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DOES INDIA NEED A NATIONAL LANGUAGE ?

Updated: Dec 17, 2021



EVENT DATE : 31 OCTOBER


The debate began with a discussion on the constitutional status of Hindi and having a

National Language, Dr. Gudavarthy started the debate by stating that constitutionally,

India does not have a national language and that we only have official languages. He

also touched upon some of the debates that occurred during the making of the

Constituent Assembly. He argues that having a common language would have

actually helped India and it would have brought a sense of oneness but the debate

took a very different turn and took the form of language chauvinism, this also led to

regional chauvinism which is not very good for a democracy.


Next the question over national language and nationalism was introduced, the concept

of a ‘common language’ or homogenous identity was something that came from the

European concept of nationhood.


Dr. Kothari highlighted some aspects of nationhood and language and called it ‘videshi’ nationalism. She also argues that we need to differentiate between a common language and a national language and we need to carefully differentiate between them. She argues that Hindi and English together fill certain gaps as official languages.


Next the topic of language and administration was brought up, if a national language

can help in the administration of the country.


Dr. Jha argued that in a country like India, it is impossible to have one such language. He argued India’s plurality and diversity, one language cannot serve as the vehicle for communication. Take Indian Democracy for example, a concept like this cannot be described only with Hindi or English. It has to have recognition and acknowledgment of our diversity.


Dr Raman then touched upon using English and if using English shows that we have

not decolonized yet. He argues that using English, which is a foreign language, will

not be seen as chauvinism or imposition, it will be accepted simply for its convivence.

He says if at all there should be a lingua franca for our country, it should be English,

as it has many logical reasons. He drew upon the example of Singapore to elucidate

his argument. He argues that having Hindi as the national language is a “non-starter”.

He argues that English is ‘nobody’s’ language.


Ms. Cynthia Stephen then spoke about National Unity and having a national language.

She believes that calling India a ‘nation’, in its classical definition is incorrect, we are

a large amalgamation of nations. She points out that our founding fathers did what

was best and that India needs to accept that we are a multicultural and a multilingual

country. She drew upon the example of Karnataka having many different languages

within the state itself to argue that we are a multicultural society. She argues that most

regional languages have “their backs to the wall”


Dr Sumanth Raman very clearly argued that India places too much of an importance

on language issues and that we unfortunately mix emotions into the fray. He argued

that we should look at things from a practical angle rather than an emotional angle. He

also highlighted the fact that many young people in India, even in places like Tamil

Nadu, where there has been resistance to Hindi, have started to use English- due to the

penetration of mobile phones and the internet. The bottom line must be what helps

people improve their lives, not emotions. He argues that English is becoming very

popular across the country due to technology and that a debate like this may even

become irrelevant. He argues that the debate of language is something that politicians

have brought into the picture, for votes. He argues that international recognition

comes from economic might, having a language as an UN language is will not lead to

recognition.


In response to Dr Sumanth, Dr Jha argues that when it comes to issues like

nationalism, we need to have some space of emotion and we cannot see it from a

narrow lens of practicality and rationality. Dr Gudavarthy too argues that emotions

cannot be ignored when we are discussing an issue such as having a National

Language. Dr. Gudavarthy argues that we all need something tangible and concrete to

hold on to, this could lead to us holding onto false stability- this is an issue brought up

with the advancement of globalization.


Dr Kothari highlighted that when India introduced the 8 th schedule, it did not have 22

languages and some languages were introduced gradually. She argued there should

not be any time frame for national projects. She argued that even in the EU, there

have been forms of resistance against language. Therefore, it is not a debate between a

homogenous west vs a multi linguistic India. if there is a certain degree of chaos and

anarchy with our multilingual culture, then so be it.


Dr. Gudavarthy highlighted why English is seen as a form of social capital and that

many people in India, especially people from lower classes want to now learn

English, many Dalits and Bahujan’s reject regional languages as it reminds them of

their caste status. English gives people access and upward mobility. English education

is a way to progress.

“Symbols need to be consensually produced”- Dr Kothari when it comes to the topic

of having Sanskrit as a national language. She argues that Sanskrit is not a symbol

that is acceptable to all people. Dr Kothari argues that having Sanskrit as a national

language would not make much sense to people in India who have no connection to

the language. Moreover, many Indians were denied access to the language and

therefore will never accept Sanskrit as the National Language.


On the 3-language formula- Dr Kothari believes it was a good system and it made

people more open minded. Dr Jha too believes that it had a merit but in North India,

there needs to be more language choices to be given. He argues that when we talk

about any form of collective identity, we cannot be rational and there will be some elements of emotion and passion which will come in. The natural organic way of

developing a common language is already happening. Ms. Stephen finally spoke

about the 3-language formula and its implementation in Karnataka. She points out that

many students take French as their 3rd language. She asks why in some states the

third language offered is either a foreign language or it is Sanskrit. Why not Tamil or

Punjabi or other regional languages? Dr Raman on the other hand rejects the

3language formula, he instead spoke about the practicality of English and the success

of the 2-language formula in TN.



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