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Insights into Editorial: It is time to let sleeping dogmas lie: on ‘Hindi imposition’



The Union Home Minister’s statement recently, saying that Hindi should replace English as the “link language” and that the Government’s work will increasingly be in Hindi, has set the proverbial cat among the Southern pigeons.

The “Hindi-Hindutva-Hindustan” ideology that he represents has historically been impatient with the notion of Indian multilingualism, which it sees as a babel undermining national unity rather than the proud showcase of diversity that our constitutional nationalism celebrates.


Recent Parliamentary Official Language Committee:

Union Home and Cooperation Minister presided over the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee in New Delhi.

The union Home Minister unanimously approved the sending of the 11th Volume of the Committee Report to the President of India.

Union Home Ministry emphasized on three main points:

  1. For implementation of the recommendations made from the first to the 11th Volume of the Committee’s report, a meeting should be held in July in which the Secretary of Official Language should inform members about the implementation of the Volume wise report.
  2. To give elementary knowledge of Hindi to students up to 9th class and to pay more attention to Hindi teaching examinations.
  3. Union Home Minister suggested to republish the Hindi dictionary by revising it.


Constitutional Provisions:

Official Language of India:

Article 343(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.

Article 343(2) – provides that English shall also be continued to be used in official work of the Union for a period of 15 years from the date of commencement of the constitution, i.e., up to the 25th of January 1965.

Again, Article 343(3) made provisions for the continuation of English from 26th January 1965 by empowering the parliament to make laws to that effect.

Accordingly, Parliament passed The Official Languages Act, 1963 to provide for the languages which may be used for the official purposes of the Union, for transaction of business in Parliament, for Central and State Acts and for certain purposes in High Courts.

Article. 350A – Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage

  1. It shall be the endeavor of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and
  2. The President may issue such directions to any State as he considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities.

This provision was incorporated by the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1956 based on the recommendations of States Reorganisation Commission which was headed by Retired Justice Fazal Ali.

Article. 351Directive for development of the Hindi language — It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.


Worldwide Promotion for the Hindi Language:

  1. In 2018, the Indian Prime Minister became the first head of government to address the World Economic Forum in a national language other than English.
  2. The Government of India in collaboration with the Government of Mauritius has set up the World Hindi Secretariat in Port Louis, Mauritius for promotion and propagation of Hindi globally.
  3. Indian Government’s effort led to the creation of Hindi Twitter account of the UN in 2018.
  4. The first World Hindi Conference was organized in Nagpur on January 10, 1975. To commemorate the occasion, the government of India since 2006 is celebrating 10th January as World Hindi Day.
  5. The then Minister of External Affairs Atal Bihari Vajpayee was first to give a speech in Hindi at the United Nations in 1977.


Part of ‘Hindi promotion’:

Central government is only the latest salvo of several efforts by the Modi government to promote Hindi.

These include:

  1. The imposition of Hindi names on Central government programmes and schemes (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and the like) instead of translations or ‘neutral’ English labels;
  2. A ‘parliamentary committee’s proposal to make the use of Hindi mandatory for MPs and Union Ministers;
  3. Making Hindi a compulsory subject for Central Board of Secondary Education schools across the country;
  4. Re-lettering milestones on national highways in Hindi instead of English’; the use of Hindi in airport announcements;
  5. The Central government issuing media advertisements in Hindi, and launching promotional campaigns exclusively in the Hindi script’, even when the words used may be from different Indian languages; and
  6. The practice of renaming well-known occasions or festivities only in Hindi or Sanskrit, such as Teacher’s Day as Guru Purnima.

The latest controversy has revealed two essential truths about our country.

The first is that, whatever the Hindi chauvinists might say, we do not have one “national language” in India, but several.

The second is that zealots have an unfortunate tendency to provoke a battle they will lose — at a time when they were quietly winning the war.


Other side of arguments: It is about efficiency

  1. The Government’s requirement that Hindi be privileged in official work actually militates against the interests of efficiency.
  2. Obliging a Keralite bureaucrat in Delhi to read and write file notations in Hindi to be submitted to a superior officer from Odisha makes no sense, since neither man would be using a language with which he is at ease.
  3. Obliging both to digest a complex argument by a U.P.-ite subordinate writing in his mother tongue is unfair to both.
  4. Both may write atrocious English, for that matter, but it is the language in which they are equal, and it serves to get the work done.
  5. Language is a vehicle, not a destination. In government, it is a means, not an end. The Hindi-wallahs fail to appreciate that, since promoting Hindi, for them, is an end in itself.
  6. In the five decades since the promulgation of the ‘three-language formula’, implementation has largely failed across the country, for two divergent reasons.
  7. At an ideological level, in States such as Tamil Nadu, the question of being required to learn a northern language such as Hindi has always been contentious, with anti-Hindi agitations a recurring episode in the State since 1937.
  8. In the northern States, there is simply no demand for learning a southern language, and so no northern State has seriously implemented the three-language formula.



Imposition is rarely a good policy in a democracy. But the real fear is far more fundamental: that the advocacy of Hindi is merely the thin end of a more dangerous wedge — the ideological agenda of those in power who believe in a nationalism of ‘one language, one religion, one nation’.

Imposition of Hindi was contested in many non-Hindi states, especially in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Violent protests broke out in southern India leading the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to introduce the ‘Official Languages Act’ in 1963, which assured the continuation of English along with Hindi as the official language of the Union of India.

This is anathema to those Indians who grew up and believe in a diverse, inclusive India whose languages are all equally authentic.

Given the linguistic diversity of India, there is no national language as all the states are free to decide their own official languages.