Hindi, official language

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1925, 1949, 1967, 1971, 2014

Nandini Rathi, Sep 14, 2023: The Indian Express

The listing of Hindi as an official language of India took place on September 14, 1949, which since then has been commemorated as Hindi Diwas. Hindi and English are India’s two official languages for the Union government, while the constitution recognises a total of 22 languages. Since Indian independence in 1947, efforts were made by the Union government to drive Hindi to the status as a widely used language, wherein it was assisted in no small part by the rising popularity of Hindi cinema.

The Indian National Congress in its 1925 Karachi session decided that Hindustani — the popular, undifferentiated blend of Hindi and Urdu — should be the lingua franca of the independent nation. However, this resolution was modified a few years later due to the influence of Hindi Sahitya Sammelan which suggested that Hindi should be the national language. The resolution disappointed many members of the Congress, including the Muslims, and strained the communal tangle. The Muslim League, which had been formed in 1906, on the other hand, endorsed Urdu as a symbol of Muslim identity and thus most fit to be India’s lingua franca. As India’s partition became imminent in 1946, Urdu — perceived as aligned with Pakistan — was discarded from national language contenders of newly independent India.

The pro-Hindi/Hindustani group, the latter included Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, argued for adopting one of the two languages as the sole national language, while the anti-Hindi group opposed that and favored retaining English as the official language. The Indian Constitution Committee in 1949 arrived at a compromise, known as the Munshi-Ayyangar formula, to settle the issue. The name of the language was Hindi (in Devanagari script), but the proponents of Hindustani were comforted with a directive clause that directed Sanskrit as the mainstay of Hindi vocabulary, with an explicit non-boycott of words within it from other languages. There was no mention within it of a ‘national language,’ and described only the Indian union’s two official languages. The official use of English, initially, was to cease 15 years after the Constitution came into effect, that is, on January 26, 1965.

The pro-Hindi lobby of politicians like Balkrishna Sharma and Purushottam Das Tandon spurned the adoption of English — a remnant of imperialism — as an official language and staged demonstrations demanding Hindi as the sole national language. They moved several amendments towards this effort but that could never take place as the imposition of Hindi remained unacceptable to more than half of Indians, especially in the south and the east of the country. Tamil Nadu saw violent protests against Hindi in 1965, after Hindi was effectively made compulsory.

As a result, 15 years after the Constitution of India came into effect, the Congress’ working committee agreed to a resolution which stated that position of English as an official language would not change unless all states consented to it. Finally, via the Official Languages Act of 1967, the government adopted a policy of bilingualism that indefinitely guaranteed the use of English and Hindi as official languages in the Indian Republic.

After 1971, India’s language policy focused on promoting regional languages by enlisting them in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which meant that those languages would be entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission. The step was meant to curb the linguistic resentment of the multi-lingual masses. The list has grown from 14 at the time of independence to 22 in 2007.

Lingual politics has anything but left India. In its three years in office, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has courted a fresh batch of controversies with attempts to promote the use of Hindi, perceived by critics as a renewed attempt of majoritarian imposition of the language on non-native speakers. In 2014, the government ordered its officials to use Hindi on social media accounts and in government letters. Modi himself, in spite of being fluent in English, has consistently chosen to conduct diplomacy in Hindi at international forums with global leaders. Earlier this year, former President Pranab Mukherjee gave a nod to the central government’s suggestion that all dignitaries and ministers must give their speeches in Hindi.

The unifying role of a shared language in most nationalisms is well known, however, its hegemonic imposition remains problematic and divisive. One doesn’t have to look further than Bangladesh’s example to know that history is rife with instances when language has been used as a vehicle to promote chauvinism and divisions. The BJP and its predecessor Jan Sangh have long championed Hindi as a uniting force for India. A polarisation on the issue could well consolidate the party’s north Indian Hindi speaking base. However, as evidenced by the recent protests over Hindi signage on Bengaluru metro and Tamil Nadu’s highway milestones, popular annoyance and anti-Hindi politics are quick to rear their heads upon perceiving a sneaky incursion.

