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Is Hindi The National Language of India?

In a country like India where more than 1600 languages persist, is it possible to have one national language without moving towards chaos?

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There are more than 150 languages in India that spoken by at least 10,000 people. Out of which, Hindi is the most widely spoken language, amounting to 40% speakers in the population. Wikimedia Commons
There are more than 150 languages in India that are spoken by at least 10,000 people. Out of which, Hindi is the most widely spoken language, amounting to 40% speakers in the population. Wikimedia Commons
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BY SHANTAM SAHAI 

  • 1600 languages and dialects are spoken in India, out of which, none is the ‘national language’
  • Hindi and English, as mentioned in Article 343 of the Indian constitution, are official languages of India
  • 22 languages are mentioned in the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution, all of which can be considered as national languages or official languages

India, the seventh-largest and second-most populous country in the world, home to 1.3 billion people who speak 1600 languages, is widely known for its cultural diversity. The world’s largest democracy consists of 29 states, which were divided on the basis of language. Hindi, a language spoken by 41% and known to 53% of the population, is misconceived to be the ‘national language’ of India. The Indian constitution does not mention any ‘national language’. However Hindi (along with English) is the official language of India.

Article 343(1) of the Indian constitution says: 

“(1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.”

Thus, Hindi is NOT is the national language, but the official language of India.

ALSO READ: How angry “Hindi” voters turned the tables against Congress in 1977 elections

Difference between ‘National language’ and ‘Official language’

An official language is one used for official/governmental purposes. It has a legal standing and is used in the judiciary, central legislature, and executive documents. Official languages have more to do with day-to-day work.

Whereas, a national language is a national symbol. It has a common representation of the people living in the geographical territory of the country. A national language has sentimental values connected with it, as it reflects a ‘common individuality’ (in linguistic terms) from the world.

The Indian national flag, national emblem, national anthem, national animal, national bird, or the national language, all of them are national symbols which unite us as the countrymen of India. Wikimedia Commons
The Indian national flag, national emblem, national anthem, national animal, the national bird, or national language, all of them are national symbols which unite us as the countrymen of India. Wikimedia Commons

Why India has no national language?

A national language is supposed to unite the citizens of the country under one umbrella. Other than the percentage of users, what matters more is the spread of the language i.e. if it is to unite a country as a national symbol, a language needs to have users spread in all parts of the country. As in the case of India, we have no such language.

ALSO READ: How Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism Influence Early Tamil History?

A national language needs to widespread, not only widely spoken. India has no such language. Facebook
A national language needs to be widespread, not only widely spoken. India has no such language. Facebook

As you can see on the map, Hindi maybe widely spoken, but it is not widespread. Hindi (and its variants) is spoken in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi (the capital), Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Whereas, the eastern and southern states have no trace of it. Hindi, may be known in various other parts, does not command any sentimental value in other states.

Moreover, languages other than Hindi have a significant amount of speakers. For example,

  • No. of Bengali speakers: 83,369,769
  • No. of Telugu speakers: 74,002,856 
  • No. of Marathi speakers: 71,936,894 
  • No. of Tamil speakers: 60,793,814 
  • No. of Kannada speakers: 37,924,011 
  • No. of Gujarati speakers: 46,091,617 
  • No. of Odiya speakers: 33,017,446 
  • No. of Malayalam speakers: 33,066,392 

Hence, there cannot be one national language in India. Therefore, the Constitution of India in its eighth schedule mentions 22 languages; all of which can be referred to as national languages or official languages.

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Governor humiliated for addressing in Hindi

  Incidentally, Hindi is a very powerful language, if we go deeper. This language is so self-sufficient that it is one of the direct descendants of Sanskrit, the oldest and the perfect language in the world

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Sri Ganga Prasad was criticised for giving his speech in his native language and not English in the legislative assembly.

