Can Devanagari script scale Indian linguistic wall?

Of late, there have been concerted efforts from a section of the society to promote Hindi throughout India in a bid to unite the country and free it from the clutches of a foreign language, namely English.

“Hindi has the potential to unite the country,” Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) organ ‘Panchjanya’ recently opined in an editorial on September 10 coinciding with the Hindi Diwas.

 “Hindi’s ability to unite India is a threat to all those forces which want the country to remain enslaved to English. Hindi is not against India’s regional languages. This is a myth being perpetuated,” the editorial said.

Language has always been a sensitive issue in India. Tamil Nadu witnessed violent agitations in 1965 over the official status of Hindi in the state and the Indian Republic. As the day of switching over to Hindi as sole official language i.e. 26 January 1965 approached, the anti-Hindi movement gained momentum in Tamil Nadu, with students leading from the front.

Riots continued for over two months and were marked by acts of violence, arson, self-immolation, looting, police firing and lathi charges, to the extent that the then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had to intervene and give assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long the non-Hindi speaking states wished. Thanks to his intervention, the riots subsided, as did the student agitation.

It is important that in order to make India a unified nation, we broke the linguistic barrier, but this could not be done all at once. It is a pity that even after 68 years of Independence, a foreign language like English remains the lingua franca for north and south Indians. Recently, I met a Tamilian young man in New Delhi who had come to the national capital for a job interview while having supper at a restaurant. As I did not know Tamil and he was ignorant of Hindi, we had to communicate in English, an embarrassing situation for both of us. The big question is – how long are we going to endure this linguistic limitation?

It is a pity that even after 68 years of Independence, a foreign language like English remains the lingua franca for north and south Indians.

If it is not possible and desirable to adopt one language for the whole of India at the moment, we should at least adopt one script i.e. Devanagari that is used for over 120 languages in India. In this manner, a Tamilian and Punjabi would be able to learn each other’s languages in just one script with ease, breaking the linguistic wall that has worked as an impediment towards national integration.

“We have to adopt one language, one script, one literature, one ideal and one nation,” Indian freedom fighter Shaheed Bhagat Singh wrote in an article for Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in 1923, elucidating why Punjabi should be taught in Devanagari script.

It is to be noted that, out of India’s 22 official major languages, 13 use Devanagari or Nagari script including Hindi, Marathi, Kashmiri, Nepali, Bodo, Sindhi and Maithili among other languages and dialects, making it one of the most used and adopted writing systems in the world.


‘Devanagari’ is a compound word with two roots: Deva means ‘deity’, and nagari means ‘city’. Together it implies a script that is religious as well as urbane or sophisticated. Having roots in the ancient Brahmi script family, it is an abugida (alphasyllabary) alphabet of India and Nepal, written from left to right and has a strong preference for symmetrical rounded shapes within squared outlines, and is recognizable by a horizontal line that runs along the top of full letters. It is also used for classical Sanskrit scripts.

Interestingly, the Devanagari script is not that different from other Indic scripts such as Bangla, Oriya or Gurmukhi, for a closer examination reveals they are very similar except for angles and structural emphasis. Many more languages throughout India use local variants of the Devanagari script.

Here’s a look at 13 major languages out of 22 listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India that use the Devanagari script.

  1. Bodo spoken in Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya – Devanagari script
  2. Dogri spoken in Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and northern Punjab – Devanagari, Perso-Arabic script
  3. Gujarati spoken in Gujarat – Gujarati script, a variant of Devanagari and Arabic
  4. Hindi mostly spoken in north and west India – Devanagari script
  5. Kashmiri spoken primarily in the Kashmir valley of Jammu and Kashmir – Perso-Arabic script, Devanagari script, Sharda script (not in use)
  6. Konkani spoken in Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka – Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Perso-Arabic
  7. Maithili spoken in Bihar – Devanagari script
  8. Marathi spoken in Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu – Devanagari script, Modi script (not in use)
  9. Nepali spoken in Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam – Devanagari script
  10. Sanskrit spoken in Uttarakhand and other north Indian states – Devanagari, Brahmic script
  11. Santali spoken by Santhaltribals of the Chota Nagpur Plateau (comprising the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha) – Ol Chiki alphabet, Oriya, Devanagari, Bengali and Roman scripts
  12. Sindhi spoken in Sindh (now inPakistan, Rajasthan, Kutch, Gujarat) – Arabic, Devanagari, Khudabadi alphabet, Laṇḍā, Sindhi Roman, Gurmukhi
  13. Urdu spoken in Jammu and Kashmir,Telangana, Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh – Perso-Arabic script, Devanagari script, Kaithi, Roman

Here’s a look at nine official Indian languages that don’t use Devanagari script.

