[PART III] Hindustani: Whose language it was? The Language Debate

Although no “national language” was adopted in the Constitution, yet Hindi & English were accepted as official languages of India
"PM Nehru assured all non Hindi speaking States that Hindi will not be imposed on them unless they consent to its being made “national language”."
"PM Nehru assured all non Hindi speaking States that Hindi will not be imposed on them unless they consent to its being made “national language”."Special arrangement

Then came what the Press described as the Munshi-Ayyangar formula of the Drafting Committee, which were the proposals of Ayyangar as amended by Munshi, which incorporated Part XVII containing Articles 343-344 to 351 dealing with Official Languages of India. Iterating, the Constitution Adviser’s Draft used the term “Hindustani [both Hindu & Urdu] but, the Drafting Committee made an important change and used instead the term “Hindi”’.

Munshi who was a member of the Drafting Committee moved the said Resolution. Munshi explained quite surprisingly that “majority” of Congress party members were “in favour of this change” which was adopted in a resolution passed by the Congress Party. But “there was a storm in the meeting [of the Congress]. Jawaharlal was very unhappy… “ And , then after two years of Partition, “in July, 1949” when draft articles were prepared “making “Hindi” official language & Devangiri the official script …with English as additional official language”, it “was supported by 80 members of the Constituent Assembly ….the largest group in the Congress …….The protagonists of “Hindustani” found little support….”. [….]. It was proposed in the Constituent Assembly of India by Muslim Congress members that “Hindustani” was most suited for being adopted as “national language” of the secular democratic republic as it was a unifying language of India, according to them. The move was, however, vehemently opposed by most of the “Hindu” Congress members of the Constituent Assembly, directly or indirectly. Although no “national language” was adopted in the Constitution, yet Hindi & English were accepted as official languages of India that is for official correspondence.

M Satyanaran member of the Drafting Committee who was given task by Nehru to prepare list of “regional languages”. It is astonishing to note that when he prepared list of 12 major “regional languages” to 8th schedule of the Constitution, he had not included Urdu in the list. It did not find mention in original draft list of regional languages. When he showed draft list to Nehru, he was not happy. Nehru added “Urdu” as 13th language in the list & M Satyanaran was angry & asked Premier Nehru whose language was it? Nehru angrily replied: “It was my language, language of my ancestors”. M Satyanaran retorted in deep anger: ”Aren’t you ashamed of being a Brahman by calling Urdu your language?” Nehru kept mum. 8th Schedule containing list of “regional languages” was finally approved with Sanskrit added to it.

Constitution:

Article 343 of Part XVII of the Constitution provided that Hindi in Devangiri script should be the Official Language by an order of the President & that English shall continue to be the Official Language upto 15 years from the commencement of the constitution till the process of transition was completed. However, English continued to be the standard Official Language.

In 1935, Gandhi had realised that “knowledge of English is necessary to us for the acquisition of modern knowledge, for the study of modern literature, for knowledge of the world, for intercourse with the present rulers and such other purposes”. So, “Hindustani” could not be adopted as “national language” of Hindustan.

Besides Hindi & English being “official languages” under the Constitution [Articles 343-351 & 120(2)] read with Official Languages Act, 1963, there are at present 22 regional languages that are scheduled in the Constitution including Urdu, as per 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

Basic Division:

“The basic division between north and south Indian languages remains” till date as evidenced by the sharp reaction of Opposition & Non Hindi Speaking States & parties to Amit Shah’s remark at 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee in April, 2022 where he pitched for adoption of “Hindi” language throughout India. The opposition called it “Hindi Imperialism” as was reported by Indian Press. [Indian Express 9-4-2022] President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, reassured the non-Hindi speaking States in his Presidential Address entitled “Imposition of Hindi: Plea for unity & understanding” at Madras in 1960 that there would never be “Hindi” dominance in education & civil services.

Hindi is propagated as National Language of India which is a myth as India does not have any one “national language” or Rashtra Basha [per Pat HC, 2002] in view of it being multi-linguistic & multi-cultural country. It is one of the regional languages like Urdu though it is given tremendous impetus for political objectives. Under Census of 2011, 44% of population was shown as Hindi speaking but these figures have been doubted by many experts led by G N Davey, Mithilesh Kumar Jha & others.

Enforcing Hindi as if “national language” hits diversity of culture of which language is essential component. Language changes after each Kilometer in India like food, water & dress. Perhaps, feeling sensitivity of matter of multi-linguistic culture of India, the Supreme Court in 2019 decided that its judgments should be made available in regional languages by translating them on its website in Assamese, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Odia &Telugu.

There were proposals to introduce Hindi as National Language in early 1960s but there came severe threats & agitation by all non-Hindi speaking States of South led by Tamil Nadu, in particular, which led to the passing of the Official Languages Act in April 1963 to secure the status of regional languages in the Constitution. PM Nehru assured all non Hindi speaking States that Hindi will not be imposed on them unless they consent to its being made “national language”.

In 1960, “riots over this issue killed dozens & made thousands of Bengalis refugees”. In 1967, the Official Languages Act was amended which emphasised on increased use of Hindi & development of other regional languages. A member of Jan Sangh in Parliament burnt a copy of the amendment stating that the amendment did not declare Hindi “national language”.

Bottom-line:

“Hindustani” could not be adopted by the Constitution-makers of India as “national language” or any “regional language” in view of massive opposition to it from [Hindu] majority membership of the Congress Party despite high expectations & claims of Progressive Writers before Partition. But, “Hindustani” survived for decades in Bollywood scripts, screen plays, dialogues & songs in both Urdu & Hindi scripts, entertaining, thrilling & enchanting million & millions of the common masses of India. If Hindustani were not used by Bollywood as medium of expression for human feelings, thoughts & sentiments, most probably what we know as “Golden Era” of Bollywood, it would not have been there at all.

A word about Kashmir:

The Hindi-Urdu debate did not have anything to do with J&K as it had “Urdu” its “Official Language” since the Dogra Era. There are three different “regional languages” spoken in J&K & Ladakh. These are: Kashmiri, Dogri & Laddakhi. But, it was “Urdu” spoken in all three regions which had the honour of “Official Language” of Erstwhile State, besides English, since Dogra Period. However, in the aftermath of abrogation of “special position” of J&K on 5-8-2019 by Indian Parliament, the Jammu & Kashmir Official Languages Act was passed by the Indian Parliament on 23rd September, 2020. Under the new legislation, Urdu, which was “sole official language” of J&K recognised since 113 years, lost its “exclusivity” as Dogri, Kashmiri, & Hindi were added to the list of official languages list of JK. Under this Act, there are henceforth five official languages, Kashmiri, Dogri , Hindi, Laddakhi & English, recognised for J&K. As regards Kashmiri, all literary, academic & official works in relation to Kashmir are written, without distinction, by both majority & minority communities of Kashmir in Persian-Urdu script only. Some migrant KPs living outside Kashmir are nowadays using Shradha or Devangiri script for Kashmiri-writing for their children.

M J Aslam, Academician, Author & Historian

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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