The language issue was the most divisive issue in India's first two decades of independence, leading many to believe that the country's political and cultural unity was in jeopardy. People adore their native tongue; it is an important part of their culture. As a result, linguistic identity has played a significant role in all societies. This is particularly true in a multilingual society such as India's. Strong political currents around issues related to language, such as educational and economic development, job and other economic opportunities, and access to political power, would inevitably emerge.
• English and Sanskrit are two of the sixteen major languages recognized by the Indian Constitution. In addition, the tribals and others speak a variety of languages, some of which have their own scripts. The model adopted by independent India is not one of assimilation into or suppression of one of the many languages.
• In any case, in a democratic society, this is impossible. Accepting and living with this "multiplicity" in such a way that conflict situations do not emerge or persist for long is a viable option.
• Linguistic diversity has posed a problem for national consolidation in two ways. These are broken down into two sections here:
A. The debate over the union's official language, and
B. The states' linguistic reorganisation.
TENSION between Hindi and non-Hindi speaking areas:
• The language debate became particularly heated when it took the form of anti-Hindi sentiment, which exacerbated tensions between Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi-speaking areas of the country.
• The conflict was not over the issue of a national language, that is, a single language that all Indians would eventually adopt, because the secular majority of the national leadership had already rejected the idea that a single national language was necessary for an Indian national identity.
• India was and had to remain a multilingual country. Through the various Indian regional languages, the Indian national movement continued its ideological and political work. Its demand at the time was for the mother tongue to replace English as the medium of higher education, administration, and courts in all linguistic areas.
Languages of India Vs national languages
• The question of a national language was settled when the framers of the Constitution essentially accepted all of the major languages as "languages of India" or "national languages" of India. However, the problem could not be solved there, because the country's official work could not be done in so many languages.
• The central government needed to be able to carry out its work and communicate with state governments in a single language. The question arose as to what this pan-India communication language would be. Or, alternatively, what would India's official and link languages be? There were only two candidates available for the job: English and Hindi.
• The Constituent Assembly argued vehemently about which one should be chosen. However, the leadership of the national movement had already made the decision prior to independence, believing that English would not continue to be the all-India medium of communication in a free India.
• Gandhi was convinced that a people's genius could not unfold nor their culture flower in a foreign language, despite appreciating the value of English as a world language through which Indians could access world science and culture as well as modern western ideas.
• During the 1920s, Gandhi emphasized that English is "a language of international commerce, a language of diplomacy, a language of literary treasure, and a language that gives us an introduction to Western thought and culture."
Debate between Hindi and English:
• The other candidate for the status of official or link language, Hindi or Hindustani, had already played this role during the nationalist struggle, particularly during the mass mobilisation phase. Because Hindi was the most widely spoken and understood language in the country, it was accepted by leaders from non-Hindi speaking regions. Some of Hindi's most ardent supporters included Lokamanya Tilak, Gandhiji, C. Rajagopalachari, Subhas Bose, and Sardar Patel.
• The Congress had substituted Hindi and the provincial languages for English in its sessions and political work. ‘The proceedings of the Congress shall be conducted as far as possible in Hindustani,' Congress amended its constitution in 1925. If the speaker is unable to communicate in Hindustani, English or any other provincial language may be used.
• The Provincial Congress Committee's proceedings are normally conducted in the province's official language. Hindustani is another option.
• The Nehru Report, which reflected a national consensus, stated in 1928 that Hindustani, which could be written in Devanagari or Urdu script, would be the common language of India, but that English would be used for a while. It's interesting to note that, with the exception of replacing Hindustani with Hindi, the Constitution of free India eventually adopted this position.
The real debate in the Constituent Assembly center on two issues:
a. Would Hindi or Hindustani take the place of English, and if so, how?
b. And how long would it take for such a replacement to take place?
• The initial debates were marked by sharp disagreements, as the issue of the official language was highly politicized from the start. The debate over whether to use Hindi or Hindustani was quickly settled, albeit bitterly. Both Gandhi and Nehru favored Hindustani, which was written in the Devnagari or Urdu script. Despite the fact that many Hindi supporters disagreed, they tended to accept Gandhi and Nehru's viewpoint.
• When the Partition was announced, however, these Hindi champions were emboldened, especially since the Pakistani protagonists had claimed Urdu as the language of Muslims and Pakistan. Urdu has now been labelled as a "symbol of secession" by Hindi devotees. They demanded that Hindi be made the national language in Devanagari script.
• Their demand caused a schism within the Congress party. Despite the fact that Nehru and Azad fought for Hindustani, the Congress Legislative Party ultimately chose Hindi over Hindustani by a vote of 78 to 77. The Hindi bloc was also forced to make a concession; it agreed that Hindi would be the official language rather than the national one.