  1. Assamese spoken in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh– Assamese script
  2. Bengali spoken in West Bengal,Tripura, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Jharkhand– Bengali abugida script
  3. Kannada spoken in Karnataka – Kannada script
  4. Malyalam spoken in Kerala, Lakshadweep – Malyalam script
  5. Manipur or Meitei spoken in Manipur– Bengali script, Meitei (not is use)
  6. Oriya spoken in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh – Orya alphabet and Oriya Braille
  7. Punjabi spoken in Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand – Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts
  8. Tamil spoken in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicoba Islands, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh- Tamil alphabet (Brahmic), Arwi Script (Abjad), Tamil Braille (Bharati), Vatteluttu (historical)
  9. Telgu spoken in Andhra Pradesh,Telangana, yanam (Puducherry), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka – Telgu script


  1. India is a country that was formed based on the principle of ‘unity in diversity’. But this article by you betrays a clear intolerance towards non-Sanskrit and non-Devanagiri based languages of India. You want only Hindi and devanagiri, then why should other states be a part of India?

  2. Please do not listen to this guy’s propaganda. Use only your State Language in your Indian State. We do not need a link language! If we need one, it will grow automatically over time. If not, none will emerge. Let NEED create a link language, not PROPAGANDA. Otherwise what’s happening in Maharashtra will happen to all non-Hindi languages, i.e. nobody learns your State language because Hindi works and when enough of native Hindi speakers migrate, they use politics to question the need to learn the State language in the first place! Remember that Marathi uses the same script as Hindi, i.e. Devanagari, and also shares a lot of common vocabulary with Hindi. If Hindi speakers are so adamant about not learning very-similar-Marathi, why would they care for any South Indian languages? South Indians, NE Indians, please look at Maharashtra. If you do not hear Marathi in Mumbai, then that tells you that you better not learn any language, except the State language. There is nothing shameful if English becomes the link language. If anything, it is fair to all Indians, as it is completely foreign, and in fact useful all over the world. All this talk of common language is only selfish propaganda to push their native Hindi over others, else we would have heard Hindi speakers gladly learn and switch to Marathi, instead of actually fighting against it in it’s own native State. Learn from Maharashtra’s experience.

  3. Dear Chandra,

    I hope you’re doing well.

    Thanks a lot for reading my article and sharing your valuable opinion on it. The idea behind
    this article was not to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states but to bridge the great Indian linguistic barrier. Why can’t we use our own language Hindi instead of English, a foreign language, as lingua franca? Besides, the idea was also not to impose the Hindi language on others, but to have one script i.e. Devanagari for all major Indian languages. This will help us learn each other’s languages.

    And this is not something new or unique. As I mentioned 13 out of total 22 major Indian languages already use Devanagari script. This I believe can help unify our nation and strengthen the bond between the people of India.

    Thanking you again for your opinion.

    Warm Regards,

    Sapan Kapoor

  4. There are multiple reasons why your article goes directly against the spirit of India and of unity in diversity, and may well lead to disintegration instead of the hopes for unity.

    1. Linguistic Culture/traditions, identity:

    People and thus states were grouped not just whimsically after independence, but for sound reasons – one, for the unity of the country, since people took part in protests for linguistic based states and preservation – protests for carving out telugu areas as Andhra, movement for separate dravida nadu being few examples, and two, which is the main point, is that these people & groups were historically a separate nation – (Kalingas – oriya), (Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, Pallavas – Tamil), (Hoysalas, Kadambas, etc., – Kannada) and so on… Various languages evolved over thousands of years, and mostly, various kingdoms were language based and thus the cultures of South Asia developed as such. Granted, there are quite some exceptions, but that is not the point here.

    So, when you say change the Kannada, Tamil,Telugu, Bengali, etc., scripts to devanagiri, it simply means abandoning all these thousand-year-old scripts and accepting devanagiri, which is as foreign as English to all these languages.

