The example of Indonesia:
- Hundreds of languages were spoken across thousands of islands that now comprise the modern nations of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
- Malay had evolved due to the need in maritime Southeast Asia for a common language for trade and other exchanges.
- While negotiating independence from Dutch colonial rule, Indonesian nationalists decided that a reformed version of Malay (renamed Bahasa Indonesia) would become the official language.
- With Bahasa, Indonesia aimed to bring more than 300 ethnic groups together with no one ethnic group, including the Javanese, overshadowing the rest.
- From the outset of its independence, Indonesia recognised the importance of avoiding the inequality that was likely to occur by imposing the language of one dominant ethnic group over others.
Indian Scenario over language
Debates in the Constituent Assembly:
- Unlike Indonesia, the issue of adopting a national language could not be resolved when the Constituent Assembly began drafting India’s Constitution.
- The adoption of a national language, the language in which the Constitution was to be written, and the language in which the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly were to be conducted were the main questions debated.
- While the representatives of the Hindi-speaking provinces argued for adopting Hindi as the sole national language, members from the southern part of the country opposed this.
Official Languages Act 1963:
- There was widespread resistance to the imposition of Hindi on non-native speakers, especially in Tamil Nadu.
- This led to the passage of the Official Languages Act of 1963, which provided for the continued use of English for all official purposes.
- Hindi became the sole working language of the Union government by 1965 with the State governments free to function in the language of their choice.
- Meanwhile, the constitutional directive for the Union government to encourage the spread of Hindi was retained within Central government entities in non-Hindi-speaking States.
Loss of language and a way of life:
- The Census points to the fact that while Hindi is the fastest growing language, the number of speakers of other languages has dropped.
- According to the 2001 Census, India has 30 languages that are spoken by more than a million people each.
- The Constitution lists 22 languages and protects them in the Eighth Schedule.
- Many languages are kept out of this schedule even if they deserve to be included.
- Eg: Tulu, which is spoken by over 1.8 million people and has inscriptions dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
- Hindi, a much younger Indo-Aryan language, has been gaining prominence since before independence.
- Old Hindi assimilated words from Persian.
- With the arrival of Islamic administrative rule in north India, it became Hindustani.
- The growing importance of Hindustani in colonial India and the association of Urdu with Muslims prompted Hindus in north India to develop a Sanskritised version, leading to the formation of a modern standard Hindi a century later.
- It was based on the vernacular of Delhi and the surrounding region and came to replace prestige dialects such as Awadhi, Maithili and Braj.
- The literary value of these dialects has diminished in due course.
- When a refined language loses its status in literary and daily interactions, the way of life associated with it also vanishes.
- If other well-evolved or endangered and indigenous languages are not protected and promoted, our future generations may fail to understand their real roots and culture.
- While discussing Hindi and its use, there is a need to focus on the merit of other Indian languages.
- Instead of focusing on one national language, emphasis must be on learning a language beyond one’s mother tongue and getting to know a different way of life.