Constituent Assembly of India

Debates on the status of India’s languages

Udit Misra, Sep 24, 2019: The Indian Express

It was almost exactly 70 years ago, between September 12 and 14, 1949, that the Constituent Assembly of India debated the status of India’s languages. Among the issues that were discussed were the use of the term ‘national language’, instead of ‘official’ language; Hindi vs languages such as Bengali, Telugu, Sanskrit, or Hindustani; Devanagari script vs the Roman script; the language to be used in the higher judiciary and Parliament; international numerals vs those in Devanagari script.

President Rajendra Prasad underlined the criticality of the debate at the outset: “…There is no other item in the whole Constitution which will be required to be implemented from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute… Even if we (get) a particular proposition passed by majority, if it does not meet with the approval of any considerable section of people…, the implementation of the Constitution will become a most difficult problem”.

These are edited excerpts of what some of the members of the Constituent Assembly said. Many arguments are echoed even today.

N GOPALASWAMI AYYANGAR, member of the Drafting Committee, presented the initial draft and the first amendment, which said Hindi in Devanagari script should be the official language, but English should be used for at least 15 years. “The [language] scheme… was the result of a great deal of discussion and compromise. If I may emphasize it, it is an integrated whole. …If you touch one part of it the other things fall to pieces.”

SETH GOVIND DAS argued for “one language and one script”, and said that Hindi should replace English at the earliest. “Democracy can only function when majority opinion is honoured. If we differ on any issue, that can only be decided by votes. Whatever decision is arrived by the majority must be accepted by the minority respectfully… We have accepted our country to be a secular State but we never thought that that acceptance implied the acceptance of the continued existence of heterogeneous cultures. India is an ancient country with an ancient history. For thousands of years one and the same culture has all along been obtaining here. …It is in order to maintain this tradition that we want one language and one script for the whole country. We do not want it to be said that there are two cultures here”.

NAZIRUDDIN AHMAD, by contrast, stressed: “…We should not make a declaration of an All India language all at once. …English should continue as the official language for all purposes for which it was being used, till a time when an All India language is evolved, which will be capable of expressing the thoughts and ideas on various subjects, scientific, mathematical, literary, historical, philosophical, political…”

S V KRISHNAMOORTHY RAO too, said English should remain, and a future Parliament should decide on the matter. Hindi, he said, was inferior to many South Indian languages: “This Hindi and Hindustani question is purely for the north. But we are prepared to accept Hindi. In the greater interests of the country this question should be decided in a dispassionate atmosphere when feelings have sobered down.”

MOHD HIFZUR RAHMAN argued for replacing Hindi with Hindustani, the language that Mahatma Gandhi favoured, and which the Congress had agreed was “spoken from Bihar right up to Frontier”. The clamour for Hindi, he said, was “the reaction of the Partition” — “in this state of grief and anger… they are showing their narrow-mindedness against a particular community. They want to settle the language question in the atmosphere of political bigotry and do not want to solve this problem as the Language problem of a country”.

R V DHULEKAR recalled that from Ramdas to Tulsidas and from Swami Dayanand to the Mahatma, all wrote in Hindi, and argued forcefully: “You may belong to another nation but I belong to Indian nation, the Hindi Nation, the Hindu Nation, the Hindustani Nation. I do not know why you say it is not the National Language. I shudder at the very idea that our universities and our schools and our colleges and our scientists, that all of them should, even after the attainment of Swaraj, have to continue to work in the English language… What will the ghost of Lord Macaulay say? He will certainly laugh at us and say, ‘Old Johnnie Walker is still going strong’.”

FRANK ANTHONY conceded that “English cannot, for many reasons, be the national language of this country”, but cautioned that the Hindi that was being imposed was very different from the one that common people spoke. “There is a process of a purge which has become current…, in this present fanatical movement a new kind of Hindi which is unintelligible to the Hindi speaking Hindu in the street…, a highly Sanskritised Hindi will be imposed. …You talk of equality of opportunities on the one side and on the other hand you implement precipitate policies which are the negation of the principle of equality of opportunity.”

