Every language is an asset; it carries the wisdom of elders, history, and memories.

Based on the rich linguistic diversity and multilingualism, accommodating 1652 mother tongues, India has been called as a ‘sociolinguistic area.’In the November 2006, deliveringthe inaugural speech at the 28thAll India Conference of Linguists, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Prof. U N Singh [the then director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore]asserted that “linguistic diversity is one of the greatest strengths of a nation and we have to keep alive not only this diversity but also the concept of unity in diversity.”Addressing hundreds of linguists across the country, Prof. Singh, highlighted the essence of linguistic diversity, multilingualism, and ‘unity in diversity’. He deliberated on the issues, methods, and techniques of howand why all 1652 mother tongues in India need to save and provide opportunities to survive, sustain and grow. The aim was to save all Indian languages including the less privileged ones from endangerment. In the same year, Prof. Prof Ramakant Agnihotri [ex-Head, Department of Linguistics, University of Delhi), in a seminar lecture at IIT Kanpur elaborated the significance of multilingualism and how ‘multilingualism is an asset’. Both the concepts, ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘multilingualism as an asset’ anticipates to provide equal space for all languages spoken in India.

Linguists have elucidated many reasons for the language endangerment and the challenges, the less privileged languages, regional languages, vernaculars, dialects, and minority languages face in multilingual settings.Crystal(2000) has divided the causes of extinction of languages into four main categories, which include: i) Natural Catastrophes, ii) War and genocide, iii) Overt Repression and iv) Cultural, Political and Economic Dominance. Most of the vernaculars in India have suffered mainly because of the overt repression and cultural, political, and economic dominance. In the last few decades, mother tongues/regional languages in India have faced three major challenges to survive. The first one was the printing press, which one the one hand was a turning point for the written languages, but on the other hand, it had a serious impact on the tongues, which were having only the spoken form and hadn’t develop and written forms. The second setback was globalization, which discouraged most of the regional languages in India. The third challenge was the advent of information communication technology, which affected even the languages, which survived the impacts of globalization. In this ‘new linguistic revolution’ as Crystal calls it, English initially dominated both in the software and hardware technology, and in the information communication technology. Due to its early dominance, English was referred as a global lingua-franca of information communication technology. As of 1996, some 82% of the Web pages in the world were in English, including 80 per cent of the world’s electronically stored information. Internet and cyberspace also didn’t provide support to regional languages.            The small languages – minority or otherwise–were first handicapped, because they do not represent sufficiently profitable markets for the software giants. Until date, very few Indian languages are supported or dominated in the cyberspace, because big software giants are still reluctant to invest in the technical development of less privileged, less powerful, minority and regional languages. One way or another, most of the major Indian languages survived these three foremost challenges.

However, from the last few months,there have been online and offline news items followed by heated debates, in electronic, print, and social media, in favour of and against the imposition of Hindi monolingualism in India. The support in favour of Hindi monolingualism is typically centered on the cultural and political discourses, which according to David Crystal is one of the causes of language extinction. This challenge seems serious than the earlier three challenges the regional Indian languages have faced. It therefore needs some basic socio-linguistic understating to comprehend why and how enforced monolingualism can harm the rich linguistic diversity of India. Any such policy, which encourages dominant monolingualism,would have serious repercussions on the linguistic map of India. The assertion and articulation of such linguistic-identity statements, and their consequent language-identity conflicts, can lead to confrontations between individuals, groups, or communities. The history of linguistic conflicts, particularly in multilingual and multicultural nations, has shown how strong such language-identity statements are and how they can be a basis for extreme discord between diverse linguistic groups. Similarly, within multilingual spaces, conflicts among speakers of different languages underlie identity assertion statements. Sometimes,language-identity differences are combined with other group markers,such as religion, which intensifies the conflict among speakers of different languages as they assert their diverse identities. In extreme cases, it can lead to division, separatism, and the formation of new groups and nations.For example, the separation and formation of Bangladesh, is partly based on linguistic conflict. It clearly shows how strong and sensitive the language-identity linkage is and how it can contribute to peace and war among groups, communities, and nations.

Background: Union Official Language Policies

In order to prevent the loss and demise of languages through obstructive policies of the state or its institutions, several language emancipation policies and laws of human rights were formulated. After the end of the Cold War, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a declaration on the rights of persons belonging to different minorities, including linguistic minorities. The international human rights law plays an important role in setting up standards for linguistic rights, and especially, in the protection and promotion of the identity of linguistic minority groups. Article 1.1 of the United Nations’ declaration regarding minorities says that the state shall protect the existence of minorities and their national or ethnic, cultural,religious, and linguistic identities within their respective territories, and it shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity. It provides a democratic environment for the growth and development of linguistic pluralism and cultural diversity and avoids ethno-linguistic conflicts. At the national level, linguistic rights are implemented in national constitutions at the most fundamental level. Different nations have special laws to safeguard language rights or linguistic human rights. Article 29 of the Indian Constitution says that any section of Indian citizens or any part thereof with a distinct language, script, or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same. Thus, it clearly shows how strong and sensitive the language-identity linkage is and how it can lead to conflicts.