    The same argument is also true for the language – Hindi.
    Giving more importance to Hindi instead of the mother tongue will invariably lead to the slow demise of the native languages.

    2. What is Hindi’s origins:
    Hindi is a language that was formed in the modern times (some say standardised post independence), by combining various other dialects like khariboli, bhojpuri, dogri, awadhi, etc. Urdu was the chief dialect of Hindustani, and giving it the devanagiri script and Sanskritizing it a bit, it started being called Hindi. Origin of Hindi appears to be from Persian-Urdu-Indian dialects. So we have a language for which people are fighting to get national language status, but whose origin is not very clear and has Islamic heritage/origins. Why should a language that traces its origin to the Islamic Middle-East be used as a Pan India language?

    3. Democracy, Equality:
    In any true democracy, all languages should be treated equally, irrespective of majority or not. USA is not an example here. Singapore is, likewise, European Union is also a good example, although the EU is not a sovereign nation, India is more like Europe, and not like China or America.
    So, accord equal status to all languages, which means respect and ease the life of millions of non-hindi people in India who struggle to read/understand important information that is only in Hindi/English – Banks, railways, post office, central government offices, airports, medicines, etc.,
    So, when the central government takes people’s hard earned money and spends it on Hindi promotion, it feels bad that it is spending 0 on any other Indian language. Why this step-motherly treatment to other languages and non-Hindi people, aren’t we equal citizens of this country? Why are services denied to us in our mother-tongues?

    4. Pragmatism:
    English may be a foreign language, the so-called language of our subjugators (British), but in the modern world, can you do anything without it. The Chinese, though there education and everything is in Chinese, and who are likely to be the next superpower, are also aggressively learning and embracing English, so are the Africans, the Europeans and though the British might have been tyrants and brutes, but English as a language truly can be called as the global language, not because of numbers, but because of world-wide acceptance, and everything is based off of it – science, computers, advanced physics, banking, finance, UN.
    In this context, as a non-Hindi person, what is the benefit of learning Hindi in todays world? Will it secure the future of our children, give them jobs, allow them to travel abroad or even outer space (in the very near future). It is not to disrespect Hindi, but to show the difference between pragmatism and love of a language.

    The statement ‘Hindi is ours’ may be true for only perhaps a maximum of 41% of people in India, which is not even the majority. Hindi is equally foreign to me as English or French, there is absolutely no difference. This is very true for all non-Hindi based ancient languages of India. So using it for communication, banking, internet, etc., instead of my mother tongue or the global language English is not only unnecessary, it is insulting to our thousand year old languages. It is like the government saying ‘Your language is not fit for the modern world, we will only use Hindi, either accept it or suffer’.

    With this, I’d like to clarify that I’m not against Hindi, but only against the audacity of so many Indians who think only Hindi, Bollywood, Delhi, Mumbai, Holi represents India. I do respect Hindi and would supprt its propagation, provided, all other languages in India are also promoted, treated equally and with respect.

    Thanks very much for reading.

    • Hi Chandra Wonderful answer. Language serves two purposes .1. Identity and 2. Communication tool. For the first the mother tongue is the only important language and it should be written in whatever script the community has adopted after hundreds of years of trial error, and also some bit of research. This applies to any mother tongue be it Tulu, Kodava, Manipuri or Kumaoni. As a communication tool, English is the most pragmatic as it has emerged (not imposed) as the most popular language of science, business, internet etc Also the concept of foreign and native evolves over time. 200 years ago English may have been a foreign language in India but now it is very much a part of India. English has also incorporated many Indian words like Dharma, Yoga, Agni, etc etc The arguement that English cannot serve the communication tool purpose because it is “foreign” is very silly. The vegetables Tomato and Potato and the spice Chilli are not from India -they were introduced by the Portugese -who in turn got it from South America but now these 3 have become an integral part of daily /weekly cuisine almost across the entire subcontinent. The same principle should apply to English. The Portugese, French and other Europeans also occupied some parts of India like Goa, Puducheri etc but you hardly hear any Portugese or French spoken in those parts because these languages are useless. Similarly no harm in having English as our common language as it is genuinely neutral and also very pragmatic. It is the language equivalent of the Potato.

