Hindi As National Language Of India : Decoding The Myth

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India is a land of diversity comprising of individuals from
different communities, backgrounds, religions etc. What one eats, how one
speaks, differs from region to region. In this diversity, we Indians often look
for symbols and objects that unite us. The national anthem, national animal,
national song, national flower are pertinent examples. It is famously said,
that in India language changes every few kilometres just like the
water
. Therefore, unlike the other national symbols the choice of a
‘national language’ for India has been difficult and has witnessed violence and
heated debates.

The governments in power have time and again reiterated that
‘Hindi’ is the national language of India. For instance, in 2017, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, called
Hindi the national language of India, in a public address. Same year, the
government attempted to institute Hindi as a language of the United Nations. In 2018, the Ministry of Human Resource Development
issued directives to all the central universities to implement Hindi as a
compulsory course in the bachelor programmes.

India does not have a national language and therefore, calling
Hindi (an official language) as one is not only against the law but is also
against the interests of the regions where the language is not spoken. In the
present post, I aim to prove the same. The post shall briefly highlight the
discussions surrounding Hindi in the Constituent Assembly and its eventual
position in the Constitution. This shall be followed by addressing the
controversy around calling Hindi as the national language.

At the outset, a brief discussion on the difference between a
‘national language’ and an ‘official language’ would be beneficial. A ‘national
language’ is representative of the country, its cultural heritage and history.
It gives the impression that citizens of the country know and speak that
language. An ‘official language’ on the contrary is used for the official
purposes of the Union and the state governments i.e. government documents,
parliamentary/state debates etc. A country can have more than one official
language, however national language is one.

A. Hindi and the Constituent Assembly: 

[1]

The administration in India was run in the English language
under the British rule. The Constituent Assembly had the task of deciding
whether to continue the same or abandon it for a different language, primarily
Hindi. The discussions around the same were extremely heated.

Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle had described Hindi
as the national language and called for its adoption. He understood Hindi as
Hindustani i.e. a blend of both Sanskritised Hindi and Persianised Urdu,
written either in Devanagari or the Persian script. His opinion resonated with
the Constituent Assembly as well.

However, with the partition of India the cause of Hindustani was
lost, though Mahatma Gandhi believed that a language which was spoken by the
largest group of people should be adopted. Hindi although spoken by the largest
single group of people, was not spoken in all parts of the country. Therefore
adopting the same would have seemed like an imposition on the others.

The Assembly was divided on this issue and it seemed that this
debate would result in breaking down of the Assembly’s unity. Therefore, a
compromise called the ‘Munshi-Ayyangar’ formula was evolved and accepted. It
stated that for a period of 15 years, English would continue to be used for all
official purposes and the parliament could substitute it later with Hindi.

B. Constitution of India and Hindi:

The Munshi-Ayyangar formula was incorporated in the Constitution
under Part XVII, Chapter I. It provided for Hindi in
Devanagari Script as the Official Language of the Union (central government).
However, the use of English for the first 15 years was allowed (with an option
of a further extension) for a smooth transition.

In 1965, as the period of 15 years drew closer, proposals to
substitute Hindi in place of English were raised and met with threats of
violent disturbances in the southern states of India. In response, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave
an assurance that English would not be substituted by Hindi, until the
non-Hindi speaking people desire a change.
To that effect, the
government passed the Official Languages Act, 1963 which authorised the
continuance of English as an official language, in addition to Hindi.
Therefore, both Hindi and English became official languages of India.

In addition to the above, the Constitution allows the states to
adopt one or more language (i.e. the language used in the state or Hindi), as
the official language. Citing the Article, the state of Uttar Pradesh
designated Hindi as its official language (vide the Uttar Pradesh Official Language Act, 1951).

It should be noted that despite the Constitution stressing on
the progressive use of Hindi for all official purposes (Art.344),
the language of the Constitutional Courts (i.e. High Court and the Supreme
Court), the language of any legislative document in the Union/state (Art.348)
and the language for communication between two states or a state and the Union,
is provided to be English (Art. 345).

In a nutshell, the Union government has to use English and Hindi
for its official purposes, whereas the state governments are empowered to
choose one or more official languages for the state. The Constitution vide
the Eighth Schedule recognizes several
regional languages which are spoken in India. The states may choose the
languages mentioned in the Schedule as their official language.

