After India gained Independence it was in our hands to incorporate Indian vernacular languages within the administrative policies and actions. It could be either the Hindi language or other regional languages. So, it would be wrong to say that the British have imposed on us the language in the present times. We Indians adopted this language because of its utility.
The South Indian states were not keen to adopt Hindi as their language. Some of the people wanted only English as their language while some wanted it to get abolished.
Language cannot be imposed on people. The people of the country have the right to decide which language they want to speak. Indeed, other languages should be given a fair opportunity to represent themselves like Hindi and English.
But it should also be remembered that our Constitution has provided that the speaker of the Lok Sabha may allow the member of Parliament to use their mother tongue to speak if they cannot express themselves. Therefore, we cannot say that mother tongues of respective states are not given any representation because if that would be the case then Lok Sabha would not have been allowed the use of mother tongues. The issue of language has been a long eternal debate going on since times immemorial.
The makers of the Indian Constitution found a way and included both English and Hindi in the Constitution. Though inclusion of English as a language was only for 15 years, later on it continued and is still in use.
Our whole Indian system has remained obsessive with the English language. Until the change in mindset and the different policy reforms are brought to place, this debate is never going to end. Our Indian legal and political system is going to suffer on the pendulum of language.
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