Congress, Gandhi, India, Indian Politics, Muslim, Narendra Modi, Politics, The Hindu

Development of Linguistic Provisions of the Constitution of India

Jawaharlal Nehru moves the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi
Jawaharlal Nehru moves the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi. Source.

First published in Centre Right India.

“There was no article which proved more controversial than article 115 (which deals with the Hindi question). No Article produced more opposition. No article more heat” – Thoughts on Linguistic States, B. R. Ambedkar

Recently a circular was issued by the Raj Bhasha Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, asking Government officials to use Hindi, or Hindi and English, while communicating on social media platforms.etc The circular is based on a decision taken on March 10 when the Congress was in power and is dated May 27, two days before Mr Rajnath Singh took charge as Home Minister. The circular is meant for officials in Category A States which use Hindi as their official language.

Though the subsequent furore was quick to blame Mr. Modi personally in a rather uninformed manner, the reaction that the issue generated among the common public, and the comments by some of the political leaders from the north and the south demands a relook at the constitutional provisions regarding the Official Languages of India and the debates which preceded their inclusion into the constitution. One will be surprised that the language debate happening at present is not much different in its tone and tenor from the deliberations held among the members of the Constituent Assembly. The importance given to the issue can be gauged from the fact that the language question remained a point of contention during the entire length of the period of framing of the constitution of India.

Constitutional Provisions

Provisions regarding the Official Language are given in Part XVII of the Constitution from Article 343 to 351. It is divided in four chapters – Language of the Union; Regional Languages; Language of the Supreme Court, High Court etc; and Special Directives.

Regarding the provisions, Granville Austin comments that “The members of the CA did not attempt the impossible; they did not lay down in the language provisions of the Constitution that one language should be spoken all over India. Yet they could not avoid giving one of the regional languages special status, so they provided, not that there be a ‘national’ language, but, using a tactful euphemism, that Hindi should be the ‘official language of the Union’”

Issue at Hand

The Constituent Assembly had not been separated into distinct factions in its early days since the general sentiment in favour of an Indian language as opposed to English, the language of the oppressor, blinded all other concerns. Not all the provisions whipped up extreme reactions in the Assembly. Only as they set to work did the difficulties become apparent and the split grew in an unprecedented manner. The Language issue was considered important because it affected everyone with the issues of mother-tongue instruction; question of medium of instruction in universities; language of the civil services; cultural and historical background of linguistic groups; religious sentiments.There were mainly two groups – the Pro – Hindi members unofficially headed by Purushottam Das Tandon and Seth Govind Das and the moderate non-Hindi bloc headed by South Indian leaders.

 

Gandhi to independence

Mahatma Gandhi was pro-Hindustani. Hindustani is a term used for that language which is neither a Sanskritized Hindi nor Persianised Urdu, but a combination of both freely admitting words wherever necessary from different provincial languages and also assimilating words from foreign languages. Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajenda Prasad and Abdul Kalam Azad accepted this. In fact, Rajagopalachari suggested broadening Hindustani even further by writing it in regional scripts. The 1928 Motilal Nehru Report also wanted Hindustani to be the common language. It was Gandhi-ji who initiated the idea of widening the independence struggle by using provincial languages and based on his suggestion, the 1920s saw Provincial Congress Committees being formed along on linguistic lines. In 1934 Congress made Hindustani its official language. During this time when Nehru said that “Hindustani was bound to become the all-India medium of communication”, it did not cause any resentment since not much thought went into the role envisaged for English, the status of regional language, languages of court etc during this period.

This reason why the top leadership Congress preferred Hindustani instead of Tamil or Bengali which were more developed at that time and ‘met the needs of the state’ was because it was spoken widely in the north and also, more importantly, the leaders felt that it bridged the Hindu – Muslim divide. This is not to say that the issue did not attract any criticism at all. When Rajaji made Hindi mandatory in high schools of Madras in 1938 there was a violent reaction with slogans like “Let Hindi die and Let Tamil live. Let … Rajagopalachari die.

Independence to Partition

The first sign that language will be a thorny issue appeared when Rules of Constituent Assembly was being framed. It had been generally accepted that the members can speak in Hindi or English or in their mother tongue. A pro-Hindi member Seth Govind Das, took exception to this and said in Hindustani “I want to tell my brethren from Madras that if after twenty-five years of efforts on the part of Mahatma Gandhi, they have not been able to understand Hindustani, the blame lies at their door. It is beyond our patience that because some of our brethren from Madras do not understand Hindustani, English should reign supreme in a Constituent Assembly assembled to frame a Constitution for a free India.” In response A K Ayyar promptly asked that Seth Govind Das’s speech be translated into English for him since he could not understand the content and that he was too old to learn Hindustani at this point of time. Issue was settled, with the members free to talk in the language of their wish.

Next mention of language was made as part of the Fundamental Rights. The draft Rights said that Hindustani in Devanagari or Urdu scripts will be the national language and English will be a secondary official language. Two members wanted Roman to be made an optional script for Hindustani since South Indians were not familiar with the northern scripts. But Patel dropped the entire clause on language saying that language will be dealt with by a higher committee.