QAZI SYED KARIMUDDIN pitched for Hindustani: “You have already agreed that English shall stay here for the next 10 or 15 years, then why you are denying the Muslims their rights by banning Urdu script? You have got a majority so you are trying to ban it completely — to finish it… Only that language in which both Hindus and Muslims easily express themselves and… which has evolved through common intercourse, i.e. Hindustani, should be made the national language.”

LAKSHMINARAYAN SAHU argued for Hindi being made the national language. “I can also claim the same status for Oria, which is far more ancient than Bengali… My friends from the South would claim that their language is very ancient. (But) there is no question of ancient or medieval. Some people are so much enamoured of English that they think they would lose their very existence if English is not used as the official language… We have to move forward in the interests of the whole nation and country, and if a few people are inconvenienced they should put up with it.”

N V GADGIL wanted Sanskrit to be made the national language, and that English should be retained “for at least one century more”. Hindi, he said, is a provincial language; “there are languages in which literature is far more rich, and yet we have accepted Hindi as the national language”.

T A RAMALINGAM CHETTIAR said this “very difficult question… probably means life and death for the South”. Chettiar said he had “great admiration for the Hindi people”, but “they will have to realise that we too may have some patriotism and love for our language, for our literature and things like that”. He disagreed with Hindi being called the “national language” because “Hindi is no more national to us than English or any other language”. The South, he said, was “feeling frustrated”, and asked for “accommodation”. “Unless steps are taken to make the people in the South feel that they have something to do with the country, …I do not think the South is going to be satisfied at all. …To what it may lead, it is not easy to say at present.”

SATISH CHANDRA SAMANTA said Bengali should be preferred over Hindi as the national language because it was a rich language, was taught internationally, and because Bande Mataram, the poem that inspired the freedom struggle, was in Bengali.

ALGU RAI SHASTRI said “there is no doubt that Sanskrit is the mother of all the languages spoken in India”, and “its eldest and the seniormost daughter (Hindi) alone can today be the national language”.

SYAMA PRASAD MOOKERJEE said he did not share the view of those who speak of the day “when India shall have one language and one language only”. “Unity in diversity is India’s keynote and must be achieved by a process of understanding and consent, and for that a proper atmosphere has to be created.” Most people were accepting Hindi because it was “understood by the largest single majority in this country today”. If, however, Mookerjee said, “the protagonists of Hindi… had not been perhaps so aggressive in their demands and enforcement of Hindi, they would have got whatever they wanted, perhaps more than what they expected, by spontaneous and willing co-operation of the entire population of India”.

A resolution of the Constituent Assembly could not decide the supremacy of a language, he noted. “If you want that Hindi is to really occupy an All-India position and not merely replace English for certain official purposes, you make Hindi worthy of that position and allow it to absorb by natural process words and idioms not only from Sanskrit but also from other sister languages of India… I can speak Hindi in my own Bengali way. Mahatma Gandhi spoke Hindi in his own way. Sardar Patel speaks Hindi in his own Gujarati way. If my friends from UP or Bihar say that theirs is the standard Hindi… it will be a bad thing not only for Hindi, but (also) for the country.”

P T CHACKO said that “A national language has to evolve itself and is not to be created artificially. The national language for a great country like India should… be capable of expressing all the needs of modern civilisation; …it should have a lore of scientific literature”. He wanted attention to other “very urgent problems” instead — that of freedom fighters “dying for want of food and shelter”, of “trade and commerce becoming duller day by day”, of “rampant unemployment”, and of the “Kashmir problem” in the North and the “menace of Communist hooliganism” in the South.

DR P SUBBARAYAN suggested the adoption of Hindustani in Roman script. He wondered why there was hatred towards the English language when the Americans, of whom only 20% belonged to the British Isles, could adopt it.

KULADHAR CHALIHA of Assam said Sanskrit should be the national language because “Sanskrit and India are co-extensive”. Hindi was a “compromise solution, and because it is good for India, not because Hindi is a better language”. However, Hindustani would be an even better choice.

