Mother Language – Vishesh – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • March 12, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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Mother Language


TOPIC: General Studies 2:

  • Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure

In News: International Mother Language Day is celebrated on 21st February every year. It has been observed since 1999 to promote “linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”

According to the UN

  • Of the world’s 6,000 languages, 43% are estimated as endangered
  • Just 10 languages account for as many as 4.8 billion speakers — over 60% of the world population.

Globally, English remains the most widely spoken language with 1.13 billion speakers in 2019, followed by Mandarin with 1.17 billion, according to the online database Ethnologue. Hindi is third with 615 million speakers while Bengali is seventh with 265 million.

In India, 

  • Hindi is the most spoken language with over 528 million speakers in 2011, as per the Census. 
  • Bengali had 97.2 million speakers in 2011, followed by Marathi (83 million)
  • Other languages with over 50 million speakers are Telugu (81 million), Tamil (69 million), Gujarati (55.5 million) and Urdu (50.8 million).

The History

On February 21, 1952, Pakistan’s police opened fire on students of University of Dhaka (in erstwhile East Pakistan) protesting against the imposition of Urdu. The Bengali language movement demanded the inclusion of Bengali as a national language of Pakistan, in addition to Urdu, which was the mother tongue of only 3-4% of the nation, while Bengali was spoken by more than 50% of the population.

On January 9, 1998, Canada-based Rafiqul Islam wrote to the United Nations, asking them to commemorate the 1952 killings in Dhaka and mark the day to preserve languages from around the world from extinction. This led to the declaration of 21st February as International Mother Language Day. 

‘Official language’ debate in India

When the Indian Constitution was being framed in the Constituent Assembly, the question of choosing one language as the official language arose in the minds of the Constitution makers. The official language of the Central government was the single most divisive official issue in the Indian Constituent Assembly. There were two problems regarding Hindi being the official language: a) the dialect of Hindi; and   b) the other languages existing in India.

  • Question of adopting a Hindi dialect: Hindi is spoken in around 13 different dialects.  So debate arose as to which of the dialect was to be chosen as the official Hindi dialect. Later, Hindi dialect was adopted which was the one spoken in the Delhi-Agra region with Sanskrit vocabulary.
  • Gandhi’s Dream of One National language: Most of the members of Constituent Assembly wanted to fulfill Mahatma Gandhi’s dream who had opined that there should be a national language which would give a distinct identity to the nation. They chose the most popular language of the country to be crowned as the official language of the Union of India. As soon as the proposal was laid down before the Assembly, many members of the assembly opposed it on the ground of it being unfair for the non-Hindi speaking population who’ll suffer in terms of employment opportunities, education, and public services because of their non-Hindi background.
  • Demand for including regional languages: Several arguments were raised for the inclusion and non-inclusion of Hindi language. Some of the members of the Constituent Assembly including L.K.Maitra and N.G.Ayyangar demanded that the regional languages should also be recognized (at State level) and the chosen national language should not be made exclusive. There were others like Lokamanya Tilak, Gandhiji, C. Rajagopalachari, Subhash Bose and Sardar Patel who demanded that Hindi should be used throughout India without any exceptions and the states should also resort to the use of Hindi language because it would promote integration.
  • Two groups in the Assembly: The whole assembly was divided into two groups, one which supported Hindi and wanted it to become the official language and the other which did not favour Hindi to become the official language. The assembly was at loggerheads.
  • Ambedkar’s views: Introducing multiple languages as official languages was not considered feasible. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was quoted as saying, “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 the bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their official language.”
  • Munshi-Ayyangar formula: Ultimately, when the Constituent Assembly was on the verge of losing its unity, a compromise called Munshi-Ayyangar formula was adopted without dissent. It was a half-hearted compromise because no group got what it wanted. According to this formula, English was to continue as the official language of India along with Hindi for a period of fifteen years but the limit was elastic and the power of extension was given to the Parliament. A statute titled ‘Official Languages Act, 1963’ was enacted when the period of fifteen years was about to expire in an attempt to prevent agitation in the non-Hindi speaking States. But the provisions of the Act could not satisfy the views of the protestors.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri policy: Lal Bahadur Shastri, Nehru’s successor as prime minister, did not pay much heed to the opinion of non-Hindi groups. He, instead of effectively countering the fears of non-Hindi groups that Hindi would become the sole official language, declared that he was considering making Hindi an alternative medium in public service examinations which meant that although the non-Hindi speakers would still be able to compete in the all-India services in English medium, the Hindi speakers would have an added advantage of being able to use their own mother tongue Hindi as a medium. This increased the fury of the non-Hindi groups and they became more anti-Hindi and later also raised and popularized the slogan of ‘Hindi never, English ever’. Thus Lal Bahadur Shastri only gave air to the blazing agitation of the non-Hindi groups against Hindi.
  • Amendment to the official languages act: The Official Languages Act was ultimately amended in the year 1967 by Indira Gandhi’s government which provided for indefinite usage of English and Hindi as the official languages of the country.

The Current Questions

Language is a crucial part of a community’s identity and social reality. Given India’s colonial history, the different languages in the country are constantly jostling with the “global” language English for space. The fight for mother tongues to remain relevant persists, in the face of dominating language structures. Language hierarchies are constantly internalised and play up in daily social situations. 

  • Which language do we think and dream in? 
  • Can we call ourselves truly bi- or even multilingual? 
  • How many of us actively engage with our mother tongues? 
  • What do we even call our mother tongue?

Though the use of mother languages as mediums of instruction in school and higher education has been armoured from pre-Independence times, sadly, the number of those desiring to study in English has been multiplying exponentially. This has led to the burgeoning of monolingual educational institutes governed by the English language and is creating a society that is far from sensitive, just and equitable.

The nature of dominance of English over all other mother languages is allied to power, status and identity of students. Students speaking different mother languages come together to study in an educational institute where they interact with each other without any difficulties at both school and higher education level. Yet they are being taught monolingually through a foreign language that not all students are able to associate with. The whole process has led to the ignorance of mother languages and a feeling of disassociation among students.

The Way Forward

Knowing English helps a lot in getting a good job, but only if that English is meaningful, accompanied by understanding and fundamental knowledge in all the other things children go to school to learn. The English used in most Indian schools simply does not allow for any real learning to take place.

  • Government should be more sensitive towards the people’s aspiration and they shouldn’t impose any language on them against their will. There should be having that legislative back up to protect the minority languages.
  • We need to follow the three language formula and there is a need to develop extensively all the languages.
  • Need to use the technology and the new means to promote the language and the tolerance among the citizens at large, like internet and government need to conduct some of the awareness campaigns for the betterment of it.
  • Government’s initiatives like Ek Bharath Shresth Bharath need to be promoted as much as government can.
  • There is a need to focus on…

(1) Language teacher’s training and recruitment

(2) Development of quality programmes on language and literature

(3) Research on languages

Must Read: Challenges of Non-Scheduled Indian Languages

Connecting the Dots

  1. Why should children learn in their mother tongue? Discuss.
  2. What is your assessment of the way the nationalist leaders addressed the language issue post-independence? Substantiate your views.
  3. How can linguistic diversity be a source of social strife? How can this be addressed? Examine.

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