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One nation one language: An accident waiting to happen

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Sahajveer baweja
Sahajveer baweja
Sahajveer Baweja is a third-year Law student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. His area of interest in research is Human Rights, Criminal Law, and International Trade Law. As an active member of his college Legal Aid cell, he is trying to build a safer place for every human being.

One nation one language is termed to be an Elysian ideology in a democratic secular country. Here in India, where minorities have equal rights as opposed to majoritarianism, the concept of utilitarianism is considered to be a fascist idiosyncrasy. The protection of minorities and their individuality is the fundamental essence of the Constitution. Article 29 of the Constitution[1] clearly spells out that any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.

India which has been moulded on the roots of linguistics cannot be asked to compromise their uniqueness for the purpose of acquiring national identity in the form of one language for the nation. What is required is to appreciate the diversity & beauty of the many mother tongues that dot this land. The history remains the eternal evidence of how our Indian was cocooned from the stage of Imperialism to a country hosting 28 states and 9 union territories which are deeply rooted on basis of vernacular semanticism.[2]

Factually, India after its independence followed by the gruesome partition was left broken consisting of 571 disjointed princely states.[3] In 1947, the frailing mother of 360 million citizens[4] had been assigned the toughest task to reorganize itself and harmonize the imbalance that was created due to British colonialism and the divided lines that rushed between India and Pakistan. Issues arose as to what should be the criteria of reorganizing India; whether linguistic or on the basis of religion or the historical considerations should be the driving force?  Although the consensus ushered on the grounds of political and historical considerations rather than on linguistic divisions but this arrangement succumbed with time and stood out to be only temporary in nature.

With repeated failures, the public demand escalated the pressure to reorganize India on a linguistic basis. This led to appointment of SK Dhar commission and JVP committee in 1948 which determinedly ruled against the reorganization of India on the linguistic basis and favoured historical and geographical considerations as a matter of administrative convenience but their concrete endeavours remained futile and unfortunately, in 1953, Andhra Pradesh came out to be the first state to be formed on the linguistic basis dominated by Telugu speaking citizens.

Finally, the national leaders submitted their will to the gross demand of reconstruction of India linguistically and to substantiate the public demand, Fazl Ali commission was brought into power which recommended India to be reorganized into 16 States and 4 Union territories. Initially opposing the decision of the commission, unison was developed to divide the country into 14 states and 6 union territories under the State Reorganization Act, 1956 which had the linguistics as the impacting ground for divide.[5] The breakdown was stitched with the act but only for a fraction of time. Disruptions enraged with a demand to divide the already formed states to be further sub-divided to accustom every lingual community. On this foundation, new states were formed where Bombay was bifurcated into Gujarat and Maharashtra on the linguistic lines, Punjab being home for the Punjabi speaking people and Haryana was carved out on the collective consonance of Hindi speaking people. The unrest and the continuous demand of citizens brought India divided into 28 states and 9 union territories.

In the realm of altering traditions, there is a significant need to protect the culture from being ostracized. Uniting the language will not serve as a catalyst to harmonize the state relations. It will only complicate the intra-national relations. Subscribing to this concept will not promote Indianism but would only signify the adaptability to the ideologies of European nations. The concept of one country one Language is an adamant notion of the Western world. Surrendering to such notions will be a step backward towards colonialism.

Language can unite the culture in those countries which don’t have a long history to recite. India that is known as Bharat is a cluster of cultural variables. There is no particular element that can represent the entire culture of our republic.[6] Even if we unify the language in the interest of cultural harmony, precedents are already set out which had led to the examples of recurring failures. Did the Urdu language able to unify Pakistan or Did the Russian language was enough competent to unite Russia? Answers to these questions are merely understood through the deep silence that has been resulted due to the concurrent fiascos marginalizing the interest of minorities of the country.

The direct effect that will cause due to impanelling the ill-thought concept might outburst on the minorities of the nation. It will not only attack the sovereignty they enjoy over their culture but would also poison there fundamental right to protect their minority character.  Federalism is the basic structure of the Constitution of India [7] and the Constitution only provides the guaranteed freedom to practice their own language and culture to every individual living out in the nation. With the implementation of one nation one language, the color of Hindutva would eclipse the color of Secularism. It will lead to a big threat to the ethnic individuality of minorities, ethnic groups and all non-Hindi speaking states of Bharat[8].

Tangling with the affairs of minorities has become a proclaimed instrument for the supporters of pro-Hindutva. They often jeopardise the national integrity of the country on the account of political justification as well as religious satisfaction.  Such wanton majoritarianism robs the trust in the supremacy of democratic essence in a country. It promotes sheer detestation through the tyrannical dictums of the absolute Hindutva mainstream in a secular country. In the pursuit of attaining competence in the language of “commodity” and “enterprise,” many minority languages and even cultures are sometimes sacrificed and instead of creating solidarity, it increases the probability of raising intolerability.[9]

Language is not only a vehicle to communicate, it is also a storehouse[10]. We can be enough proud to have one language celebrated all around the country but we can be more contented when we provide equal space to every multicultural language. “Kos-kos par badle paani, chaar kos par baani” is a very popular aphorism that depicts the multilingual nature of India. These multicultural languages “express the age-long aspirations of mankind, the longing of every human heart of freedom, peace, and goodwill to men, we find in the language of our own people a series of statements so lofty in ideal, so sincere in purpose, and so intensely human in view, as to stand boldly before the world and proclaim; This is what we believe and this what we live for”.[11] The rich culture that India used to boast about is now under a cultural crisis where everything is washed up by the effects of rapid development. 

