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THE LANGUAGE PROBLEM
THE PROBLEM OF A LINK LANGUAGE IN INDIA
INTRODUCTION: India is a land of different languages. Every language has rich literature and each region can feel proud of the language which it speaks or in which its literature is available. But some people lie too much or rather overstress the superiority of their language. Thus the languages which through literature, might have brought about national unity, have created disunity in the country. This language has created many problems rather than solving them.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT: India has not one language problem but a complex of language problems. The Constitution of India recognises eighteen ‘official’ regional languages and Hindi as the ‘national official’ language. In addition, English is used as a link language between Hindi and non-Hindi states. One aspect of the language problem in India is that no language is spoken by an absolute majority of the people and even Hindi, the most widely spoken language is used by only about 42% of the total population in India. Thus, at the national level, there is no linguistic majority. But in almost every state, there are several linguistic minorities. The problem could not be solved even through the creation of linguistic states. A major confrontation on the language issue, however, is the declaration of Hindi as the ‘National’ official language which has led to Anti-Hindi agitations in many parts of the country—especially in Tamil Nadu in the South. The introduction of the 3-language ‘formula’ sought to solve the language issue to some extent. But poor implementation has meant that the problem continues to hang fire.
CONCLUSION: While the issues of official language and minority/ majority languages are determined by policies of the Government, language is primarily the business of the people. Hence linguistic integration has to be achieved at the popular rather than the official level.
India has not one language problem but a complex of language problems. According to the linguistic survey of India, there are 179 languages and 544 dialects, and philologists classify them into four distinct family groups—Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibetan-Chinese. However, the linguistic scene is complicated because a language group does not generally correspond to an identifiable and distinct religious community. For example, Bengali is the language of the Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike in Bengal. Generally, it has been said, these groups have identical linguistic interests in definite areas despite their religious differences. That this is not universally true is brought out dramatically by the example of Punjabi which is increasingly identified with Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus are going to the extent of renouncing the language they have spoken for centuries. Similarly, Urdu is identified with Muslims and large numbers of Hindus who were using it earlier, and still speak a language which is difficult to distinguish from Urdu, claim to be Hindi-speaking people. Various local and regional political considerations and historical experiences also condition peoples’ responses to the language issue and a great deal of bitterness exists, as for instance in Assam on the question of Bengali and in Belgaum in Karnataka on the use of Marathi.
The Constitution of India recognises twenty-one ‘official’ regional languages ‘and Hindi as the ‘national official’ language. In addition, English is used as a link’ language for communication between Hindi and non-Hindi states. An aspect of the language problem in India is that no language is spoken by an absolute majority of the people and even Hindi, the most widely-spoken language—even if one disregards its various dialects — is Used by only about 40.42% of the total population of India. Thus, at the national level, there is no linguistic majority or minority in the arithmetical sense. However, the picture is different in the various states. In almost every state, there are several islands of linguistic minorities, the political permutations and combinations emerging from which are immense.
Thus, to explain the term ‘linguistic minorities’, the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities says. “Linguistic minorities are minorities residing in the territory of India, or any part thereof, having a distinct language or script of their own. The languages of minority group need not be one of the (22 ‘official’) languages. In other words, a ‘linguistic minority’ at the state level means any group of people whose mother-tongue is different from the principal language of the state, and at the district and taluka levels, different from the principal language of the district or the taluka.” That the problem is wide and complex is, of course, evident from this definitional officialese, but the actual degree of complexity is almost unimaginable.
The problem was sought to be simplified to an extent through the creation of linguistic states. This task was entrusted to the States Reorganisation Commission which was appointed in 1953 and which submitted its report in 1955. On the basis of its report, many boundaries were redrawn on linguistic basis and a number of unilingual states were carved out.
However, this operation could not solve the acuteness of linguistic problem. It left practically the whole of north-eastern India untouched and it required bloody agitations and sometimes even war-like situations for the composite Assam to be divided up into no less than seven states and union territories. Even then, the fact that the Bengali-majority district of Cachar still forms a part of Assam keeps the problem alive. Further, the problem was aggravated by the influx of large numbers of non-Assamese, particularly Bengali-speaking people into Assam from Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan and before that East Ben-gal) and West Bengal. In the long drawn out agitation in Assam, the term ‘foreigner’ (ostensibly referring to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh) is actually a euphemism for Bengalis in general. In Bombay province, although the issues were much simpler, again an agitation had to be carried out to achieve the division of the province into Gujarat and Maharashtra on linguistic basis. Even there, the problem of a Marathi-speaking area, Belgaum, being left in Karnataka rather than being merged into Maharashtra still rankles. And in other parts of the country too, in spite of the efforts of the State Reorganisation Commission, there are still ‘boundary’ disputes and other problems relating to linguistic issues.
A major confrontation on the language issue, however, did not concerti linguistic minorities within different states but the issue of the declaration of Hindi as the ‘National Official’ language. This aroused emotion in various regions and particularly in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, there were language agitations. In Madras, there was even violence till the assurance was given that Hindi would not be imposed on the state and that English would continue to be used as a ‘link’ language for an unspecified time in the future. An aspect of, this anti-Hindi in Tamil Nadu was that it was led by parties which claimed to tep-resent the linguistically, culturally and ethnically distinct ‘Dravidian’ people and whatever be the scientific validity of their claims and premises, they gained such popularity that since 1967, one or the other of the Dravid Munnetra Kazghams (Dravidian People’s Party) has continuously been voted to power, in the state. In Bengal and other non-Hindi states, the anti-Hindi agitation was not as vehement as in Tamil Nadu but even there the perceived attempts to impose Hindi are strongly resented. The problem has not been solved as, in spite of the report of Official Language Commission (India 1956), the issue has been kept in abeyance and English rather than Hindi continues to be used for inter-state official communication among non-Hindi states, between Hindi and non-Hindi states and between the union government and the states. Otherwise, particularly in what is known as the ‘Hindi heartland’, the use of Hindi for official .work is being actively promoted.
