Back and communications between one state and another.

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Last updated: May 28, 2019

Back in the 1920s, the Indian National Congress – the main party of the freedom struggle – had promised that once the country won independence, each major linguistic group would have its own province. However, after independence the Congress did not take any steps to honour this promise in wake of horrors of partition and rising disruptive forces on parochial lines. In the debate in the constituent assembly over the issue of language, A compromise was finally arrived at: namely, that while Hindi would be the “official language” of India, English would be used in the courts, the services, and communications between one state and another. Issue of language snowballed into one of the biggest issues threatening the socio-cultural integration. Language emerged as an emotive issue which people identified with their core cultural identities. Language had other repercussions in form of promotion of culture, opportunities in government job and access to political power. Issue of language became a major one over two issues – one, controversy over declaration of official language and second, linguistic re-organization of states.

Issue of ‘official’ language became one of Hindi and non-Hindi one. National leadership has already brushed aside the idea that one ‘national’ language is necessary for national unity and instead averred that India was a multi-lingual country and will remain so. Constitutional has also de facto given many Indian languages the status of national languages through their inclusion in 8 th schedule. Importance of local language in cultural and educational development was recognized way back from times of freedom struggle movement. However, official work could not be carried in so many languages and therefore issue of selecting an official language arose and only English and Hindi were two viable options for their wide reach.

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But English was already rejected during national movement for its foreign roots, a symbol of the raj and being the language of the oppressors who used it to exclude the masses. Gandhiji said, ‘genius of a people couldn’t unfold nor their culture flower in a foreign language’. Though it was acknowledged as a world language and a window for scientific and other literature, it was acknowledge that it should not displace indigenous languages. Hindi or Hindustani (a language in Devnagri or Urdu script which evolved over time as a hybrid of many languages like Sanskrit, Urdu, Hindi, and Persian and so on) was an obvious choice as it had also played a mass mobilizing role during independence struggle as well. Congress also promoted its maximum use in its meetings. So, in constitutional debates it was asked whether it should replace English and in how much time? Partition changed the scenario and votaries of Hindi in Devnagri became vociferous and dubbed Hindustani in Urdu script a symbol of secession and partition.

Even in vote in Congress, Hindi supporters won. Southern states saw adoption of Hindi as official language as detrimental to their interests as they considered it as a language with shallow history and literature. It was also viewed as putting them on back foot in matters of public employment and political partition. As a result, a compromise was arrived that Hindi was adopted only gradually and total transition from English to Hindi will happen in 1965. Further, government in the meantime will encourage its use and a Joint Parliamentary Committee will periodically review its progress. It was hoped that with spread of education, Hindi will make its reach wider and hence resistance to it will decrease.

However this didn’t happen as 1965 approached. Further, non-Hindi speakers were also irritated by the fanatic zeal with which Hindi speakers tried to impose it on others rather than do it through mild persuasion. They wasted their energies on strident propaganda rather than developing meaningful literature and arousing curiosity of others in the language. Further, Hindi protagonists didn’t make any efforts in simplifying and standardizing the language to make it suitable for masses, but they instead sanskritised it on the name of maintaining purity of the language. After recommendation of Official Language Commission, 1956 that Hindi should progressively replace English by 1965 and consequent recommendation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee, president in 1960 announced a slew of measures to promote Hindi including a Central Hindi Directorate, translation of major works, laws etc in Hindi and so on. This aroused suspicion among non-Hindi states and open opposition to Hindi emerged from non-Hindi areas.

C Rajgopalachari, who headed ‘Hindi Pracharini Sabha’ of South before independence declared that ‘Hindi is as foreign to non-Hindi speaking people as English to the protagonists of Hindi’. Protagonists of Hindi on the other hand accused government of dragging its feet over the issue and some like Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya and his party Samyukta Socialist Party and Jan Sangh launched militant movements for immediate imposition of Hindi as official language. Nehru tried to assuage the fears of non-Hindi speaking areas by declaring in Parliament over and again that English will continue to be used so long as non-Hindi people wish it to and not as decided by Hindi speaking people. Nehru wanted to make adoption of Hindi language as official language as a gradual natural process and not the one which is bounded by any deadline. Parliament also passed ‘Official Language Act, 1963’ to allay the fears of non-Hindi regions as it had provisions that English will continue to remain official language along with Hindi even beyond 1965 contrary to stipulated constitutional deadline of 1965.

But all these measures didn’t help. Death of Nehru in 1964 and inept handling of the matter by Lal Bahdur Shastri further aggravated the situation. Even it was declared that Hindi will now be alternative language in UPSC exams. NonHindi speakers perceived that it will put Hindi speakers in an undue advantageous position. As 26th January approached near, atmosphere became tense and a strong anti-Hindi movement started brewing especially in Tamil Nadu.

DMK called for observing 26th January as a day of mourning. Students groups actively agitated and soon the issue snowballed into violent protests. Four students even self-immolated and 2 cabinet ministers resigned. Indira Gandhi was minister of Information and Broadcasting at that time and she rushed to Madras amidst crisis and assured the agitators of a fair deal and as a result after deliberation in Congress, government revised its stand.

When Indira became PM in 1966, southern states were further reassured of safeguarding of their interests and Official Language Act 1963 was amended to suit their demands and it now unambiguously provided for continuation of English along with Hindi so long as non-Hindi areas wanted it. Provision of using provincial language in UPSC was also made by parliament. A new three language formula was also promoted according to which nonHindi area students were to compulsorily learn Hindi apart from English and their vernacular. Similarly, Hindi speaking students have to learn a non-Hindi language. Since 1967, language is no longer a barrier to consolidation and has in fact helped in consolidation.

Both English and Hindi have progressed well due to various factors and even government has made active efforts in promoting Hindi which has also borne fruits.

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