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DOES INDIA NEED A NATIONAL LANGUAGE ?



India is no regular country. India is a vast mosaic of cultures, traditions, colors, arts, religions, and languages. The reason India has succeeded as a nation-state and has achieved so much as a country is because the Indian state has recognized and given space to this diversity. The Indian state was formed on the foundation of a few principles, these principles have been the reason our country has not seen any major civil conflict or war since Independence. Few of these principles like Democracy and Freedom are mentioned in our Constitution, while others have taken the shape of unwritten rules such as respect for each other, inclusiveness, tolerance, and space for differences. The very concept of a 'National Language' goes against each and every one of these principles. It would be a travesty if we declare one language as the ‘National Language’ and sideline the other languages spoken in our country. We must remember that by languages we are many but by nation, we are one. When we argue that there should be a single 'National Language', we are automatically telling the speakers of other languages that we do not value and respect their language, we are inherently creating a hierarchy of languages, which will eventually lead to conflict and tensions between various lingual communities.


Scholars and leaders who propagate the concept of a 'National Language' have long argued that a 'National Language' will unite and bring a spirit of togetherness in the country; this argument however is false because Unity does not come from imposition or supremacy but unity comes from inclusiveness and diversity, any attempt to remove this diversity will lead to conflict. It is a myth to argue that homogeneity will lead to unity. Any attempt to create a homogeneous society, will only lead to more backlash from those people who may feel that their identities are being put down. The Anti-Hindi imposition protests in Tamil Nadu in the 1950's and 1960's are a prime example of how people protested against Hindi, not because they did not like Hindi but because they felt the imposition of Hindi would mean that Tamil will eventually become insignificant. Homogeneity and its links to Nationhood is a very Western way of viewing the Nation. We must not only reject this but we must also propagate and be proud of our multilingual and multicultural traditions.


Another argument has been that India needs a 'National Language' because it will make our administration more efficient. This problem has already been solved by using English as a medium of communication between the Union Government and States and also between States. Due to the use of English by the British, English education is quite widespread in our country, this also means that English has become the common link between all of us. It would also be wrong to say English is a 'foreign' language and therefore should not be used as an official language, on the contrary, English is a global language and it does a good job in bridging the communication gaps which may exist in our country. English is no longer a 'foreign' language and is as Indian as any other language spoken in our country, the only benefit of using English as the official language is that it will not be seen as 'imposition' but rather as 'convenience'. States should be free to choose whichever language they want for administrative purposes and can use English to communicate with the Center. This will ensure there is no conflict over which language should be used. All languages in our country are equally important, no one language can be seen as the 'National Language'.


Language like food is something that is deeply personal. It is something that connects us to our roots and our culture. When we start imposing a language and bringing in the concept of a 'National Language', we are indirectly attacking the personal feelings, experiences and roots of people. Everyone in a country must feel like they belong to the country, only then can the country progress. When we start imposing a language and we start to put down certain languages, we are actually removing this feeling of belongingness. Perhaps the reason why lingual issues are so hotly debated is that language itself is such a personal issue. Lingual issues are at the intersection of the personal and the political.


The concept of a 'National Language' is also against our federal structure. By imposing a 'National Language', we are essentially imposing the will of the Union Government onto the States, this is not only against our Constitutional framework but it is also against the spirit of togetherness and unity. When we have a 'National' anything, we are essentially moving towards Centralization. Having multiple recognized languages on the other hand promotes and fosters federalism and also promotes decentralization and leads to better Center- State relations. When we have a 'National Language', we are also going against the Constitution which guarantees the freedom of expression to all citizens. By imposing a language, we are essentially taking away the freedom of expression of those who do not speak that language.


The history of humankind is testimony to the fact that whenever culture is imposed on people, there has been conflict and language is an essential part of culture. I would actually argue that lingual identities are far stronger than religious identities, the history of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) is a good example where even a common religion could not suppress the lingual aspirations of Bangladeshis. India must learn from this example and we must be careful not to treat any language as an inferior language, the history books on the shelf should teach us valuable lessons.


The success or failure of a state can be determined by how well it can provide a vision to its citizens. This vision not only includes education, healthcare, other basic needs but also includes variables like cultural expression, belongingness, and freedom. Language plays a key role in this vision. If people do not feel like they can express themselves in their language, the vision will never make sense to them. We must also remember that if we do not provide this vision to our people, some other entity will do so, the vision provided by this other entity may not be very comfortable for us. It is therefore essential that we moot the idea of a 'National Language' and we instead celebrate and cherish every language that is spoken in our country.


We do not need a 'National Language', we instead need more recognition for the hundreds of languages that are spoken in our country. And we must never forget that by languages we are many, but by nation, we are one!




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