However, the very question of what is Hindi has itself posed a problem and linguists and philologists have debated amongst themselves for long years. It is a tricky question and with it is tied the issue of another linguistic minority, the Urdu-users. Even if various dialects (some of which claim to-be full-fledged languages) are not taken into consideration, the language which is mainly spoken in urban north India is descended from both Sanskrit and Arabic/Persian. Depending on the weight placed on words from either source and depending on whether it is written in the Devanagari or Arabic script, the language becomes either Hindi or Urdu. Within Hindi itself, there is a tendency to deliberately Sanskritise it, even to the extent of it’s losing its common, popular ‘Hindustani’ character and convert it into an exact, ‘scientifically’ constructed artificial ‘Bharti’.
While this problem is still being debated by philologists and it seems that its only solution will be in the people’s continuing use of the more colloquial and simpler version, the issue of Hindi versus Urdu evokes passions. This is especially complicated by the factor that Urdu is identified with Muslims though, during the British rule, it was the official language for both communities and a large number of Hindus continue to use it even now in daily unofficial communication. Indeed, in the early stages of the Constituent Assembly, the sub-committee on
Fundamental Rights, following Gandhiji’s leadership, adopted the following formula: “Hindustani, written either in the Devnagri or the Persian (Arabic) 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 may by law determine. All official records of the Union shall be kept in I Hindustani in both the scripts and also in English until the Union by law otherwise provided”. However, the partition of the country in 1947 on communal lines and the death of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 influenced the members of the Constituent Assembly to reverse this decision and the communal response to this question was to adopt Hindi in the Devanagari script as the official language. Since then the Muslims have had a grievance on this account as Urdu ceased to have the status of the official language.
The present conflict on this issue is over the place to be accorded to Urdu among the 18 regional languages. Although Urdu is the declared mother tongue of a very large number of people and is widely used, it is not the majority language in any state or union territory. It is, however, recognised as the state language in Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, after much agitation on the issue and in order to mollify the Muslim electorate, Urdu has been accorded the status of a secondary official language, in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is recognised as a regional language in Andhra Pradesh also. In spite of all this, it continues to be a minority language; “the Urdu speaking Indian is in a minority everywhere. Even in Kashmir with its Muslim majority, the dominant language is not Urdu but Kashmiri”. There are two major problems which Urdu continues to face: one is the fact that considerable numbers of Urdu speakers are scattered over India and the other that it has got identified with Muslims and Islam even though in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the local Muslims have little to do with Urdu and the language of Islamic texts in Arabic and not Urdu.
The linguistic problem is, in essence, the problem of ‘minority languages’, i.e., of languages fairly widely spoken in states where the majority of the population, however, speaks some other language. The very reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis, which was expected to solve the linguistic issue, aggravated this problem to an extent because as a result of states being identified with the language of the majority of their populations, the propagation of the language of the majority became aggressive. The whole issue became emotive and passions were let loose. In order to bring about some order in the resultant linguistic chaos, a ‘three language formula’ was introduced. It envisaged the teaching of three languages at the secondary level in schools and it was particularly recommended that schools in northern India should take up the teaching of a modern South Indian language. It was of course presumed that Hindi would be one of the three languages taught in non-I find’ states.
However, even the introduction of the ‘three language formula’ has not brought about the desired linguistic integration. For one, in most Hindi-speaking, I state, the whole scheme has been subverted by teaching Sanskrit and, in some places, even Urdu instead of the recommended modern South Indian languages. Further, the third language is most often taught in an extremely desultory fashion. And finally, in some state, the selection of the third language is often an exercise geared to settling political or communal scores.
Thus, for instance, in Haryana, instead of Punjabi which is the language of the neighbouring and parent state and which should be the common sense choice for the third language, a political point is sought to be made in the cultural and linguistic context by adopting Tamil or Telugu for formal teaching in rural schools. Tamil Nadu has adopted a two language formula (to try to keep Hindi out) and Punjab insists that it is a unilingual state. Thus, the safeguard for linguistic minorities enshrined in the Constitution or other agreed principles has not been fully accepted by all the states. The use of minority languages for official purposes, another important demand of linguistic minorities, meets generally the same fate as the three-language formula in the educational field, significant exceptions notwithstanding. And, while this is the situation of the 18 recognized languages, the position of small minorities using the many other languages and dialects is even worse in regard to this linguistic aspect of cultural preservation official assistance is generally lacking though, in recent times, some popular attempts are being made to vitalise some languages, particularly those of the tribals ‘from below’. And this alone might work.
For, language is primarily the business of the people and linguistic integration has to be achieved at the popular rather than official level. Indeed this is one of the significant findings of the monumental ‘Peoples of India’ study carried out by the Anthropological Survey of India. The study of nearly 4000 communities that constitute India has found that traditional as well as now a very large number of them is bilingual, using one language for internal communication and the other for interacting with neighbouring ‘communities’. In fact, this could have been the only way of survival in the multi-ethnic plurality of India.
While the issues of ‘official language’ and `minority/majority languages are obviously determined by processes of the State, it is also necessary to note the evolution of languages themselves as parts of societal change. And, it is as important to see languages as modes of communication as to note that they are also systems of misunderstanding. Thus, the linguistic problem has to be addressed at various levels: intra-group, inter-group; as elements of discourse and as barriers in social-cultural interaction.