Published: 12th October 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Talks about Hindi imposition in central varsities are on again. What does it mean for India?
The Amit Shah-led Official Language Committee recommended Hindi as the medium of instruction in Central Universities, creating a stir
Power politics in the form of linguistic imperialism has been prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, owing especially to its multilingual and multicultural demography. Recently the controversy of Hindi imposition erupted once again when the Parliamentary Official Language Committee recommended that English should be replaced with Hindi as the medium of instruction in central universities. This has set fire across the nation, especially in non-Hindi speaking states and oppositions have called the move a form of Hindi Imperialism. Ministers from the Southern states have vehemently criticised the move.
Amit Shah led the committee that proposed the need for Hindi knowledge for employee selection and compulsory Hindi paper to be included in place of English. This committee was set up in 1976 to assess the development of the use of Hindi for official purposes. BJP, in its time of reign, has been accused of imposing Hindi in India multiple times and this time, the committee has made several recommendations to further add to these accusations. As per reports, the committee has made 112 recommendations and Hindi translation for court orders, replacement of compulsory English papers and making Hindi a medium of instruction in training institutions are among a few of them.
What is the reaction?
Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin has accused the centre of attacking the “integrity and pluralism” of the country. He has further criticised the government stating that the move will make the non-Hindi speakers second-class citizens in the country. He has slammed the Committee report and warned, “I warn to not take a stance which is against the principle stated above. Do not force another language war by imposing Hindi.”
Other leaders like the Lok Sabha MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi also strongly reacted to the committee report and via social media, she accused the government of attacking the democratic spirit of the country, “The Indian Union’s sovereignty is rooted in its pluralism. On the contrary, trying to impose singularity on everything is going against the democratic spirit.”
What does the Constitution say about the official language?
The Indian Constitution has no specific official language mentioned. The Part XVII of the Constitution does not have any mention of any one national or official language, it instead defines several regional languages for the official use of the Union. The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution lists 22 languages, including Hindi, nonetheless, in Article 343 of the Official Languages Act, Hindi and English are assigned as the official languages.
Further Article 351 states that the government must promote Hindi: “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.”
Why is Hindi not the sole working language in India?
The initial aim was to make Hindi the only officially used language of the Union Government in the country. This was intended to be done by 1965 as per the directives of Article 344(2) (which requires an official committee to be set up every ten years see figure steps to see the progress in the use of the Hindi language and replace English over time) and Article 351, however, the plurality of the country opposed such imposition and Anti-Hindi movements across states, especially in non-Hindi speaking states, witnessed widespread resistance in the past. The passage of the Official Languages Act of 1963 stands as a testimony to these resistances which allowed the continuation of the use of English for official use.
Despite no clear mention of Hindi as the official language of the country, the vagueness of the constitution often leads to debates and friction. As per the Census of 2011, the number of Hindi speakers in the country is 44%.