Linguistic diversity of India

Linguistic diversity

There is a popular aphorism that depicts India’s linguistic diversity rather well: Kos-kos par badle paani, chaar kos par baani (The language spoken in India changes every few kilometres, just like the taste of the water). 

  • The 2011 linguistic census accounts for 121 mother tongues, including 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Indian constitution accommodated this linguistic diversity:
    • While Article 343 says “the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script,” it also empowers the use of English indefinitely.
    • The provision coexists with the Eighth Schedule, which, as per Articles 344(1) and 351, permits the use of 22 languages as official languages.
    • Article 347, provides for the recognition and use of even those languages that are not the ‘official language’ of the State, allowing for greater State autonomy.

Growth of Hindi:

  • Hindi is the most widely spoken, with 52.8 crore individuals, or 43.6% of the population, declaring it as their mother tongue. The next highest is Bengali, mother tongue for 97 lakh (8%).
  • Hindi has been India’s predominant mother tongue over the decades, its share in the population rising in every succeeding census. In 1971, 37% Indians had reported Hindi as their mother tongue, a share that has grown over the next four censuses to 38.7%, 39.2%, 41% and 43.6% at last count.
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  • Between 1991 and 2011, the number of Hindi native speakers in South India has nearly doubled. This, when the total population in these states has only gone up by 28%.
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The obvious explanation of this rise in Hindi speaking population is – 

  • Population growth in native Hindi speaking states such as Uttarpradesh (20%), Bihar (25%), Madyapradesh(20%), Rajasthan(21%), Jharkhand(22%) above the national average growth rate of 17%
  • Increasing migration of Hindi speaking population to other states. According to the census, four states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh accounted for 50% of India’s total inter-state migrants.

Keeping in view of the needs arising from increasing inter-state migration and to strengthens national integration, National Education policy (2020) suggested strict implementation of 3- language formula.

Three language formula under NEP 2020:The new National Education Policy (NEP) recommends that all students will learn three languages in their school under the ‘formula’. At least two of the three languages should be native to India.

Ex: If a student in Mumbai is learning Marathi and English, he/she will have to choose to learn another Indian language.There will be a greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State. The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India.

Concerns with 3 language formula: Cognitive burden on young children: Several surveys, like ASER, have shown that a vast majority of children are failing to learn to read with comprehension even in one language and script. It is completely unrealistic to expect children to acquire oral fluency and reading skills in three different languages.

Poor Implementation: Earlier three-language formula was not implemented properly in most parts of the country.

Back Door Entry for Hindi: The state of Tamil Nadu has two language systems. The introduction of the new policy creates a fear among them that this would lead to the entrance of Hindi into the state from the back door.

Shortage of Non-Hindi teachers: scarcity of non-Hindi language teachers throughout the country.

Advantages of preserving Linguistic diversity:

  • Prevents regionalism, separatism and enhances National Integration
  • Administration becomes easier
  • Access to Education in Mother tongue
  • Preservation of Traditional Knowledge
  • Cognitive ability of the children improves
  • Social inclusion

Threats to Linguistic diversity in India:

According to The People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI) report, more than half of India’s languages may die out in 50 years. Around 190 languages are in various stages of endangerment in our country, more than any other country in the world. The reasons are:

  • Globalization: Influence of transnational corporations has resulted in a central common language mainly English, which dominates regional dialects, and minority languages.
  • Nuclear family culture – Grants less opportunities for youngsters to learn mother tongue, especially when both parents are working and grandparents are living separate.
  • Inter-culture, caste, race marriages – Where a couple is from different cultural backgrounds, language of communication is often not the mother tongue, which impacts the next generation’s exposure to the native language.
  • Migration – Towards metropolitans for accessing better education and employment opportunities, is preference to cosmopolitan language.
  • Increased use of Internet- Nowadays, most of the communications and business is carried out online forcing the people to consume digital content in English as the cyber presence regional languages is negligible.
  • Lack of Education in Mother tongue results in neglecting of many languages
  • Lack of script for tribal and languages spoken by fringe groups-Only 6 tribal languages — Santali, Ho, Soura, Munda and Kui — have a written script. Lack of script makes it difficult to pass the language from generation to generation.
  • Assimilation policies of the Government: states often try to assimilate linguistic minorities by imposing majority language upon them. Example: Compulsory Bengali in Gorkhaland.

Constitutional protection given to linguistic minorities: 

Article 29:Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

Article 30:All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.The state shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

Article 345:Legislature of a State may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State.

Article 347:President, subjected to his satisfaction, may demand any state govt to officially recognise any language, on which popular demand is made by the language speakers.

Article 350 A & B: It shall be the endeavour of every State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups.Special officer for linguistic minorities.

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