Many countries have a language policy designed to favour or discourage the use of a particular language or set of languages. Although nations historically have used language policies most often to promote one official language at the expense of others, many countries now have policies designed to protect and promote regional and ethnic languages whose viability is threatened. India has a diverse list of spoken languages among different groups of people. At least 30 different languages and around 2000 dialects have been identified. The Constitution of India has stipulated the usage of Hindi and English to be the two languages of official communication for the national government. Additionally, it classifies a set of 22 scheduled languages, which are languages that can be officially adopted by different states for administrative purposes, and as a medium of communication between the national and the state governments for examinations conducted for national government service.

Before the independence, there were only two categories of languages in India, English and vernaculars. All Indian languages were put together under one-name vernaculars. In spite of their rich heritage, most of the Indian languages had hardly any official status or political power. The national policy on education adopted by the Indian National Congress in the 1920s had helped the use of Indian languages as medium of instruction.

The post-independent India, in due course, declared its own economic policy, industrial policy, agriculture policy, etc. However, there was no single document with reference to frame a ‘language policy’ of the nation. The empowerment of Indian languages took place in two stages since independence: for the first time when they found a place in the constitution under one nomenclature or the other, and at the next stage, when the states of the union were reorganized on the basis of the principle of language use in a geographically contiguous area. [It is significant to note that Indian states were divided geographically by the ‘States Reorganization Act 1956’ based on linguistic lines]. It would not be an exaggeration to call such states as linguistic states. Therefore, currently some of the leading languages have become official languages in various parts of the country, and English assumed the role of an associate official language of the Union. Indian languages were empowered under different names such as Scheduled Languages, Official Language, Regional languages, Modern Indian languages, Oriental Languages, Classical Languages, Minor Languages, Minority Languages, and Tribal Languages.

Inevitably, the status provided to the languages with such labeling demanded appropriate corpus development, because of which enormous language development activities took place. Speakers of the regional languages started to establish their right over the use of that language in education, administration etc., and speakers of the minor, minority, and other tribal languages started to establish their right as minority language speakers or as mother tongue speakers of that language.

            According to constitution of India (part XVII, Chapter 1, and Article 343), 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. Nonetheless, anything in clause (1), for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement: Provided that the President may, during the said period, by order authorize the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union. Nevertheless anything in this article, Parliament may, by law provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years.

There is also a provision of ‘Continuation of English Language for official purposes of the Union and for use in Parliament.’ (1) Notwithstanding the expiration of the period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used in addition to Hindi,

[a]. for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before that day; and

[b]for the transaction of business in Parliament:

Provided that the English language shall be used for purposes of communication between the Union and a State, which has not, adopted Hindi as its Official Language.

Regional Language[s]Policies:

Subject to the provisions of articles 346 and 347, the Legislature of a State may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that State: Provided that, until the Legislature of the State otherwise provides by law, the English language shall continue to be used for those official purposes within the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of this Constitution.

Similarly, the question of the official language for communication between one State and another or between a State and the Union was explained in the Article 346. The language for the time being authorized for use in the Union for official purposes shall be the official language for communication between one State and another State and between a State and the Union:Provided that if two or more States agree that the Hindi language should be the official language for communication between such States, that language may be used for such communication.Moreover, imposing Hindi would mean a change in the official provisions called as ‘Special Directives’, which include Article 350, Article 350A, Article 350B and Article 351.The only provision, which supports Hindi monolingualism, is Article 351, which deals with the directive for development of the Hindi language. The article notes “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.

The Present Context: Genuine Concerns

Apart from the technical issues and constitutional provisions, non-Hindi speakers would genuinely ask some uncomfortable and crucial questions. For instance, languages spoken in India belong to several language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan, the Dravidian languages, Austro asiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai, and a few other minor language families and isolates. Why can’t the nation choose a language [if at all we really need a ‘national language] from the Dravidian languages, or Austroasiatic language family? Similarly, some may ask: if it is all about importance of language, why can’t we consider any of the following six languages [to which the Government of India has awarded the distinction of classical languages]Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Odia.Alternatively, for that matter, the speakers of 22 scheduled languages, would ask, why can’t be our language[s] consider for a ‘national language’. It would lead to an ethno-language conflict.