REV. JEROME D’SOUZA said that he accepted the broad outline of Ayyangar’s proposal “because it embodies the widest common measure of agreement”. But he recalled that the French say “Tout homme a deaux, langues, la sienne et puis le francais (All men have two languages, they say, their own and then the sweet French tongue)”, and hoped that “perhaps, a day may come when the whole civilised world may say, ‘All men have two languages, their own and then sweet language of India'”.

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU recalled Gandhi’s views on this matter. One, “that while English is a great language (that) …has done us a lot of good, …no nation can become great on the basis of a foreign language”. Two, the chosen language should be “more or less a language of the people, not a language of a learned coterie”. And three, “this language should represent the composite culture of India”. Therefore, Nehru said, Gandhi used the word ‘Hindustani’ “in that broad sense representing that composite language”.

Nehru, however, cautioned against forcing Hindi on all of India’s peoples. “Is your approach going to be a democratic approach or… authoritarian?” he asked “the enthusiasts for Hindi”, in some of whose speeches, he said, he had detected “a tone of authoritarianism, very much a tone of the Hindi-speaking area being the centre of things in India, the centre of gravity, and others being just the fringes of India”.

This, Nehru said, was “not only an incorrect approach, but …a dangerous approach” — “You just cannot force any language down the people or group who resist that.”

PANDIT RAVI SHANKAR SHUKLA of the Central Provinces and Berar argued that Keshub Chandra Sen had said in 1874 that without one vernacular language, unity was not possible for India. Many languages now in use in India have Hindi in them, Shukla said; Hindi is prevalent “almost everywhere”; therefore, Hindi “should be made the common language throughout India”. He advised “friends from the South” to “learn Hindi as early as possible, because if they do not learn Hindi quickly enough, they might be left behind”.

G DURGABAI of Madras argued for Hindustani as the national language, and expressed “shock” at the way Hindi in Devanagari script was being pushed. “The attitude on your part to give a national character to what is purely a provincial language is responsible for embittering the feelings of the non-Hindi speaking people.” The demand that Hindi numerals be adopted was “the height of language tyranny and intolerance”, she said.

SHANKARRAO DEO of Bombay warned that “the cry, namely, ‘one culture’ has dangerous implications”, and the very word ‘culture’ was dangerous. “The Chief of the R S S Organisation appeals in the name of culture. Some Congressmen also appeal in the name of culture. Nobody tells us what exactly this word ‘culture’ means. Today, as it is interpreted and understood, it only means the domination of the few over the many… If you insist upon having one culture, then, to me it means the killing of the soul of India.” India stood for “vividhata”, Deo said: “That is our richness… If you mean by national language one language for the whole country, then I am against it.”

SARDAR HUKAM SINGH said he had always given “unreserved support for Hindi in the Devanagari script” as the “lingua franca or Rashtra Bhasha of our country”, but had changed his mind “simply because of the fanaticism and intolerance of those who support it”. Now he preferred “Hindustani in the Roman script”, which “will remove the antagonism… in this House and will enable our Southern friends… to learn the language more easily”.

JAIPAL SINGH of Bihar pushed for the recognition of the tribal languages of Mundari, Gondi and Oraon in the Constitution.

PURUSHOTTAM DAS TANDON of United Provinces said the provision in Ayyangar’s draft “in regard to Hindi not being used at all except in addition to English for five years and more, till a commission makes a recommendation and that recommendation is accepted by the President”, was “a rather hard provision”. Also, dropping Devanagari numerals for their international form was a “monstrosity”. “…I say internationalism is no argument and it is not fair that our people should suddenly in this manner be asked to give up their own numerals.”

