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India’s Linguistic States and its language policy

Introduction

We all know India has been known all around the world for its regional diversity. India has different kinds of people each has a specific language and unique tradition. They follow different religions and cultures. These differences enrich our lives. India is a large country. Different parts of the country have different customs, languages, dress, and food habits. This is mostly because of India’s long-dated history, after being isolated from 3000 BC to the 8th century, India was ruled by Muslims which include Persian, Turks, and Arabs especially British Empire which ruled for 200 years over India. All these things have introduced Westernization in India. And these developments are responsible for India’s diversity in all areas.

India’s diversity in terms of languages

India is a linguistically diverse country, with four language families including Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda, and Tibeto-Burman[1]. Although Sanskrit is the root language, no single language is the mother tongue of the majority of the population, and India has no national language. Hindi is the official language, with 44% of the population speaking it. English is a second or third language for 11% of the population[2]. The 2011 census recorded over 1500 languages spoken in India, grouped into 121 major languages, with 22 scheduled languages under the Indian Constitution[3]. These include Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Urdu, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, and Telugu.

The language policy of India

India has a unique language policy. In India, no language is recognized as a national language. The official language is a language that is used for official purposes. According to Article 343(1) Hindi in Devanagari script is the official language of India[4], since independence Indian leaders have adopted a very cautious attitude in spreading the use of Hindi. According to the newly drafted constitution in 1950 English and Hindi were used for official purposes for 15 years thus in 1965 the use of English stopped and it was decided that only Hindi will serve as an official language. But this was not liked by some of the states, especially from southern states, where Dravidian dialects were used. They thought that the government was trying to impose Hindi on the whole nation even the places where people speak different dialects. In the South, people choose to use English over Hindi. They thought that if Hindi will become the official language then it will give an advantage to the Hindi speakers over the non-Hindi speaker, so they started movements. In Tamil Nadu, this movement took a violent form[5]. After some time, the government responded by agreeing to continue the use of English along with Hindi. In 1960, the Assam government passed a law-making Assamese the only official language of the state, despite the fact that Assamese speakers were a minority. This led to riots and protests by Bengali-speaking people who felt discriminated against. Many Bengali-speaking people were declared foreigners and were forced to leave the state[6]. So, in 1963 an official language act was passed which allowed English and Hindi both to be used for official purposes and states can also choose their own language for official work[7]. Members of parliament are allowed to speak in any of the 22 recognized languages in the constitution by Article 120[8].

Education policy and language policy

India’s education policy allows the student to learn in any language. In India, we have three language formulae, which were suggested by the central advisory board in 1956. The Conference of the Chief Minister in 1965 approved it. The three language formulae were incorporated into the National policy in 1968[9]. According to three language formulae,

  • In Hindi-speaking states, the school will teach Hindi, English, and any other modern Indian language as compulsory.
  •  In non-Hindi speaking states, schools will teach Hindi, English, and their state language or regional dialect

These three language formulae helped the nation to bring peace over the matter of language policy. The three language formulae promote multilingualism and give respect to the regional language. With the introduction of this policy, the state, as well as the union, was satisfied because then each state would be able to teach their state languages like Tamil, Assamese, etc. and Union will also be able to spread Hindi for the purpose of one official uniform language that all Indians know and with the knowledge of English Indians would be able to develop a link between western countries which helps in the modernization of the country. In the central government exam, candidates can opt to take the examination in any of the 22 recognized languages.

Though in 1965 three language formulae were helpful in maintaining peace over linguistic issues but three languages have many drawbacks[10].

  1. States like Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and Tripura were not ready to teach Hindi, and Hindi-speaking states were also not ready to give any South Indian language as an option in their schools.
  2. Many state governments often do not have adequate resources to implement three language formulae.
  3. It has increased the burden on the students to learn many languages and has increased the school timings.
  4. In many Hindi-speaking states Sanskrit becomes the third language which also increases the burden.
  5. In many surveys, it has been recorded that the school that teaches three languages spent their 50% time teaching languages which gives very less time for main subjects.

But in some states like West Bengal where Bengali is the state language, they chose to teach only Bengali and English in the school because the state government thinks Bengali is quite similar to Hindi. States like Karnataka are still following the three language formulae. In northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar only English and Hindi are tough in school because their regional language is quite similar to Hindi. In Tamil Nadu, the three-language policy has been rejected for a long time. The new education policy of 2020 also supported the three language formulae. But Tamil Nadu already rejected the three-language formula and says it will stick to the existing policy of two languages[11]. They think that the government is trying to impose Hindi all over India.

India’s Linguistic states

India is one of the unique countries in which the states are divided on the basis of linguistic lines. The linguistic reorganization of Indian states has a long history. In 1947 India was free but fractured into 571 princely states.  Our diverse land needed state boundaries to be defined based on language and other cultural markers. Gandhi and B.R Ambedkar backed the creation of linguistic states but Nehru and Sardar Patel felt that the creation of linguistic states would weaken the country. But after some time Nehru agreed to a Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh, which was carved out of the Madras presidency in 1953[12]. The state reorganization act was passed in 1956[13]. Indian Map was redrawn in 1956 creating 14 states and 6 union territories. In 1960, two states Maharashtra and Gujarat emerged out of the Keshav Thackeray-led Samkyukta Maharashtra movement[14]. The demand for separate Sikh and Hindu majority states led to the birth of Punjab and Haryana in 1966[15]. Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh were carved out on ethnic-linguistic lines in the northeast between 1963 and 1987. In 2000, three new states Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh were created.[16]

The linguistic reorganization of states happened especially for three reasons-

  • This was done to ensure that people who speak the same language, and share the same culture, ethnicity or geography could live in the same state.
  • It was done to reduce racial and cultural tension.

Though in the initial phase of the linguistic state, it was felt that it would lead to the disintegration of the country and would draw attention to other social, and economic changes that the country was facing, it made the country more United and the administration also become easier. The linguistic state underlined the acceptance of the principle of diversity.

Conclusion

India’s linguistic diversity is one of its greatest strengths and challenges. The country’s language policy has evolved over time to balance the need for a common language for communication and governance with the rights of linguistic communities. The education policy also plays a crucial role in shaping language policy, as it determines the medium of instruction in schools and universities. India’s linguistic states demonstrate the importance of respecting linguistic diversity and promoting multilingualism. The country’s linguistic diversity is a source of cultural richness and should be celebrated and preserved for generations to come.

Author(s) Name: Nidhi Bhadauriya (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies)

References:

[1] Sonal Kulkarni Joshi, Linguistic history and language diversity in India: Views and counterviews, J Biosci (2019)

[2] Census of India. “C-16: Distribution of Languages.” Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, 2011.

[3] Constitution of India, Article 344-345

[4] Constitution of India, Article 343(1)

[5] R.K. Kothari, “Language Policy in India,” Indian Journal of Political Science 21, no. 3/4 (1960): 246-260.

[6] Sanjib Baruah, India Against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).

[7] Official Language Act, 1963.

[8] Constitution of India, Article 120.

[9] India: Education Policy and Three Language Formula, Nbr. 15 (CIS), 1968.

[10] Gita Bhatt, “Three Language Formula in India: Its Implementation and Drawbacks,” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Analysis 1, no. 8 (2019): 101-104.

[11] NEP 2020: T.N. Chief Minister Rejects three-language Formula in National Education Policy, The Hindu, August 03, 2020

[12] State Reorganization scheme 1956

[13] State reorganization Act 1956

[14] Bombay reorganization Act May 1, 1960

[15] The Punjab reorganization Act 1966

[16] State reorganization act, No. 29 of 2000 (India).