In a Multilanguage country, the choice of a national language is by no means easy. Preference for any one language causes jealousy and heart-burning to those who speak another. Here in India, it is a headache for our leaders. Though the solution is not yet in sight, the nature of the problem can at least be understood if we bear a few things in mind. Geographically and culturally our country is one. But it contains a variety of races speaking a variety of languages. These languages can be broadly classified under tow different groups: the Sanskritic language of Northern India – Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati, Punjabi, etc. and the South Indian languages which include Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, and Kanarese. There is also a third comprising Urdu, which is an artificial hybrid formed by a mixture of Arabic, Persian and Hindi, and devised by the Moghul Emperors mainly for purposes of administration; and English has also come very much into the picture because it is a language that has been used by the educated community for nearly a century and a half and has opened to them the gateway of modern knowledge. The difficulties in choosing any one from these groups as the national language are both practical and sentimental.
But first, let us discuss the need for a national language. This need is essentially political and administrative. In the first place since ours is a unitary constitution with centralized administration, it must use some one language in order to transact its business with the states. A common language simplifies the problem of intercommunication between the states, and between the states and the center. Secondly, India must have one language of her own in which to address the rest of the world. National prestige demands this. A free India cannot use a foreign language for all times. Thirdly, there must be one language to carry on inter-state cultural conferences and other transactions of the nature. Finally, there should be a language in which people of one state may address the people of another. Obviously, the language which is most likely to serve all these purposes of our national life is best fitted to be chosen as the national language. The question it – which is to be that language?
Let us first consider the claims of English in this respect. One section of our people holds that English should continue to be the state language as now. They argue that English has been a powerful factor in the evolution of political and national unity in recent times. Secondly, knowledge of English is necessary in the interest of culture to ensure contact with the progressive thoughts of the west. Thirdly, since the state language need not be the universal language need not be the universal language spoken by all our peoples, English may continue in its present position of privilege, especially since machinery exists for teaching it on a large scale. Fourthly, since English is the language of a microscopic minority, its adoption will eliminate fear of cultural domination. Fifthly, English can justifiably claim to be Indian language, since it is the mother tongue of our Anglo Indian community. And finally, the fact that today English is the language most extensively learnt throughout the world, its choice would be practically useful to us.
As against this view it is argued that retention of the language of our erstwhile foreign rulers go against our national presting. It will be an unwelcome reminder of our yet recent subjection to a foreign power. The cultural need for learning English will remain only so long as our own languages are not sufficiently developed. Once these are developed, English will be one of the many European languages we may or may not learn. If we retain English in its present position, it will prevent, or at least, retard the growth not only of our regional languages but of the state languages as well: we will remain a culturally dependent country. This argument however is invalid since not only says that English should be the medium of education, but only an official language which has nothing to do with cultural needs. Lastly, it will perpetuate the cleavage between the rulers and the ruled and entrench bureaucracy in its present position of aloofness from the people.
It then English is to be displaced from its present position, it must be in favor of either that language which is most widely understood, or that which is culturally most advanced. Hindi claims the former distinction; the latter is claimed by bangle, Tamil, Gujarat and other also with reasons that seem conclusive to the speakers thereof. This question has to be discussed thoroughly and dispassionately.
There is no doubt that Hindi of a sort, with its large percentage of sanskritic words is generally understood – though not spoken all over northern India and parts of the Deccan, like Hyderabad. It may also claim to be partially understood by the south Indian people, the more so as a recent tendency has been the increasing importation of Sanskrit words in south Indian vocabularies. It is true that Urdu has a more impressive historical background, since the Moghuls created it to be a court-language. But Urdu vocabulary is too much persianised to be understood by the common people. On the whole, Hindi offers less difficulty practically than any of our other language.
Advocates of Bengali urge that this language is the most advanced language at the present moment in India; it has the richest and the most comprehensive literature as attested by translations made from it into the other languages; and it has best adapted its style to English or modern ways of thought. Similar arguments have been or may be advance by others also, and adjudications impossible. But it is forgotten that we are not thinking of the replacement of all languages by only one, but only of having official language is addition to vernacular. For this the qualities necessary are, large-scale intelligibility, and secondly, moderate competence. While the primacy of Bengali or Tamil from a purely literary point of view may be unquestioned, there is no getting away from the fact that Hindi of a sort is more or less spoken and understood by the largest number of people in the country. This establishes the acceptability of Hindi as the state language almost beyond question.
There is also a historical reason. Our leaders in the past unanimously upheld the claim of Hindi to be the state language. In the nineteenth century Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, the great educationist, was an eloquent supporter of his view. Within living memory Tagore upheld the claim of Hindi, though he favored a cautious and graduated advance. Its adoption has been advocated by the congress for years. There is no reason now to repudiate that stand, since no other language can advance better claims, from all points of view.
Nehru had advocated Hindustani as “the only possible all-India language”. He argued that its grammar is simple, except for the confusion of its genders. He suggested that scholars should simplify it further on the lines of Basic English. “The grammar should be as simple as possible, almost non-existent, and yet it must not do violence to the existing grammar of the language. The vocabulary might consist of a thousand words or so.” It should do for all ordinary speaking and writing; it should be only a “stepping-stone for the further study of the language”. It is doubtful, However, If a language as naïve as that can that any purpose other than the needs of the market-place.
To get over these difficulties, it has been suggested that (1) a northern and a southern language should be jointly made the official language; (2) the status should be given to five major languages, including English, or (3) all the languages included in the constitution should be given that status. This reflects the lack of unanimity that is the greatest obstacle to a decision. The adoption of several languages is possible in countries with a federal type of constitution. Its suitability in a unity state is a debatable point. Canada and Switzerland have a small population and only two or three langue’s that may be easily learnt. U.S.S.R has a large number of languages, but it has carried decentralization to utmost limit, making a central language unnecessary.
But the greatest objection to Hindi as to any other language, is the its adoption as a state language will give an undue advantage to the people speaking that language. This, however, can be countered if we make it compulsory for all learn at least one of our other major vernaculars beside the official language selected. In fact, this was the recommendation of the congress a few years back, which received almost unanimous support from all others.