  5. India needs more on line tools for an instant translation,transliteration and transcription. India needs two scripts formula instead of three languages formula.Each Indian website needs these tools attached to web site so people can read language in their own regional script or in Roman script. Also India needs standard Roman keyboard with built in transliteration scheme.

    As we all know that India is divided by complex scripts but not by phonetic sounds needs simple script at national level.As per Google transliteration Gujanagari/Gujarati seems to be India’s simplest nukta and shirorekha(lines above and dots below letters) free script along with Roman script

    Think,In internet age,Why all Indian languages are taught to others in Roman script but not in a complex Devanagari script?

    If Hindi can be learned in a complex Urdu script then why it can’t be done in easy regional Gujanagari script?

    We need to Provide education to children in a simple Gujanagari script along with Roman script and free India from complex scripts.
    One may look here at the simplicity of nukta and shirorekha free Gujanagari script in learning/writing /teaching Hindi.
    Don’t the Chinese use simplified Chinese as modern script?
    Don’t the English and German use modified modern alphabets?

    अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऍ ए ऐ ऑ ओ औ अं अः………………Devanagari
    અ આ ઇ ઈ ઉ ઊ ઍ એ ઐ ઑ ઓ ઔ અં અઃ…………Gujanagari
    a ā i ī u ū æ e ai aw o au aṁ aḥ………………. Roman

    क ख ग घ च छ ज झ ट ठ ड ढ ण
    ક ખ ગ ઘ ચ છ જ ઝ ટ ઠ ડ ઢ ણ
    ka kha ga gha ca cha ja jha ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa

    त थ द ध न प फ ब भ म य र ल व
    ત થ દ ધ ન પ ફ બ ભ મ ય ર લ વ
    ta tha da dha na pa pha ba bha ma ya ra la va

    श स ष ह ळ क्ष ज्ञ
    શ સ ષ હ ળ ક્ષ જ્ઞ
    sha sa ṣa ha ḽa kṣa gna

    क का कि की कु कू कॅ के कै कॉ को कौ कं कः
    ક કા કિ કી કુ કૂ કૅ કે કૈ કૉ કો કૌ કં કઃ
    ka kā ki kī ku kū kæ ke kai kaw ko kau kaṁ kaḥ

    See,How easily students can learn Gujanagari script through Roman letters.

    ડ/ટ…………….ક (k),ફ(ph), ડ (d) , ઠ (th), હ (h), ટ (T), ઢ(dh), થ(th) પ(P), ય(Y) , ખ(kh), ષ(sh)

    R/2……… ….. ર(R), ચ (ch),સ(S), શ(sh), અ(A)

    C/4…………….ગ (g), ભ (bh),ઝ (Z), જ (J) ણ(N), બ(bh) લ(L), વ(V)

    દ …………..દ(D),ઘ(dh),ઘ(gh),ઈ(ee), ઈ(I,i), છ (chh)


    n……………….ન (n,N),ત(T,t)


    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
    १ २ ३ ४ ५ ६ ७ ८ ९ १०
    ૧ ૨ ૩ ૪ ૫ ૬ ૭ ૮ ૯ ૧૦

    one may go through these links.

    આઓ મિલકર સંકલ્પ કરે,જન-જન તક ગુજનાગરી લિપિ પહુચાએંગે,
    સીખ, બોલ, લિખ કર કે,
    ભારતિય ભાષાકા માન બઢાએંગે.
    ઔર ભાષા કી સરલતા દિખાયેંગે .

    બોલો હિન્દી લેકિન લિખો સર્વ શ્રેષ્ટ નુક્તા / શિરોરેખા મુક્ત ગુજનાગરી લિપિમેં !
    ક્યા દેવનાગરી કા વર્તમાનરૂપ ગુજનાગરી નહીં હૈ ?
    હિંદી લેખનમેં અધિક ભારતિય ભાષા શબ્દોં કા પ્રયોગ કિજીએ ઔર પૈર નોટ (foot note ) મેં હિંદી શબ્દાર્થ લિખીએ !

  6. Mr Sapan Kapoor, I think you were both ignorant and arrogant by not learning TAMIL. This is an expected behavior from North Hindians. If you believe that Hindi has the potential to unite India, I think it will be the reason for a divided India.

  7. Hindi is not against India’s regional languages.
    Is that implying that Hindi is not a regional language?


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