India's affair with the language debate dates back to when it got its independence. In a land of several cultures and ethnicities, language forms the core of an individual's identity. The language issue is not much prevalent in other countries where their names are a variant of their mother tongue. For instance, France, Turkey, Mongolia, Germany, and Spain are several other examples. However, India has as many as 22 official languages, and another 41 are queued to find a place in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution.
The latest debate between Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn and Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeepa reignited the much-debated language issue. The two engaged in a Twitter banter after the latter commented that Hindi no longer is a national language.
Later Sudeepa clarified that he did not mean the statement to hurt anyone but to celebrate the success of the south-Indian movie KGF-2, which has had a pan-India success. The statement did not go down well with Ajay Devgn. He took the micro-blogging website and said, "Kiccha Sudeep, my brother, according to you, if Hindi is not our national language, then why do you release your movies made in your mother tongue by dubbing them in Hindi? Hindi was, is and always will be our mother tongue and national language. Jan Gan Man", Times Now reported.
How Many Indians Speak In Hindi?
As per the 2011 census, which is the last reliable information on India's diverse population, only about 44 per cent of Indians speak Hindi, which also includes a considerable chunk of those who speak Bhojpuri, the language which has long been fighting for its official status, even though Hindi is one of the two most commonly used languages by the Central government, one could find its prevalence in North and Central India. Between 2001 to 2011, Hindi grew by 25 per cent to include 100 million new speakers. Even though Hindi has seen a steady rise in the last few decades, the south Indian languages of the five Dravidian states have not shown much rise. Therefore, the proportion of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Kannada speakers has not progressed.
The Indian Constitution had never titled Hindi as the country's official language. Moreover, in 1950, it accorded official language status to Hindi and English under Article 343. The Constitution mentions, "The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals".
Hindi As The National Language Is Often Debated
One of the reasons people feel very strongly over the 'imposition' of one language as the national language is that language forms the core of an individual's identity in a country as diverse as India. An individual conceptualises and communicates his thoughts in a language, enabling him to be an active part of society. People identify with one another based on language, thus giving them a primary group.
When the country became independent, there was a proposal of demarking the state borders based on language. However, as a population was speaking multiple languages of millions, the only solution that came forth was the formation of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, which comprised a list of languages as the country's official languages. Moreover, the government complied to ensure their development.
Linguistic Surveys: What Do They Tell Us?
Hindi often holds a special place in people's hearts because of the false notion that it is spoken widely, as the data mentioned that only 44 per cent of Indians communicated in Hindi, G.N. Devy, who headed the People's Linguistic Survey of India, noted that the data does not paint an accurate picture. Devy suggested 65 prominently spoken languages in the country, and several other studies also indicated that the majority did not speak Hindi. Therefore, the argument that Hindi is often favoured by many stands discarded.
Only five states in India have Hindi as their' native language'. However, in those states, too, the dialects of Hindi are associated with locals and their communities. In many cases, spoken Hindi differs from place to place and is drastically different from the mainstream version. For instance, in Bihar, the Bhojpuri dialect or the mother tongue Maithili is more common; in Chattisgarh, people use a dialect known as Chattisgarhi.
After the partition in 1947, Hindi was seen as the only strong opponent to English and its elitism. In the rural pockets of the country, the common belief was that only a handful spoke English of people. Therefore, Hindi became the option for those who could not access English.
In 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah invoked the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, while backing the government's idea of recognising Hindi as the identifying language of the country. He had tweeted appealing to people to use their native languages but also promoting Hindi at the same time to 'make Bapu and Vallabhai Patel's dream come true. However, researchers believed that Gandhi kept changing his stance. In fact, in 1942, he had urged to adopt Hindustani, a mix of Hindi and Urdu, as the unifying language for the masses.