The dominant language imposition is a stepwise procedure. Expecting a tough resistance, it does not impose the dominant language simultaneously or replace the regional, minority or less privileged languages in one go. In the present case, it started with few notifications from the New Delhi: (a) changing signboards of the non-Hindi linguistic zones. (b) All dignitaries, including the President and ministers, may soon start giving speeches in Hindi if a parliamentary panel’s recommendations accepted by President Pranab Mukherjee are implemented.Mukherjee has accepted most of the recommendations made in the ninth report of the Committee of Parliament on Official Language. The report was submitted in 2011. The panel’s recommendation that all dignitaries including the President and ministers, especially those who can read and speak Hindi, may be requested to give their speech/statement in Hindi only, has been accepted, as per an official order.The President has accepted many other recommendations, including making announcements on Indian airplanes in Hindi followed by English, cent percent availability of training material in bilingual at the Mussoorie-based Lal Bahadur Shashtri National Administrative Academy, the institute to train civil servants. The panel had asked the Ministry of Human Resource Development to make serious efforts to make Hindi Language compulsory in curriculum. It noted, “As a first step, Hindi should be made a compulsory subject up to tenth standard in all schools of CBSE and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan”, it had recommended. Another recommendation accepted by the President is that universities and higher educational institutes situated in non-Hindi speaking states, where the students are not given an option for Hindi to appear in exams/interviews, must be given an option to answer in Hindi.

On the other hand, an overt resistance is reflected in the state language policies, across many states. For instance, on April 11, 2017, the Kerala Government promulgated an ordinance making Malayalam a compulsory subject in all schools in the state up to Class X. It is applicable up to Class X in all government, aided, un-aided, self-financing institutions, including those affiliated to CBSE and ICSE streams. It was followed by the

Karnataka, and Assam governments, which made Kannada and Assamese compulsory. Before that, in February 2017, Assam Chief Minister had announced that Sanskrit will be made a compulsory language for students up to class 8 in the state. If all the mentioned ordinances of the Assam government are followed, the children have to bear the burden of learning at least four languages in schools, which would include, Assamese, Sanskrit, English and now Hindi. The regional language trend was followed by the West Bengal government, which on 15th May, 2017, passed an order to make Bengali compulsory in all schools, including private English medium schools of the State.

In 1948, Dr. Radhakrishanan commission for the university education in its report stated “that for the medium of instruction for higher education English be replaced as early as practicable by the Indian languages which cannot be Sanskrit on account of vital difficulties”. In addition, “English be studied in high schools and in the Universities in order that we may keep in touch with the living stream of ever-growing knowledge”. In the present era of micro electronics and information communication technology, a state cannot afford to ignore the importance of English, which has not only emerged as a lingua franca of diplomacy but also that of information technology. It holds a rich and wide variety of literature of science, technology, culture and other allied fields of knowledge. In the contemporary times, more people are using communication tools with Roman [English] keyboards, and all such forms of communications are more popular than they were ever. It has been observed that most of the Indian population who own electronic communication tools,adopt roman script for communication on cyberspace. Being easy to type, adopt short forms, accessible, and readable to large audiences is one of the main reasons for adopting such strategy.

Since English is the default language of cyberspace, it is diffused in Indian society with greater speed and acceptability. A new form of English, a new genre of internet English, is fast developing on-line. This is the English that present day students are learning and using. Surely, we cannot think of the Indian language/s to be dominant in microelectronics communication technology and cyberspace, the way English did. It is technically impossible for a language group or speech community to translate the entire resources and data from Hindi or a local dialect or vernacular into English. The research output disseminated through Indian languages is negligible. For example, a study on national mapping of science: Earth sciences research in India says that all the publications by Indian scientists were in English excepting two Hindi articles. These two Hindi articles are of 1990 and that the publication through that language is nil in 1994 and 1998.

The all India Educational survey conducted by NCERT indicates that the number of languages used in the schools have decreased from 81 in 1970 to 41 in the last 25 years or so. Similarly, the number of languages used as the medium of instruction also has decreased from 47 to 18 during the same period. This indicates that in the era of industrialization, people were going away from their mother tongue as a language of schooling and as a medium of instruction. Industrialization has further complicated the language use. Code-mixing, especially mixing of English in Indian language utterances has increased.

Instead of discouraging multilingualism and enforcing monolingualism, institutes, like Sahitya Akademi, meant to promote regional literature and present it to the world outside, need to be encouraged. The Akademi ensures that award-winning regional literature is translated into as many as 24 languages. Similarly, the Doordarshan and All India Radio, with an access to 78% and 99.37% of Indian population respectively, should be encouraged to telecast/broadcast programs in regional languages. In Regional language cinema, print media, indigenous language use should be encouraged. What would happen to combined circulation of India’s newspapers and periodicals, which is in the order of 60 million, and is published daily in more than ninety languages, if it is replaced with Hindi monolingualism?