C. Is Hindi a ‘national language’?

Since, the Constitution is silent on a national language, the
task to determine the same has fallen on the Courts. In this controversy, two
competing arguments are raised i.e. the argument of unity and the argument of
disadvantage to minorities. The side in favour of Hindi states that having a
national language would unite the entire country, whereas the other side
believes that imposition of Hindi would put non-Hindi speaking people at a
great disadvantage. Additionally, the critics cite India’s diversityto state
that there is no single language spoken by the majority in India, then how can
one language be the uniting factor.

The High Courts of Bombay (Bombay
Education Society v. State
, 1954 SCC OnLine Bom 26), Calcutta (West
Bengal Board of Secondary Association v. Siliguri High School
, 2003
SCC Online Cal 525) and Madhya Pradesh (Raghavendra Prasad v. Union Bank of
India, 1998 SCC Online MP 177 at ¶ 1) have sided with the Unity argument and
have remarked that Hindi is the national language of India. It should be noted
however, that such remarks were made in passing, without a formal binding
declaration and hence, are not binding.

On the other hand, the High Courts of Gujarat (Amrutlal
Popatlal v. Chief Secretary
, 2013 SCC Online Guj 5343), Karnataka (General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities v. State of
Karnataka
, AIR 1989 Kar. 226) and Patna (Jayakant Mishra v. State of Bihar, 2002 SCC
Online Pat. 991) have sided with the diversity and the disadvantage
arguments. In fact, in Amrutlal’s case, the Court categorically
rejected a petition, where a party had argued that Hindi was the national
language of India.

The lack of a conclusive Supreme Court decision on the issue
might raise questions, however, the decision in Amrutlal seems to be the most
pertinent decision on the issue currently. Furthermore, the decisions against
Hindi, are well reasoned and undertake a detailed discussion on the issue,
giving them a higher persuasive value than the others. Therefore, in my opinion
Hindi is merely an official language and not a national language.

Concluding Remarks:

If Hindi is declared as the national language, every citizen of
the country would be required to learn the same. Such a situation would
definitely benefit a north Indian (as Hindi is the most prominent language in
the region) over citizens from the other regions, as the latter would be
expected to learn a language from scratch. In effect, members of northern India
would be placed at an advantage over the others, which is wrong. This concern
of disadvantage is addressed with the use of English, as the same is a neutral
language not attached to any region. Additionally, given the relevance of the
language globally, its use benefits a developing country like India.

The governments continue to push for Hindi aggressively, a
recent example of which is the controversial three language formula where the Union
mandated teaching of Hindi in all government schools. Pt. Nehru had rightly
said that Hindi should not be imposed till the non-Hindi speaking states
agreed. However, despite their disagreement, the central governments have
forcefully imposed Hindi on them.

Justice Dhavan in Jayakant Mishra’s case had very aptly
addressed this trend. He opined,

‘Asserting the hegemony of Hindi and
being belligerently pushing it under a misconception that it is the national
language (rashtra bhasha) so ordained by the Constitution of India is the
biggest misunderstanding and one solitary factor which contributes to discord
with people of the nation where Hindi is not spoken. A person who does not
speak Hindi is no less a nationalist than any other citizen who comes from
a Hindi speaking State. That Hindi may be encouraged so that it becomes a
standardised link language is another aspect. But, such an effort should not be
pushed so far as to offend the sensibilities of other people of India who speak
their languages and are equally proud of them. The Constitution of India
balances with a sense of sensitivity and equality amongst the people to give
due respect to ethnic identity of the peoples, their language and their
culture. The Constitution of India speaks of a composite culture of the
nation.’

It has been rightly
said
that India is like a beautiful carpet woven in a design
that has a language of diverse cultural representations woven by knots tightly
holding the entire fabric of the nation. The beauty of this carpet is
besmirched if one culture or language is given more importance than the other.
Instead, all languages should be treated with equal respect and promoted. A
step towards it has been taken by the Supreme Court recently, where it made its
judgments available not only in Hindi but also in other regional languages.

I hope that the government realises that the unique quality of
India is its diversity. One should not be forced to learn a language, which
she/he does not resonate with. Doing so would violate the constitutional
principles, this nation stands for.

( The author is a BBA.LLB (Constitutional Law Hons.) graduate from
National Law University, Jodhpur (India). The article was first published on
the author’s personal blog “The
‘Basic’ Structure”
).

(Cover image sourced from here)

[1] H. M. Seervai, Constitutional Law
of India (4th e.d., vol.3) at ¶ 23.1 to 23.15.



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