Millennium Post

The politics of language

The politics of language
The politics of language in India is at its wicked peak. The latest in this sector is about Bhojpuri being included in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution of India, with a rider (probably) that this will not be included in the list of languages for the UPSC examination. Another interesting aspect of this story is that the governments of Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, where the majority of Bhojpuri speakers live, have not given official status to Bhojpuri. Presently there are 22 languages in the 8th schedule of our constitution. Some of the languages in this list have hardly 0.01 million speakers such as Sanskrit. Bhojpuri has about 40 million speakers, but their demand of including the language in the Eighth Schedule is long pending. If we do not compare Sanskrit, then also we have some languages like Bodo, Dogri, Manipuri etc. the number of speakers of which are around two million. Historically, there are many grounds for these languages to be included in the 8th schedule, but those grounds have been manipulated according to political compulsions.

We all know what the role of state in promoting any language is. Recently we came to know that India did not have any national language. It came as a major shock to the protestors who have been opposing this status of Hindi. It was more shocking for the government, because officials could not find any approval in file about the national language and this was communicated to members of Parliament in Lok Sabha. There was no hungama in the house, to our utter surprise, on
rashtrabhasha
. Hindi is hardly possessed by politicians. They ask for votes in Hindi, but hardly care for the language their voters speak. Hindi is the official language of India as per the constitution, but how this language is used in the functioning of the union government, people know well. We have a separate department for official language, but most of the time advisories are issued by the department to use Anglican Hindi or Hinglish, instead of ‘chaste’ Hindi. We have hardly seen anyone asking government to use simple English. Most of government memorandums need us to hire services of advocates and subject experts to make head and tail of the communications.

The two tongues of government on official language is our ‘constant stand’ for decades for including Hindi as an official language in the UNO. This month also when World Hindi Conference was organised in South Africa where hundreds of delegates were sponsored by the government of India and were felicitated for their ‘service’ to Hindi. This World Hindi Conference was addressed by UN secretary general, who was not from India or of Indian descent, in Hindi, but our head of state addressed the conference in English. What kind of our claim is this for the official status of Hindi in the UN? Most of the time these conferences are represented by minister of state from the union cabinet. This shows our commitment to the official language of this country.

I do not how many of us know that apart from Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India and Official Language, there is another elite list of languages, duly approved by Government of India. This elite list is of classical languages. This concept came into existence only in 2004 and first language given this status was Tamil. In 2005 Sanskrit was given this status and then Kannada and Telugu were given this status in 2008. What made Malayalam, Marathi, Bangla or Odiya wait for this status? It is also surprising to see vocal politicians, who are always on vigil to look for sensitive issues, have not started agitating for this status. State should always stand for the development of all the languages, without any discrimination. Special initiative should be taken for the languages, which are not represented by good number of people and are on the verge of extinction because of limited resources and other factors. We should do away with all the discriminatory provisions which put two languages confronting each other. Every language should be given an equal opportunity to prosper and positive approach should be taken only to protect languages at risk. Special status of languages also sees discrimination with the literature.

This is time to take a holistic view on the language policy. States should be given better resources to take care of languages, because they are in better position to assess the requirements of the languages that are spoken by the people living there. At the centre, resources that are provisioned for discriminatory provisions in the name of special status must be done away with and for the time being special initiative should be taken to see what are the actual number of languages that survive today in India. We still have that mythical number of 1562 of Sir G A Grierson when he undertook theLinguistic Survey. We should also do archiving of these languages for linguistic and anthropological research.

Akilesh Jha is a civil servant. The views expresssed are his own.
Akhilesh Jha

Akhilesh Jha

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