• The question of when to switch from English to Hindi caused a schism between Hindi and non-Hindi areas. Those from Hindi-speaking areas advocated for an immediate switch to Hindi, while those from non-Hindi-speaking areas argued for keeping English for a long, if not indefinite, period. In fact, they wanted things to stay the same until a future parliament decided to make Hindi the official language.
• Nehru supported making Hindi the official language, but he also supported keeping English as a second official language, making the transition to Hindi gradual, and actively encouraging English knowledge because of its utility in today's world.
• The case for Hindi was based on the fact that it was the language of the majority of Indians, if not the majority; it was also understood in most of northern India's urban areas, from Bengal to Punjab, as well as Maharashtra and Gujarat.
• Hindi's critics argued that it was less developed as a literary language, as well as a language of science and politics, than other languages. Their main concern was that the adoption of Hindi as the official language would put non-Hindi areas, particularly in South India, at a disadvantage in the educational and economic spheres, particularly in the competition for government and public sector appointments. Opponents argued that imposing Hindi on non-Hindi areas would lead to Hindi areas gaining economic, political, social, and cultural dominance.
• As leaders of a multilingual country, the Constitution-makers understood that they could not ignore, or even give the impression of ignoring, the interests of any one linguistic area. The language provisions of the Constitution became "complicated, ambiguous, and confusing in some respects" as a result of the compromise.
Debate in constitutional assembly:
• The Indian Constitution established Hindi as the country's official language, written in Devnagari script with international numerals. English was to be used for all official purposes until 1965, when Hindi would take its place.
• Hindi was supposed to be introduced in stages. It would become the sole official language after 1965. Even after 1965, the parliament would have the power to mandate the use of English for specific purposes.
• The Constitution assigned the government the responsibility of promoting the spread and development of Hindi and provided for the establishment of a Commission and a Joint Parliamentary Committee to monitor progress in this area.
• The matter of official language was to be decided by state legislatures, though the Union's official language would serve as the language of communication between the states and the Centre, as well as between one state and another.
• Even though the Congress party was in power across the country, implementing the Constitution's language provisions proved to be a difficult task. The issue remained a source of heated debate, which grew more acrimonious with the passage of time, despite the fact that for many years no one questioned the provision that Hindi would eventually become the sole official language.
• The framers of the Constitution hoped that by 1965, the Hindi protagonists would have overcome the language's flaws, gained the trust of non-Hindi areas, and held their hand for a longer period of time until they had done so. It was also hoped that with the rapid growth of education, Hindi would spread as well, and that opposition to Hindi would gradually wane, if not vanish entirely.
• Unfortunately, education spread too slowly to have a significant impact in this area. Furthermore, Hindi's chances of becoming an official language were sabotaged by the language's proponents.
• Rather than taking a gradual, slow, and moderate approach to gain acceptance of Hindi in non-Hindi areas through persuasion, the more fanatical among them preferred government action to impose Hindi. There was a scarcity of social science and scientific writing in Hindi. There were few academic journals in Hindi outside of the literary field in the 1950s, for example.
The Hindi leaders were more interested in making Hindi the sole official language than in developing it as a means of communication in higher education, journalism, and other areas.
Sanskrtization of language:
• Instead of developing a simple standard language that would gain widespread acceptance or at the very least popularize colloquial Hindi as spoken and written in Hindi areas as well as many other parts of India, the Hindi protagonists attempted to Sanskritize the language, replacing commonly understood words with newly manufactured, unwieldy, and little understood ones in the nascent Hindi.
• Non-Hindi speakers (and even Hindi speakers) found it increasingly difficult to understand or learn the new version. All India Radio, which could have helped popularize Hindi, instead chose to Sanskritize its Hindi news broadcasts to the point where many listeners turned off their radios when the Hindi news was broadcast.
• In 1958, Nehru, a Hindi speaker and writer, expressed his dissatisfaction with the language in which his own Hindi speeches were broadcast. The purifiers of Hindi, on the other hand, were adamant in their opposition to any attempts to simplify Hindi in news broadcasts. As a result, many uncommitted individuals have joined the ranks of Hindi opponents.
• They believed that, while English study should be encouraged, English could not remain India's official language indefinitely. They also realized that, in the interests of national unity as well as economic and political development, a complete transition to Hindi should not be rushed and should be postponed until a more politically favorable time when non-Hindi areas' willing consent could be obtained.
