Hindi as a Common Language: Constitutional Provisions, Challenges and Suggestions – Explained, pointwise

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Recently, the Union Home Minister presided over the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee. During the meeting, the Home Minister said that people of different states should communicate with each other in Hindi, and not English. He also said that the time has come to make the Official Language an important part of the unity of the country, i.e., Hindi as a Common Language for the country.

In 2019, on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, he had pushed for the idea of “One Nation, One Language”. He had said, “India is a country of different languages. Every language has its own importance. But it is absolutely essential that the entire country has one language that becomes the identity of the nation”. He also said, “If there is any language that can tie the whole country in one thread, it is the most spoken language of Hindi.”

Apart from his remarks, recently the Government of India provided that Hindi would be made compulsory up to Class 10 in the eight northeastern states. This resulted in protests from various organisations in the Northeast. Also, several South Indian states have criticised the decision of the Union Government.

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About the Home Minister’s remark in the Parliamentary Official Language Committee

During the meeting, Home Minister said that,

– Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages. On the other hand, Hindi should be made more flexible by accepting words from other local languages.

– Elementary knowledge of Hindi should be given to students up to Class 9 and pay more attention to Hindi teaching examinations.

– India should republish the Hindi dictionary by revising it.

– According to MHA, currently, 70% of the agenda of the Cabinet is prepared in Hindi.

– Nine tribal communities of the North East have converted their dialects’ scripts to Devanagari. Further, 22,000 Hindi teachers have been recruited in the eight states of the Northeast.

Read more: A language ladder for an education roadblock
About the India’s Common Language Policy

Ideally, every Central government document should be in every one of India’s languages. But it is not possible in practice due to large number of languages (23 versions; 22 in vernacular and 1 in English).

The debate over India’s official language has a harsh history, it triggered violent protests in the 1960s. The language war was finally settled in favour of accommodation of different languages as against the dominance of Hindi.

Hence, India has chosen to have two official languages, English and Hindi. State governments complement these by producing official material in the language of their States.

Read more: “Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India” (SPPEL) to promote all Indian Languages including endangered languages
What are the Constitutional Provisions Related to Hindi?

Article 343: According to this Article, the official language of the Union of India is to be Hindi in Devnagari script, and numerals should follow the international form of Indian numerals. The Article also states that English will continue to be used as an official language for 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution.

Note: The Article also made provisions for the continuation of English even after 25th January 1965 by empowering the Parliament to make laws to that effect. Accordingly, the Official Languages Act, 1963 was passed which provided for the continued use of English even after the said date in 1965.

Article 346: This article is about the official language for communication between the States and between a State and the Union.  The Article states that the “authorised” language will be used for official communication. However, if two or more states agree that their communications shall be in Hindi, then Hindi may be used.

Article 347: This Article gives power to the President to recognise a language as an official language of a given State. But this can be done if the President is satisfied that a substantial proportion of that State desires that the language be recognised. Such recognition can be for a part of the State or the whole state.

Article 351: This Article gives power to the Union Government to issue a directive for the development of the Hindi language.

Read more: NEP 2020 and language policy
What steps have been taken recently to promote Hindi as a Common Language?

The recent steps taken by the Government to promote Hindi include, (a) Hindi names on Central Government programmes and schemes: For instance, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and others; (b) A Parliamentary Committee also proposed to make the use of Hindi mandatory for MPs and Union Ministers; (c) The government made Hindi a compulsory subject for the Central Board of Secondary Education schools across the country; (d) The Central Government issuing media advertisements in Hindi; (e) The government launched ‘promotional campaigns exclusively in the Hindi script’; and (f) The government also renamed the well-known occasions or festivities in Hindi or Sanskrit, such as Teacher’s Day as Guru Purnima.

Read more: “3 Language Policy” is not applicable to the Central govt. offices
What are the challenges in promoting Hindi as a Common Language?

Vulnerability of local languages: Each language has vocabulary, gender rules and locutions that do not come instinctively to everyone. When the government uses Hindi as a common language, it will not be easy to understand the government’s policies, decisions and position to non-Hindi speakers.

Challenges to the bureaucracy: The government’s decision to make Hindi an official language might hamper the efficiency of the Indian Bureaucracy. For instance, there might be a situation where a bureaucrat from Kerala state in Delhi has to read and write file notations in Hindi and has to submit them to a superior officer belonging to Odisha state.

Failure of the Three language formula: In the five decades since the promulgation of the ‘three-language formula’, implementation has largely failed across the country. This is for two reasons; (a) Anti-Hindi agitations in various states, such as Tamil Nadu; (b) There is no demand for learning a Southern or North-Eastern Language in states that demand Hindi as an official language.

Read more: Endangered Languages in India – Explained, pointwise

Against Constitutional ideas: The Constitution envisages India as a Union of States working within a federal framework. Further, in India, most of the States have been formed on a linguistic basis. So, promoting Hindi will go against these ideas and aspirations and violate constitutional provisions, such as,

Eighth Schedule to the Constitution: The Eight Schedule consists of the 22 languages. Of these languages,14 were initially included in the Constitution.

Article 350A: This article facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage.

Article 350B: This Article provides for the establishment of a Special Officer for linguistic minorities and safeguards their identity.

Creates discrimination in the long run: The government’s move to make Hindi as a common language might provide Hindi speakers with the economic, academic and administrative edge and let them control non-Hindi speaking regions of the country in the long run.

Read more: Bhashas & Bharat: The current language policy is wise, born out of pragmatism. We can’t afford linguistic extremism
What should be done instead of promoting Hindi as a Common Language?

As recommended by a Member of Parliament:

Use dual solutions: Language is a vehicle, not a destination. So, the government can use Hindi where ever it is understood. On the other hand, the government should use English everywhere, since it places all Indians from all parts of our country at an equal disadvantage.

India is not a ‘one language, one religion, one nation’: The debate over India’s official language has settled after many problems. India is a diverse country and its languages are all equally authentic. The government should use the Language as an instrument of opportunity.

So far, the language policy is proven to be successful in a country that speaks in many tongues. Hence, there is no good reason to disturb the settlement that was arrived at after a tortuous process.

Protect India’s famous Linguistic sub-nationalism: Many Indian states are home to sub-nationalism imagined around a regional language. This is even recognised in the All India Congress Committee at its Nagpur session in 1920 itself.

Most of the Indian languages are older than Hindi and over the years, many states have made significant strides toward making their local language the medium of official communication and governance.

Proper implementation of the Three Language formula: Instead of making Hindi a common language, The government should address the hindrances of the three-language formula advocated in the National Education Policy (NEP 2020).

Encourage Translations: There should be a lot more investment in translations of the works of one language into other languages. Translations will enrich Indian languages.

Read more: One year of National Education Policy – Explained, pointwise

Linguistic extremism can be avoided by ensuring that it does not become a political project or the issue should not be politicized. India being a federal polity, both centre and states should follow cooperative models and avoid language jingoism respect for Unity in the diversity of India.

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