MAULANA ABUL KALAM AZAD said the absence of a common language was a key hurdle in finding a replacement for English. He expressed disappointment that the Congress had given up its consensus on Hindustani: “…From one end to the other, narrow-mindedness reigned supreme. …Narrow-mindedness means pettiness and density of mind and refusal to accept higher, nobler and purer thoughts. …It was this narrow-mindedness… which had buried the glory and advancement of ancient India in the darkness of gloom… Of all the arguments employed against Hindustani, greatest emphasis has been laid on the point that if Hindustani is accepted then Urdu also will have to be accommodated. But… Urdu is one of the Indian Languages. It was born and bred and brought up in India and it is the mother-tongue of millions of Hindus and Muslims of this country.”

Court judgements

Queries in English to be answered in same language: HC

August 20, 2021: The Times of India

The Madras high court directed the Central government to respond in English to a representation in English, and follow the provisions of the Official Languages Act, 1963, strictly. “Once a representation is given in English, it is the duty of the Union government to reply in English only,” it said.

The direction by a division bench of the court’s Madurai bench, comprising Justices N Kirubakaran and Justice M Duraiswamy, came on a public interest litigation filed by Madurai MP Su Venkitasan seeking English alone be used in all communications between the Centre and state governments.

Venkitasan had approached the court after the junior home minister replied in Hindi to a letter from him seeking setting up of examination centres for CRPF paramedical staff recruitment at Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Justice Kirubakaran, citing Article 350 of the Constitution, said that every person is entitled to give representation in any languages used in the Union or the state. He said that once a question is given in English, it is the duty of the Union government to reply in English only. He added that this was in consonance with the Official Languages Act.

The court also directed the Union government and all its instrumentalities to follow the Official Languages Act, especially its Section 3, which says that both Hindi and English should be used for official documents. Justice Kirubakaran also said “there are several languages in India which are hundreds or even thousands of years old” and that governments should take efforts to preserve them. IANS

Hindi in higher courts

Hindi can’t be thrust upon judges: Govt

The Times of India TNN | Jan 16, 2015

The government expressed stiff opposition to amend the Constitution to make Hindi an official language of functioning in high courts and the Supreme Court and relied on 18th Law Commission report which also came to the conclusion that making Hindi a compulsory language in the apex court is not feasible.

NEW DELHI: Hindi can't be made an official language for conducting court proceedings in higher judiciary as it would hamper judicial work, the Centre has told the Supreme Court saying that no language should be thrust upon judges.

The government expressed stiff opposition to amend the Constitution to make Hindi an official language of functioning in high courts and the Supreme Court and relied on 18th Law Commission report which also came to the conclusion that making Hindi a compulsory language in the apex court is not feasible.

"At any rate no language should be thrust upon the judges of the higher judiciary and they should be left free to deliver their judgments in the language they prefer. It is important to remember that every citizen, every court has the right to understand the law laid down finally by this court and at present one should appreciate that such language is only English," the government said in its affidavit.

It said the judicial administration would be seriously impaired and quality of its judges and of its judgment would suffer if Hindi is made official language.

"It (English) is not merely a vehicle of thought and expression but for judges at the higher level, it is an integral part of their decision making process. Judges have to hear and understand the submission of both the sides, apply the law to adjust their equities. Arguments are generally made in higher court in English and the basic literature under the Indian system is primarily based on English and American text books and case laws. Thus judges at the higher level should be left free to evolve own pattern of delivering judgments," it said.

The Centre filed its response in compliance with the apex court order seeking its stand on a PIL for making Hindi official language for higher judiciary.

The court last year had issued notice to the Centre on a plea seeking its direction to the government to amend the Constitution for making Hindi official language for court proceedings.

Petitioner Shiv Sagar Tiwari, a lawyer, submitted that using English as an official language in higher judiciary is a legacy of British rule which should be done away with. He termed the termed the language as "Gulami Bhasha".


Dahi, Thayir/ curd: 2023

‘Dahi, Thayir’ row: After ‘Hindi imposition’ backlash, FSSAI revises notice on renaming curd packets/ Express Web Desk/ March 30, 2023

The FSSAI instructed the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Milk Producers Federation, which manufactures the ‘Aavin’ brand of dairy products, to use the Hindi term ‘Dahi’ in its curd sachets.