Salil Gewali, Shillong

  • Hindi is one of the official languages of India
  • Sri Ganga Prasad faced criticism for giving his speech in his native language
  • This makes one question if English is becoming dominant in India

Sri Ganga Prasad faced a barrage of criticism when he delivered his maiden speech in the National language in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. Even one of the legislators abruptly walked out of the assembly hall while the Governor was digression the session. Thus, the Governor was intensely scoffed at and humiliated through the social media and other news media.

Well, everyone has their right to disagree and criticize. Of course, we do not disagree that the majority of people in Meghalaya are not fluent in Hindi.  This is not a big deal. But disrespecting the language could be.

Is Hindi being ignored as the nation moves more towards English? Wikimedia Commons

This news also made many of my facebook friends abroad pretty curious.  One very learned scholar – Avital Markel from New York speaks out her mind with a dose of humor: ‘why is there so much noise when your governor delivered the speech in the language which is originally from India itself? I know another popular name of this country as Hindustan, not “Englistan”, I believe.’ Another Yoga teacher from Las Vegas — JM Palmer remarks — ‘it’s ridiculous that people can disrespect their own language. I can easily pronounce a good many Sanskrit terms. I personally have tremendous respect for India’s Sanskrit and other languages because they are the languages of Yoga and wisdom of spiritual dimension’. Mr. Palmer is a spiritual seeker who regularly visits India.

                 I think both Avital and Palmer views resonate with what the citizens of other countries feel. At least with those who have not been insanely fascinated by the English language like some Indians do. It’s much observed in the country that one without English speaking skills is obviously looked down upon.  The ‘inferiority complex’ vis-a-vis the West and its external trappings often hold many Indians back in asserting that they are Indians. This syndrome is getting more pronounced among the certain class of intellectuals and the snobbish folks. This has already taken a very ugly shape. The trait of sedition is quite noticeable amount the certain class of citizens.

                    Anyway, if we have regularly tolerated the bunches of fraudsters, rapists, and murderers in the parliaments and state assemblies in the country, why could we survive a speech of few minutes in Hindi and so on? 

Also Read: Is Hindi The National Language of India?

On the contrary, the citizens of very developed nations such as China, Russia, Germany, Portugal, France will never lose their calm when their leaders speak in the native languages. Actually, they all speak their own languages. The imperialist British till the date has literally failed to cast its spell on them. The citizens of those self-reliant countries rather swell their chests and claim their superiority and what they are due for.

                          If I am not mistaken Hindi is still recognized as the national language of the country. So, even if we are unable to learn the language, it would do jolly good if we do not disrespect it at all. Here it will be quite relevant to cite a case of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at United Nations General Assembly. I believe, nobody walked out of that international summit on 27th Sept 2014 when the Prime Minister delivered his speech in Hindi. Thank God, we didn’t have any leaders from Meghalaya who might have cringed with embarrassment and walked out! That particular speech by PM Modi in UN was so applauded that it subsequently served to motivate the member countries across the world to vote in favor of declaring a Yoga International Day for 21st June.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a Padhma Bhushan awardee for his contribution in Hindi Literature. Pexels
Hindi is a powerful language and ought to be used more. Pexels

                        Incidentally, Hindi is a very powerful language, if we go deeper. This language is so self-sufficient that it is one of the direct descendants of Sanskrit, the oldest and the perfect language in the world. On the robust ground of India’s Sanskrit the Modern linguistic stands. Kudos to those unprejudiced and rational intellectuals such as Sir William Jones, Johann Goethe, F. Schiller, Franz Bopp, F. Schlegel, Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky who discovered the incredible literary gems in the languages of India.

                           Finally, for those who sniff at the languages of Indian origin and the wisdom and culture associated with them, I would like to share just one opinion by their much celebrated English master. Here exclaimed the American British Nobel laureate TS Eliot: “Two years spent in the study of Sanskrit under Charles Lanman, and a year in the  mazes of Patanjali’s metaphysics under the guidance of James Woods, left me in a state of  enlightened mystification.” I think we should not walk out of the “truth”. India has for ages been enriching the intellectual treasure troves of the West. But, what is a huge paradox is that our Indians are either not aware of it all or they do not want to acknowledge it.