Respond from Non-Hindi speaker:
• Non-Hindi leaders became less receptive to persuasion as time went on, and their opposition to Hindi grew. As a result of this alienation, non-Hindi language groups were also closed to rational arguments in Hindi's favor. Instead, they chose to continue using English indefinitely.
• During 1956-60, sharp differences on the issue of official language arose, revealing the presence of disruptive tendencies once more. In 1956, the Official Language Commission, which was established in 1955 in accordance with a constitutional provision, recommended that Hindi gradually replace English in various functions of the central government, with effective change occurring in 1965.
• Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and P. Subbaroyan, two members from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, dissented, accusing the members of the Commission of pro-Hindi bias and asking for the continuation of English. Professor Chatterjee, ironically, was in charge of Bengal's Hindi Pracharini Sabha prior to independence.
• A special Joint Committee of the Parliament looked over the Commission's report. To carry out the Joint Committee's recommendations, the President issued an order in April 1960 declaring that Hindi would be the principal official language after 1965, but English would continue to be the associate official language with no restrictions on its use.
• After some time, Hindi will also be offered as an alternative medium for Union Public Commission examinations, but it will be introduced as a qualifying subject for the time being. The central government took a series of steps to promote Hindi in accordance with the President's directive.
• The Central Hindi Directorate was established, as was the publication of standard works in Hindi or in Hindi translation in various fields, mandatory Hindi training for central government employees, and the translation of major legal texts into Hindi and promotion of their use by the courts.
• All of these measures instilled fear and suspicion in non-Hindi areas and groups. The Hindi leaders were also unsatisfied. For example, in his dissenting note to the Official Language Commission Report, Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, an eminent linguist and former staunch advocate and promoter of Hindi, stated that the Commission's outlook was one of the "Hindi speakers who are to profit immediately and for a long time to come, if not forever."
• In 1957, Dr. Lohia's Samyukta Socialist Party and the Jan Sangh launched a militant movement for the immediate replacement of English with Hindi, which lasted nearly two years. Defacing English signboards in shops and other places was one of the agitation methods used by Lohia's followers on a large scale.
• The Congress leadership took the non-Hindi areas' grievances seriously and handled the issue with great care and caution, fully aware of the danger that the official language issue could pose to Indian polity. The goal was to find a middle ground.
Nehru repeatedly stated that an official language could not and would not be imposed on any part of the country, and that the rate of transition to Hindi would have to be determined in light of non-Hindi people's wishes.
• Leaders of the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) backed him in this (CPI). PSP slammed Hindi extremism, saying it "could severely strain the unity of a multilingual country like India."
• Nehru's approach was summed up in a major statement made in parliament on August 7, 1959.
• On September 4, 1959, he reiterated this assurance in parliament. In 1963, an Official Languages Act was passed in response to Nehru's assurances, though it took longer than expected due to internal party pressures and the India-China war.
• However, because the assurances were not clearly articulated in the Act, this purpose was not fully realized.
• Many of them wanted a firm guarantee not because they disliked Nehru, but because they were concerned about what would happen after he died, especially given the mounting pressure from the Hindi leaders. The assassination of Nehru in June 1964 heightened their suspicions, which were fueled further by hasty actions and circulars issued by various ministries to prepare the ground for the switch to Hindi the following year.
• Instructions were given, for example, that the central government's correspondence with the states be in Hindi, with an English translation appended in the case of non-Hindi states.
Situation during Lal Bahadur Shastri:
• Nehru's successor as Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, stated that he was considering making Hindi an alternative medium for public service exams. While non-Hindi speakers could still compete in English-based services across India, Hindi speakers would have the advantage of being able to use their mother tongue.
• In response to the protests, many non-Hindi leaders changed their stance on the issue of official language. While they had previously requested a delay in the replacement of English, they have now demanded that there be no deadline set for the transition. Some of the leaders took things a step further. For example, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham and C. Rajagopalachari have called for the Constitution to be amended and English to be declared India's official language.
• As the date of 26 January 1965 approached, a fear psychosis gripped non-Hindi areas, particularly Tamil Nadu, spawning a powerful anti-Hindi movement. The DMK held a Madras State Anti-Hindi Conference in January, calling for the 26th of January to be observed as a day of mourning.
• Students were the most active in organizing a widespread agitation and mobilizing public opinion, fearful of being outstripped by Hindi-speakers in the all-India services. The slogan "Hindi never, English always" was popularized by them. They also demanded that the Constitution be amended.
• The students' agitation quickly grew into a state-wide uprising. Despite having control of both the state and federal governments, the Congress leadership failed to recognize the depth of popular sentiment and the movement's widespread nature, and instead of negotiating with the students, attempted to suppress it.