After a row erupted in Tamil Nadu due to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)’s directive to ‘Aavin’, a state-owned manufacturer of dairy products, to use the term ‘Dahi‘ in its curd sachets, the government body has revised its order.

In a press release, FSSAI said, “As many representations were received recently on omission of the term “curd, from the Standards of Fermented Milk Products, it has been decided that FBOs may use the term Curd along with any other designation (prevalent regional common name) in brackets on the label”.

Official language(s) vis-à-vis the national language

A backgrounder

Sushmita Choudhury and Rajesh Sharma, Sep 15, 2021: The Times of India

Hindi speakers strength as % of population, 1971- 2011
From: Sushmita Choudhury and Rajesh Sharma, Sep 15, 2021: The Times of India
Percentage of the total population, 1971- 2011
From: Sushmita Choudhury and Rajesh Sharma, Sep 15, 2021: The Times of India

September 14 is the trigger. On this day, in 1949, the Hindi language was first adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the official language of the Republic of India, a decision that was legalised the following year. Just to clear the record, Hindi is not the national language. It is just one of the official languages of the country.

Article 343 of the Constitution, which came into effect in January 1950, stated that “the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script”. The Constitution also allowed for the continued usage of English for official purposes for 15 years, before phasing out the language entirely.

But, right from the outset, nobody was satisfied with this strategy. The pro-Hindi politicians complained about English imperialism and wanted Hindi to be the sole national language. On the other hand, there was an equally strong lobby that vociferously opposed any such imposition of Hindi on non-native speakers. Nothing has changed in the ensuing seven decades.

’Speeches by central, state ministers only in Hindi’

All speeches by President, ministers may be in Hindi, April 18, 2017: The Times of India

Speeches by central and state government ministers could be delivered only in Hindi if the recommendations of a parliamentary panel, accepted by President Pranab Mukherjee recently , are implemented.

Mukherjee has accepted some recommendations of the committee of Parliament on official languages which state: “All dignitaries including Hon'ble President and all the ministers especially who can read and speak Hindi may be requested to give their speechstatement in Hindi only. The committee, headed by former Union minister P Chidambaram, made these recommendations in 2011.

At present, most speeches by the President and central ministers are in English, accompanied on major occasions by a Hindi translation. Though Hindi-speaking states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan conduct official business predominantly in Hindi, speeches by central government functionaries, file work and statements are predominantly in English.

The move is expected to impact central ministers the most and may mean that most statements or speeches made in Parliament or government functions would be in Hindi, accompanied by a text of English translation.

Another recommendation that has been accepted says that national carrier Air India should use Hindi in its tickets.The recommendation was for all Indian airlines but the President has restricted his approval only for Air India.

The national carrier will also be expected to beef up its reading list to include Hindi newspapers and magazines. The committee was of the opinion that the language is grossly neglected and announcements both for railways and airlines should be in Hindi, followed by English.

Some of the recommendations that were not accepted include fixing a minimum level of knowledge of Hindi for bureaucracy and making Hindi education compulsory up to Class X. The committee had also suggested that posts related to Hindi promotion be created in various ministries besides greater spending on Hindi advertisements.

School curriculums

CBSE’s language policy

Manash Gohain, CBSE: No change in language policy, April 20, 2017: The Times of India

The chairperson of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on Wednesday said there was “no change in its language policy“ to make Hindi compulsory till class X in CBSE schools.

The statement followed reports of “in-principle“ approval to a parliamentary committee's recommendations in Hindi language which also include making study of the language compulsory till Class X. The CBSE has asked for the document to study it.

The Board follows a three-language formula till class VIII and two-language formula till class X with English as the mandatory language. In classes IX and X, students of CBSE schools either opt for a foreign language or Hindi or Sanskrit along with mandatory English.

CBSE had recently proposed to the ministry of human resource development to implement the three-language formula till Class X but there was no recommendation to make the study of any language compulsory .

However, the proposal recommends keeping study of a foreign language out of the ambit of the three-language formula. This means the foreign language will be an additional non-qualifying subject.

See also

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)

Hindi, official language

Hindi language, the spread of

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