It is undeniable that one common language will comfort the path to economic development and will promote the Indian industry because the language barrier will be extricated and it will allow the sellers and buyers to reach in person more easily. Nevertheless, the question framed is, at what cost we need such development? Are we ready to negotiate the cultural identity where India governs or are we ready to sacrifice the essence of cultural plurality? Development is a continuous process and is future-oriented whereas cultural preservation involves framing and capturing the history of the nation. Development might be furnished again in the future but once we lost the cultural ethos, it is impossible to secure the status quo.

Already, India has observed that the traditional equilibrium has lost the battle to rapidly adopted modernization. With the influence of modern social forces, the relationship between the conventional and the folk traditions has been in a distressed condition.[12] The political inclination has a major share to contribute to creating an imbalance between cultural variable and political variables. Politics has clubbed them and now the elements of culture are being used as a tool of gaining votes. The instrumental perspective of seeing the culture is a threat to the luscious history of India. Reorganizing the past to complement the present shall stagnate the inquisitiveness of citizens to know their culture. At present, to ensure the survival of multiculturalism, rather than pressing any one language as the nation’s standardized tongue, it makes more sense to capitalise in the development of other provincial languages and thus protect multiculturalism through multilingualism.[13] 

The political agenda to make Hindi as the sole language of India has itself a flaw in it because Hindi like any other language is not a single dialect. Hindi which is known as a language in the late 19th century consists of 49 different dialects that are grouped under the category of Hindi. Although a Hindi speaking person might be able to understand  more than half of these dialects though factually, they have their own grammar and syntax and thus, they have an identity of its own that is not similar to Hindi. So if we go with the figures depending solely on those people who talk in a standardized Hindi variant, the percentage just stops at 26 percent of the population. This means that only 1/4th of the population of India is accustomed to speak the standardized Hindi form and rest 3/4th people have their different language to communicate. Mahatma Gandhi who is deeply connected with the rural world of India and who is himself a polyglot expressed his opinion in his book My Experiments with truth that in all India syllabi related to education, equal importance shall be given to Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and English, besides this, of course, the local language of the particular region.[14]

The political myth that has been created to nationalize the Hindutva propaganda is a breach to the interest of the citizens. The reliance by BJP on a report that 54 percent of Indians speak Hindi is proved to be false and deceptive because the 2011 census comes with a different figure. According to the 2001 Census, 52 crores out of 121 crore people identified Hindi as their language. About 32 crore people declared Hindi as their mother tongue. This means that Hindi is the language of less than 44 percent Indians and mother tongue of only a little over 25 percent people in India. Still the idea to make it pan-India takes us to question the ulterior motive of the current legislatures who wants to enshrine India as a euphemism of One Nation, one identity.[15] 

Hindi is a language that is not uncommon and has been a greater part of our history and to showcase its credibility, the Constitution drafters have sincerely included the language in the Constitution. The Constitution, however, did not affirm to declare Hindi as the national language; it rather bestowed Hindi the status of official language along with English. Article 343 of the Constitution[16] advocates Hindi as written in the Devanagari script as the official language of the government along with English. The dignity of any group in a society is protected through the capabilities provided to them. Capabilities here mean the freedom to choose and to do what protects the ethnicity of their group. Forcefully introducing the majoritarian regime in a democracy is a sheer attack to the pillars of the Constitution. Political agendas should not interfere with the minority rights and thus maintain the wall between the two different institutes. One nation one language is utopian and a fascist ideology that shouldn’t knock the doors of any person that is breathing the fresh air of equal rights and thus mutual respect for each other’s rights and liberties should be the grundnorm of a secular country.

[1] INDIA CONST. art 29.

[2] Sharan Poovanna, One Nation, One Language: Protests across Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andra against Amit Shah’s proposal, Livemint (14th Sep, 2019)

[3] Luke Koshi, Explainer: The reorganization of states in India and why it happened, The News Minute (2nd Nov, 2016)

[4] India Population, CEIC

[5]Mamta Agarwal, Linguistic reorganization of Indian states after Independence, History Discussion

[6] Sowmya Dechamma, Idea of one country, one language was bequeathed to us by colonialists, The Indian Express (20th Sep, 2019)

[7] Kesavananda Bharati V. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.

[8] BJP’s ‘one nation, one language’ formula direct attack on all non-Hindi speaking states, United news of India (15th Sep, 2019)

[9] Kamila Ghazali, National Identity and Minority Languages, UN Chronicles (Nov, 2010)

[10] Pooley, Robert C., One People, One Language, The English Journal, vol. 31, no. 2, 1942, pp. 110–120..           

[11] Ibid.

[12]Dr. Binod Bihari Satpathy, Indian Culture and Heritage, Utkal University , DDCE/M.A Hist./Paper-VIII

[13] Hari Narayan, India, a land of many tongues, The Hindu (7th Aug, 2017)


[15]Prabhash K Dutta, Hindi as our national language: Myth and reality, India Today ( 3rd June, 2019)

[16] INDIA CONST. art 343.

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Sahajveer baweja
Sahajveer baweja
Sahajveer Baweja is a third-year Law student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. His area of interest in research is Human Rights, Criminal Law, and International Trade Law. As an active member of his college Legal Aid cell, he is trying to build a safer place for every human being.
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