The eleven volume report has submitted recently by the official language Committee headed by Home Minister to President Droupadi Murmu. The report has recommended to replace English with Hindi as India’s official national language. Union home minister Amit Shah has supported this recommendation by urging people from different state to communicate with each other in Hindi instead of English. This has sparked a fresh controversy across India and many states shown to their strong reaction to Union home minister Amit Shah. South Indian states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu has described the report is an attempt of ruling BJP to impose Hindi language over the non-Hindi speaking states. In the last week, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K Stalin wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi by giving his strong reaction on center’s plan to impose Hindi language in all possible ways. On the other side, BJP ruled central government has been continuously trying in all possible ways to impose Hindi as India’s national language. This move of central government is a part of one nation, one language, one religion and one culture project, which is against the India’s rich linguistic diversity and liberal ethos of Indian constitution. India’s linguistic diversity, in this case, is one of the fundamental to unite with different social and cultural identities.
The issue of linguistic diversity
India is one of the forth linguistically divers country in the world and its strong linguistic diversity unite the whole population with different identities. The people’s Linguistic survey of India has found that there are 780 languages spoken and 66 scripts are used in India. These all languages are popular in different part of the country and have been a rich source of knowledge about different societies. Similarly, Ethnologue language catalogue of the world has also ranked India into 4th in terms of number of languages spoken after Indonesia and Nigeria. But due to the domination of English language, government of India has not supported to regional languages since independence. On the other side, debate on English vs. Hindi has been created by the Indian ruling class and it has been against the regional language. Since independence, Government’s approach has been to suppress regional languages and it has led many problems and challenged to India’s rich linguistic diversity. According to Ganesh N Devy, Founder-director of the Bhasa Research and Publication Centre, today’s situation in India is alarming and India may lost 220 languages since 1961 and another 150 language could vanish in the next 50 years. Devy has documented 780 living languages and claims that 400 of them are at risk of dying. Besides, this approach of India has greatly affected tribal languages and created a significant challenge against tribal’s linguistic identity. According to People’s linguistic survey of India, there are five tribal languages in India which are on the verge of extinction. Majhi language in Sikkim is one of them and it is spoken by only four people of one family. Similarly, Dimasa in Asam, Mahali language in Estern India, Koro in Arunanchal Pradesh sidi in Gujarat are facing existential crisis. Another significant aspect of English vs. Hindi debate is that the imposition of Hindi as national language is totally based on suppression of other regional language and. In north Indian regions, the hegemonic project of Hindi is also threatening to subsume languages such as Bhojpuri and Magadhi.
Market is not supporting
Since independence, India’s modern economic policy has been centered on market and it never supported India’s rich linguistic diversity. Domination of English is global phenomenon and it is closely linked with the global market economy. India’s modern economy in this case has been linked with the global economy and it cannot sustain without domination of English language. Therefore, continues increasing domination of modern economy has created many challenges against India’s linguistic diversity. Firstly it has destroyed regional economy which has been very much supportive of regional languages. But due to increasing domination of modern economy, it has gradually replaced the rural economy with industrial economy. Continuous growth of industrial economy in various part of India has created a new class that has promoted both- English and Hindi as dominant language. In today society, growing technological innovation is the key to the modern economy and it is providing lots of content and data only in English language. Another important aspect that the modern economy has reproduced is migration which has been an important problem of Indian society. Increasing problem of migration has also supported both languages- English and Hindi on the one hand and suppressed regional languages on the other hand. According to a government report every year 34 percent rural population have to migrate from rural to urban area and it has promoted only two languages either English or Hindi.
Vices for linguistic diversity
India has been witness of several linguistic movements in different parts of the county since independency. But most of the movements have emerged due to imposition English and Hindi language and these were demanding to recognize the regional language. During the colonial period, several linguistic movement were started which had key objective to protect their language, culture and Identity such as Bengali language movement in Bengal, Urdu language movement in different parts, Tamil movement in Tamil Nadu and Kannad movement in Karnataka. All these Linguistic movements have provided a base for growing nationalist movement in during the colonial period. Anti-English movement was very strong and it had helped in mobilization of different communities against colonial power. Besides anti- English movement has also played significant role in developing a strong nationalist movement in India. But even after independence, all these movement continued and protesting against the domination of one language. The anti- Hindi movement was started after independence and it has been very strong in south Indian states. This movement is still going on against the imposition of Hindi as National language and strongly support to India’s rich linguistic diversity. Although, the demand to make Hindi as national language has been politically motivated and BJP has been promoting it to deny the existence of other language and other social and cultural identities. In opposition to this project, anti- Hindi movement is still going on rejecting this agenda of ruling BJP.
After India’s independency, the debate on English vs. Hindi has been a politically manipulated debate and it has been politically propagated by the ruling elites. The basic reason behind this debate is just to delegitimize India’s linguistic diversity by challenging different social and cultural identities.
Omprakash Kushwaha teaches Journalism and Mass communication at Chandigarh University, Mohali Punjab.