At the constitutional front, Indian constitution provides a fundamental right to the linguistic minorities for the safeguard of their language and culture, also endeavors to “establish and administer educational institutions of their own choice vide Article 29(I) and 30(I)”. Therefore, while deciding any future language policy, the rights of linguistic minorities need to be kept in mind.


Globally among the nations, that were freed including India, from the colonial powers, there was a resurgence of patriotism, nationalism, and a desire to retain ethnic identities via linguistic identities.Both, per and post independent India has been one of the richest multilingual spaces. However, in the era of globalization almost all the Indian languages have been cornered to a position of helpless defense. In the post-independence period, the central and state governments established many institutions of languages as means to develop all the Indian languages as fit vehicles for communication.English has played a dominant role in the language policy of both the pre and post-independent India. Though Hindi was declared as the official language of the union, English played a role of the associate official language of the union.English dominated in electronic and print media, educational, literary and technological discourses, cyberspace and information technology.

Indian languages were empowered under different names such as Scheduled Languages, Official Language, Regional languages, Modern Indian languages, Oriental Languages, Classical Languages, Minor Languages, Minority Languages, and Tribal Languages. VIII schedule of Indian constitution has recognized 22 official languages.In addition to the Sahitya Akademi, and VIII schedule of the Indian constitution, there are 15 different government, semi government organizations, academies, institutes that are involved in the development and empowerment of Indian languages at different levels. In addition to this mass media has played its role in the upliftment of Indian languages.

Whether positive or negative, the effect of Globalization and Industrialization on all Indian languages is not the same. Some kinds of language use get more benefit from the process of globalization and industrialization, but other kind of language use may not benefit at all. In fact, at present, many Indian regional dialects and languages were harmed due to the impact of globalization and information technology. In the formal sector of education, literacy in mother tongues is losing value in the context of demand for English and computer literacy, which has already discouraged and devalued the local vernaculars, and made them inferior.

Previously, language planning of India was society-centered, and now there is a need of an economy-centered languages planning. It is important for language planners to look at language issues form different prospective. In the era of globalization, information technology, and cyberspace, all Indian languages are endangered, if they do not cope with the new language strategies. In such context, the policy one ‘monolingualism’ or ‘one language one nation’ can only add the already existing threat and can be a serious challenge for the regional languages to survive.

Every single word, even that of an unprivileged or neglected language, takes ages to develop and sustain. Loss of a single word is tragic for the language it holds. India must save its linguistic diversity, and should not sacrifice it in the name of ‘common national language’ any instrumental orientation or integrative motivation. Language data from the last decade exhibits scary figures, when it comes to the list of Indian Languages. In February 2009, UNESCO released the list of endangered languages, according to which 196 Indian languages were listed as endangered. In the year 2014, the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) Mysore, embarked on a mega project “Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India” sponsored by the Ministry of HRD, government of India, to document nearly 500 endangered languages in the country, each spoken by less than 10,000 people. Each language was categorized as i) Vulnerable, ii) Definitely Endangered, iii) Severely Endangered, iv) Critically Endangered. There are 42 languages, which were dealer “Critically Endangered” as per UNESCO report 2014. According to Mehrotra (1999) in India, there are presently 442 languages that have only between one and five speakers left. Alternatively, what would happen to the 90 tribal languages each of which is left with a speech community of 10,000 or more?If the dominant monolingualism is imposed, it would lead to demise of the asset of multilingualismin India, and the rich linguistic diversity of India would only survive in the history books.

If the provision of ‘Hindi compulsory’ is adopted across the country, in the next decade it would end up with Hindi-English bilingualism, with serious language endangerment threats to regional and minority languages. Integrative motivation in itself is not a bad idea; however, nations are not language groups or ideal speech communities. The ideal linguistic context of India suggests that a regional language and English should be encouraged across the states. Hindi or any other classical or scheduled language can be an optional choice. Multilingualism is an asset and linguistic diversity is strength of a nation, it constitutes, history, memories, wisdom of our past, of each language, the geographical area it is spoken, the culture of its speakers.

PS: Regional language speakers should encourage and be flexible when it comes to borrowing. For any language to survive, the inclusive space to accommodate new words borrowed from other languages is a necessity for its survival. English has borrowed and enriched its lexicon from more than 100 different languages of the world.

Dr M Ashraf Bhat is PhD [Linguistics] from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, and a post-doctorate [PDF] from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi. He is currently teaching abroad and can be mailed at

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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    India lacks a good linguistic policy. While states persist with dominant upper – caste dominated languages.the centre imposed Hindi as India’s unifying language unilaterally. Many tribal languages and the culture are left out without even addressing their existence problems. The whole language policy should be directed to promote local dialects and cultures. Imposition if one language is detrimental to democratic ethos