The debate on the national language

What is the News?

Recently, remarks by a Hindi actor that Hindi is the national language of India sparked a controversy over the status of the language under the Constitution.

What is the status of Hindi in India?

Under Article 343 of the Constitution, the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagari script. The international form of Indian numerals will be used for official purposes.

However, the Constituent Assembly was bitterly divided on the question with members from States that did not speak Hindi opposing the declaration of Hindi as a national language. 

Ultimately, it was decided that the Constitution will only speak of an ‘official language’. And that English would continue to be used for a period of 15 years. After 15 years, Parliament may by law decide on the use of English and the use of the Devanagari form of numbers for specified purposes.

What happened after 15 years?

The Official Languages Act, 1963 was passed in anticipation of the expiry of the 15-year period during which the Constitution originally allowed the use of English for official purposes. 

The Act provided for the continuing use of English, notwithstanding the expiry of the 15-year period.

What is the Eighth Schedule?

The Eighth Schedule contains a list of languages in the country. Initially, there were 14 languages in the schedule, but now there are 22 languages. There is no description of the sort of languages that are included or will be included in the Eighth Schedule. 

However, there are only two references to these languages in the text of the Constitution.

Article 344(1): It provides for the formation of a Commission by the President which should have a Chairman and members representing these scheduled languages. The purpose of the Commission is to make recommendations for the progressive use of Hindi for official purposes of the Union and for restricting the use of English.

Article 351: It says it is the Union government’s duty to promote the spread of Hindi so that it becomes “a medium of expression for all elements of the composite culture of India” and also to assimilate elements of forms and expressions from Hindustani and languages listed in the Eighth Schedule.

What is the three-language formula?

Since the 1960s, the Centre’s education policy documents speak of teaching three languages — Hindi, English and one regional language in the Hindi-speaking States and Hindi, English and the official regional language in other States. 

However, in practice, only some states teach both their predominant language and Hindi, besides English. In States where Hindi is the official language, a third language is rarely taught as a compulsory subject. 

Tamil Nadu has been steadfastly opposing the three-language formula and sticks to teaching Tamil and English. It argues that those who need to know Hindi can learn on their own.

Source: The post is based on the article “The debate on the national language” published in The Hindu on 2nd May 2022. 

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