Language problem in India – Responses of the constitution and law

By | July 11, 2018

Introduction

Humans started communicating language since 100,000 years ago. Every country has its own national language through which the day-to-day affairs goes between the people in that country. India being a diverse country with different languages, dialects, religions, regions, and cultures, has a problem of lingua franca. The problem of lingua franca in India is important because language is basic.  According to the people’s linguistic survey of India, there are 780 languages and 86 scriptures out of which 250 languages extinguished and some other languages are in endangered. It reflects the culture.

“History demonstrates that from the time immemorial India has been a multilingual country. Each region has its own language in which it was supreme. But, none of these regions truly constituted unilingual kingdom and principality.”

In India, Sanskrit was the most prevalent language in the ancient period which was introduced by Aryans. After that India was conquered by the Islamic rulers, then Persian becomes the language in most of the regions of the country. Urdu was gradually developed as a combined language of Persian and Sanskrit.

Inspired by the wealth of India, the British came in the year 1600 as traders. But later they settled as rulers.

The English language overpowered Persian. At first, they used local language in the courts and other matters. Later onwards most of the functions of the government switched over to the English language.  Many were supported b the English language as it opens gates to the modern science and education.

After independence, there was a proposal to make Hindi as an official language as it can be understood by the large percentage of the people in the country. This resulted in the agitation among Non – Hindi speaking states.

There were two problems regarding Hindi being the official language:
  • Which dialect of Hindi has to be chosen for official language? (As there are many dialects of Hindi)
  • Other languages in India

The Constitutional assembly segregated into groups. The most of the assembly members Lokmanya Tilak, Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, Subash Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, demanded Hindi would be a national language. As they demanded, some of the non-Hindi speakers opposed as it is unfair to inflict something as their language which is not. It also affects the people in their employment, public services, education etc. There was also another group wanted to make Sanskrit as an official language as it is considered as the mother of all languages.

“One language can unite people. Two languages are sure to divide people. This is an inexorable law. Culture is conserved by language. Since Indians wish to unite and develop a common culture, it is bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their official language.” – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

After so much debate constitutional assembly came to a compromise which is known as Munshi – Ayyangar formula. According to Munshi-Ayyangar formula, English will be considered as official language besides Hindi for a term of 15 years. The power of extension was given to the parliament. As a result of this official language Act, 1963 was enacted but the provisions of the act couldn’t be satisfied by the protestors. Later onwards official language act, 1967 was amended by the Indira Gandhi’s government which made Hindi and English as the official language of the country.

Constitutional provisions on language

The provisions related to language are included in the Part XVII of the India constitution. Article 343 – 351 deals with official languages of India. Article 343 deals with the official language of the union. It states Hindi in Devanagari script is the official language besides English also allowed. Article 345 deals with the official languages of the states. Article 348 says the English language to be used in the legal proceedings of the supreme court and High court. Article 351 gives special directions for the development of Hindi official language. As a result of Munshi – Ayyangar formula 8th schedule was formulated. It contains 22 languages the last two languages added as in 92nd amendment.

The constitution protected scripts and languages under article 29. It prohibited discrimination on the grounds of language under article 14 and 16.

Judicial approach

The courts were to continue using English. The reason was mentioned by Mr Ayyangar who said, “Our courts are accustomed to English; they have been accustomed to laws drafted in English; they have been accustomed to interpret in English. It is not always possible to find a proper equivalent to an English word in the Hindi Language and then proceed to interpret it with all the precedents and rulings which refer only to the English words and not the Hindi words.”

 In Mathura Prasad Singh And Ors. vs. The State Of Bihar And Ors. AIR 1975 Pat 295, the High Court of Patna held that non-publication of the English translation of a statute, which was originally in Hindi did not violate article 348.

In Union Of India & Ors vs.  Murasoli Maran, 1977 AIR 225, 1977 SCR (2)314, the Supreme Court held that extending the time for the usage of English language does not amount to an abandonment of progress in the use of Hindi as the official language of the Union.

The necessity of national language

The national language is of very great importance. The monopoly of a national language brings out the togetherness among the citizens and uniformity in government functions. The idea of introduction of a national language in a multilingual country like India is not to overtake the other languages but to govern India and for the communication purpose between the people who don’t speak the same language. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, president of the constitutional assembly explained the importance of national language. He said, “There is no other item in the whole Constitution which will be required to be implemented from day-to-day, from hour to hour, I may almost say from minute to minute in practice. Even if we succeed in getting a particular proposition passed by a majority if it does not meet with the approval of any considerable section of the people in the country whether in the north or in the south, the implementation of the Constitution would become the most difficult problem.”

Many scholars advised making English as the national language in India. But English cannot be our national language, even though it plays an important role in our social life and strengthened our freedom movement because it is neither our language nor our culture.

National language – debate

The problem of lingua franca still not solved in India. Even after 7 decades of independence, national language remained as an interest of conflict. Whenever there is a proposal regarding national language agitation gets started. This is because of the uncertainty among the citizens and also political leaders manipulation.

Multilingualism is not only in India there are other states too who are facing this problem. But they all came up with policies to tackle these problems.

Conclusion

The language represents the culture. The conflicts related to the national language became more complex. It is evident that language has the power to break or keep a country. Though India is failed in implementing the national language, the concept of bilingual policy somewhat maintaining the social harmony in the country. Preamble mentioned the unity and integrity of the nation. Language is the one which unites people of the country under a single roof. Nothing can be done in the violation of unity and integrity of a nation.

One can hope that one day India would get its own national language with social acceptance. 

By – T. Ramya

Sri Padmavathi Mahila Viswa Vidyalayam (Women’s University) Tirupati.

Sources

  • www.columbia.edu
  • Language issue again the need for a clear-headed policy, www.thehindu.com
  • cadindia.clpr.org.in
  • Beyond the language, www.thehindu.com

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