Skip to main content

A union of linguistic nationalities


Mother tongue is the most fundamental identity of a people


Garga Chatterjee


Hindi is not the national language of the Indian Union. Neither is it “rashtrabhasha” if you prefer that term. There is nothing called national language or rashtrabhasha in the Constitution of India. Whoever told you otherwise is either ignorant or deceitful. There is a way to know that. If you tell someone who says Hindi is national language that it is not and cite the constitution and Supreme Court clarifications on that matter, an ignorant one will get enlightened and correct oneself. A deceitful one will continue peddling the lie that Hindi is the national language of the Indian Union even after you have shown the person all the evidence to the contrary. That is because s/he is voicing a fantasy or a political intention when s/he says that Hindi is the national language of the Indian Union. And this fantasy is exclusivist because typically those who insist on making Hindi the national language of the Indian Union are also those who don't want any other language like Tamil or Bangla or others to share that space with Hindi. Hence it is also the expression of a supremacist political mindset. No wonder, non Hindi people have never supported the idea of Hindi being the national language in spite of non-stop imposition and promotion of that language. Hindi has never been the rashtrabhasha of any rashtra even in the past- whether Hindi will get its own rashtra in future, only time can tell.


Indian Union is made up of States. The States were formed primarily on a linguistic basis. Thus, when we say, Indian Union is a union of States, what this essentially means is that the Indian Union is a union of linguistic nationalities. All of us, citizens of the Indian Union and of varying linguistic backgrounds, have exactly the same right vis-a-vis anything that has to do with issues dealt with by the Union government. States are created on linguistic basis. The Union was not created on a linguistic basis. The Union government cannot favour one linguistic group over another. It is by definition, the government of the Union. There is no language called “Indian”. No language is more “Indian” than any other. In a linguistic homeland, languages other than that of that land are foreign as evidenced by Gujarat High court's statement that Hindi is a foreign language in Gujarat. Similarly Tamil is a foreign language in Nagaland. Language is a means of communication – in fact the most important means of communication. Thus when a government communicates with the people in a democracy, the idea should be saying it in a language people can understand. In a land where the government speaks in a language that is different from the people, it means that the government is distant from the people. The closing of this gap can happen in two ways. One can close this gap by changing government policies so that it suits the people. This is democracy where people are more important than rulers. One can also try to close this gap by changing the people to suit the government. That is tyranny where rulers are more important than people.


A majority of the citizens of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi. Discriminating against the majority, pushing the majority into second class citizenship – these are all things that have happened elsewhere in the world. It has typically ended in disaster. I hope the Indian Union learns from the effects of Urdu imposition in Pakistan. There too, Urdu was imposed under the banner of unity. There too, those who opposed the special status to Urdu were branded anti-nationals. There too, Urdu imposers thought that the promotion and imposition of Urdu as a link language would strengthen the ideological and political unity of Pakistan. It never works like that. Mother tongue is the most fundamental identity of a people. When the administration conspires against this fundamental identity by promoting someone else's mother tongue, the result is Bangladesh. In this age of technology where live-translation is easy, content translation is easy, imposing Hindi and excluding our mother tongues is not due to some technological problem. It is a political problem. It is an ideological problem. If Government of India can send a mission to Mars but not provide Tamil or Bangla versions of all Government of India websites but can do so for Hindi, it is because it does not want a Tamil or Bangla speaker to have the same rights as a Hindi speaker. “Unity is Diversity” has two pre-conditions. They are equality and dignity. Unity at the cost of dignity is slavery. Unity at the cost of equality is imperialism. Unity and equality, unity and dignity are not incompatible. For a multi-lingual federal democratic union like the Indian Union, unity with equality and dignity is the only peaceful way forward.