Is Hindi India’s national language?
- Debate over India’s national language has been raging since 1947
- Politicians from the Hindi heartland have sought a national language status
- Non-Hindi speaking states see Hindi primacy as linguistic imposition
The debate over Hindi being India’s national language never dies. The question of whether Hindi should be adopted across the length and breadth of the country has triggered flaming discussions with national unity on one end and diversity and linguistic imposition on another.
This debate, which has been raging since India’s freedom at midnight from the British in 1947, once again became stuff of national concern when Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep tweeted that Hindi is no longer India’s national language. The tweet garnered several responses, but the most noteworthy among them was by Hindi film actor Ajay Devgn, who among other things said, that Hindi is, always has been and always will be India’s national language.
While this Twitter banter did not really articulate the nuances of the position of Hindi in India’s dynamics as a nation-state, the debate has triggered a question on India’s national language. Here, Opoyi deep dives into the constitutional framework governing India’s linguistic concerns and the various debates surrounding Hindi’s position against other Indian languages.
The Constitutional position
The Indian Constitution does not accord any language the status of a national language. What it does, however, is that it accords Hindi the status of an official language. Hindi in Devnagri script is India’s official language along with English, according to Article 343 of the Indian Constitution.
Part XVII of the Indian Constitution that deals with the question of official language states: “The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devnagri script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.”
But, there’s something more…
When the Indian Constituent Assembly, the body framing the Indian Constitution between 1947 and 1949, was discussing the language formula the sub-committee on Fundamental Rights had recommended: “Hindustani, written either in Devanagari or the Persian script at the option of the citizen, shall, as the national language, be the first official language of the Union. English shall be the second official language for such period as the Union for such period as the Union may, by law, determine.”
Over time, there has been active resistance among non-Hindi speaking states on what they see as linguistic imposition. This is true for most states outside the Hindi heartland.
The Kichcha Sudeep-Ajay Devgn controversy also triggered responses from Karnataka politicians. HD Kumaraswamy, a former chief minister of Karnataka, in a serious of tweets, slammed the opinion that Hindi is India’s national language.
The Janata Dal (secular) leader, who is the son for former Indian Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, wrote: “An addiction for primacy is dividing the country. A seed sown by the BJP has become contagious dividing the nation. This is a threat to India’s unity.” He ended the tweet with: #stopHindiimposition.
Karnataka’s leader of Opposition and former chief minister Siddaramaiah tweeted, “Hindi was never & will never be our National Language. It is the duty of every Indian to respect linguistic diversity of our Country. Each language has its own rich history for its people to be proud of. I am proud to be a Kannadiga!!”
The flurry of responses is not coming just because two actors have engaged in a Twitter debate. Concerns over Hindi imposition have become more pronounced since 2014 when the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power. The BJP’s ideological roots lie in the Hindi heartland and as such the party has maintained a predilection to give Hindi a higher status.
Earlier this year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is from Gujarat, a state not strictly within the ambit of the Hindi heartland, said people from different states should use Hindi not English to communicate with each other. When criticised for trying to impose Hindi, Shah said he wants Hindi to take the position of English in nationwide communication.