• In the early weeks of February, widespread rioting and violence broke out, resulting in the widespread destruction of railways and other union property. The anti-Hindi sentiment was so strong that several Tamil youth, including four students, set themselves on fire in protest of the official language policy. C. Subramaniam and Alagesan, two Tamil ministers, resigned from the Union Cabinet.
• The unrest lasted about two months, with over sixty people killed as a result of police shootings. Indira Gandhi, then the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, was the only prominent central leader to express concern for the agitators. She flew to Madras during the agitation, "rushed to the storm-center of trouble," expressed sympathy for the agitators, and thus became, after Nehru, the first northern leader to win the trust of the aggrieved Tamils and the people of the South in general.
• The Jan Sangh and the SSP attempted to organise counter-agitation in Hindi-speaking areas against English, but they received little public support. The agitation compelled the Madras and Union governments, as well as the Congress party, to reconsider their positions. They have now decided to give in to the strong public sentiment in the South, change their policy, and accept the agitators' major demands.
• The Congress Working Committee announced a series of steps that would serve as the foundation for a central enactment containing concessions and result in the end of the Hindi agitation. Because of the Indo-Pak war of 1965, which silenced all dissension in the country, this enactment was delayed.
Situation during Indira Gandhi:
• Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister after Lal Bahadur Shastri died in January 1966. Because she had already gained the trust of the people of the South, they believed she would make a genuine effort to resolve the long-running conflict.
• Other positive factors included the Jan Sangh's waning anti-English fervor and the SSP's acceptance of the basic features of the 1965 agreement.
• Despite economic difficulties and the Congress's loss of seats in parliament in the 1967 elections, Indira Gandhi introduced a bill to amend the 1963 Official Language Act on November 27. On December 16, 1967, the Lok Sabha passed the bill by a vote of 205 to 41.
• The Act provided a clear legal foundation for Nehru's September 1959 assurances. It stipulated that the use of English as an associate language alongside Hindi for official work at the Centre and communication between the Centre and non-Hindi states would continue for as long as the non-Hindi states desired, effectively giving them complete veto power over the issue.
• Bilingualism was declared to be a policy that would last indefinitely. The parliament also passed a policy resolution mandating that public service examinations be conducted in Hindi and English, as well as all regional languages, with the condition that candidates have additional Hindi or English knowledge.
• The states were to follow a three-language formula in which the mother tongue, Hindi, and English or another national language were to be taught in schools in non-Hindi areas, while a non-Hindi language, preferably a southern language, was to be taught as a compulsory subject in Hindi areas.
• In July 1967, the Indian government took another significant step forward on the language issue. The Education Commission's Report of 1966 stated that Indian languages would eventually become the medium of instruction in all subjects at the university level, though the timeframe for this transition would be determined by each university according to its convenience.
• India had arrived at a widely-accepted solution to the extremely difficult problem of the country's official and link languages after many twists and turns, a great deal of debate, and several small and large agitations, as well as many compromises.
• Since 1967, this issue has gradually faded from the political landscape, demonstrating the Indian political system's ability to deal with a contentious issue democratically and in a way that aided national consolidation. This was an issue that divided the people emotionally and threatened the country's unity, but for which a widely acceptable solution was found through negotiations and compromise.
• And it wasn't just the Congress's national leadership, which performed admirably despite a few hiccups along the way; the opposition parties also performed admirably when the stakes were high. Finally, the DMK, whose rise to power was aided by the language issue, contributed to the de-escalation of political tensions in Tamil Nadu. Of course, no political problem can be solved indefinitely. In a country as large as India, problem solving must be a continuous process.
• However, Hindi has made significant progress in non-Hindi areas such as education, trade, tourism, films, radio, and television. Despite English's dominance, Hindi is becoming more widely used as an official language.
English as second language:
• Simultaneously, English as a second language has grown rapidly, even in Hindi-speaking areas. The number of private English-medium schools that now dot the countryside from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, despite their lack of staff and other facilities, is a testament to this.
• Although the quality of spoken and written English has deteriorated, the number of people who know English has increased dramatically. Both English and Hindi are likely to grow in importance as link languages, just as regional languages increasingly dominate official, educational, and media spaces.
• The rapid growth of newspapers in Hindi, English, and regional languages is evidence of their rapid growth. In fact, English is not only likely to survive in India for the foreseeable future, but it is also likely to grow as a language of communication among India's intelligentsia, as a library language, and as a second language in universities.
• On the other hand, Hindi has yet to succeed in any of the three roles. Of course, the goal of making Hindi the country's link language remains. However, the way Hindi's ardent supporters promoted the language's cause pushed back the possibility of this happening for a long time.