On Saturday morning, Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said that the citizens of India should make efforts to learn Hindi since it was the national language of the country.
“Hindi is our national language and it is impossible for India to progress without Hindi. It is unfortunate that everyone is after English medium, I am against Britishers but not their language,” Naidu said. “We should learn all language, but by learning English our mindset is also changing, this is wrong , this is against the interest of the nation.”
“It is unfortunate that everyone is bent upon learning English because it guarantees employment. Hence I want the nation to discuss, promote and learn our mother languages more and at the same time learn Hindi as well,” he added.
Naidu further said that the extensive use of English was detrimental to the progress of the nation. “While learning English, we have trained our minds like English people. This is not in the interests of the nation.”
Naidu’s comments come after a series of protests in Bengaluru over Hindi beign used as a language in the Metro sign boards. Various political parties such as DMK and Janata Dal (Secular) have also criticised the Centre for “imposing” Hindi in their states.
While Naidu seems to be a great proponent of the country learning Hindi, he has several facts wrong. Hindi is not the national language of India. It is one of the ‘official’ languages of India according to the Constitution. Clause 1 of Article 343 of the Constitution of India states that “The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.”
While he argues that the mindsets of Indians are changing because of English, the Constitution says that English can be used as an official language. While the language debate in India has been going on for decades, several states, especially from southern India, have protested against the use of Hindu as the official language.
The Gujarat High Court, while hearing a PIL, had in 2010 observed that Hindi was not the country’s national language. The PIL had sought direction of the Centre and the State to make it mandatory for print details of good to be in Hindi. But the court had observed, “Normally, in India, majority of the people have accepted Hindi as a national language and many people speak Hindi and write in Devanagari script but there is nothing on record to suggest that any provision has been made or order issued declaring Hindi as a national language of the country.”
In fact, the Constitution provides for the usage of other languages as the official language of the state. Article 345 of the Constitution states, “The Legislature of a State may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that State: Provided that, until the Legislature of the State otherwise provides by law, the English language shall continue to be used for those official purposes within the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of this Constitution.”
While Naidu finds it unfortunate that people want to learn English, the Constitution also says that states whose official language is not Hindi can have communications in English. The Constitution also says, “Every person shall be entitled to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a State in any of the languages used in the Union or in the State, as the case may be.”
Naidu said, “Since majority of the population speaks Hindi, it is necessity to learn Hindi, but before that we need to learn our mother language.” But Naidu may have gotten this statement wrong as well. A majority of India does not speak Hindi.
The Census in 2001 showed that only 45% of India spoke or knew Hindi. That is less than half of the population of the country. And only 25% had Hindi as their mother tongue.
The Eight Schedule to the Constitution of India states the official languages of India that includes Bengali, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Sindhi, Telugu among other languages to make 22 languages the official language of India.