Partition to Bitter Debates

Partition was a watershed moment as far as the language issue was concerned. Hindi-wallahs upped their ante against the impure Persianised Hindustani. The question of Hindustani becoming the national language was effectively closed. All drafts mentioning Hindustani was replaced by Hindi. “Partition killed Hindustani and endangered the position of English and the provincial languages in constitution” noted an observer. K. Santhanam, one of the more influential national politician from Madras said, “If there had been no partition, Hindustani would, without doubt have been the national language. But the anger against Muslims turned against Urdu. Hindustani became a bad word after Partition and the party leaders were reluctant to divide the party over it [despite being proponents of Hindustani]”. The Pro- Hindi group did not just stop with that, but made their attacks on English and Provincial languages bitter, resulting in the alienation of popular support for them. Initially there were two main strands of opposition against Hindi group – Muslims and South Indians. Muslims wanted Hindustani in both scripts did not care about English while the South Indian bloc, who wanted English to be retained, was ready for Hindi with Devanagari script as an official language in addition to English.

Meanwhile even the Congress Presidential campaign acquired linguistic overtones with Telugu speaking Pattabhi Sitaramayya and a hardcore Hindi proponent Purushottam Dad Tandon pitted against each other. Tandon contested in the election despite requests from Prasad, asking him not to do so as it might virtually become a North versus South contest. This did not happen and Sitaramayya later won with a slender margin.

By this time the outline of the general demand of Hindi group was spelled out

  • Hindi in Nagari as Official Language
  • English optional during a transitional period
  • Mandatory knowledge of Hindi for entry in to Civil Services while the Hindi applicants should know a provincial language.

Members like T T Krishnamachari of Madras and L K Maitra of Bengal warned the Constituent Assembly of threats from secessionist groups and accused the Hindi group of displaying linguistic fanaticism and ‘Hindi-imperialism’. Nehru who had become more of an umpire rather than a player after the question of Hindustani was shelved supported the moderates. He was lamenting the fact that issue of Hindi was hijacked by language extremists there by affecting Hindi’s chances of becoming an all-India language. Nehru had a clear belief that Hindi was superior to the provincial languages and this is known from many of his speeches. In one instance he says “Everybody knows that obviously Hindi is the most powerful language of India. But it is misfortune of Hindi that it has collected round it some advocates who continually do tremendous injury to its cause by advocating it in the wrong way.”

Final Debate – Numerals

Towards the final days of drafting of the language provisions, bitterness and fanatical statements started emanating from everywhere. Seth Govind Das, President of Hindi Sahitya Sammellan said that Hindi in Nagari must be made the national language of India and that ‘this arrangement was quite in accordance with the nation’s will’. Purushottam Das Tandon said that “those who oppose acceptance of Hindi as national language and Nagari as the single script are still following a policy of anti-national appeasement and are catering to communal aspirations.

During the assembly proceedings, the pro-Hindi group had a large base from Bihar, Central Provinces, United Provinces, and interestingly several members from the South also. Their amendments which gave predominance to Hindi were flatly rejected by the non-Hindi bloc led by Southern members who fervently refused the clause that provided for the progressive substitution of Hindi during a 15 year transitional period when English is used as the official language. But a consensus was taken in a meeting of all the Congress members of the Constituent Assembly that Hindi in Nagari will be accepted as the official language. The status of Hindi with regards to this was never in doubt again.

The sorest part of language issue was when the representation of numerals was discussed. Facetiously speaking, this reiterated that Indians were obsessive about numbers. Non-Hindi bloc mentioned that Arabic numerals (which had its origin in India) should be used for all official purpose. Hindi group protested furiously saying that Devanagari numerals must be used. The question of numerals was so hotly debated that nearly 3 hours alone was spent speaking about it. The debate ended with a 75-74 vote in favour of Devanagari numerals but it was accepted that such a controversial issue cannot be implemented with such a thin margin. This issue was a turning point in the language debates. Austin observes that “The pressure of the extremists, particularly on the numerals issue drove many Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and even Bihari assembly members from the Hindi group into the ranks of its moderates.” South Indian moderates scoffed at the intransigent stand on numerals, and The Hindu called the fight over the numerals “stupid and useless”, which on retrospect indeed looks very much so.

At this time Ambedkar came to the fore-front and suggested that a Language Commission formed after the inauguration of Constitution will consider the question of Numerals and the transitional period of English. Munshi – Ayyangar (MA) formula, which later became the basis for the current provisions of our constitution, had its origin in these suggestions from Ambedkar. MA formula was endorsed by even Patel, who had sympathised with Tandon and group, and who had been annoyed by the southern resistance to Hindi. In his suggestions Ambedkar also recommended that all the Indian languages should be listed in a schedule in the constitution. At a superficial level the reason cited for listing languages in a separate schedule is that these languages were supposed to be the sources from which Hindi should broaden itself. But leaders have later on mentioned that it was out of psychological reasons and to give the languages a status that the languages were listed in a Schedule. “We had these languages listed in the Constitution to protect them from being ignored or wiped out by the Hindi-wallahs.” said a leader.

When the MA formula was finally produced Ayyangar rightly pointed out that it was a compromise between mutually incompatible ideas. In response to MA formula Seth Govind Das said that “Indian had had one cultural tradition for 1000s of years. We do not want it to be said that there are two cultures here.” To which Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader from Bengal, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee responded that “If it is claimed by anyone that by passing an article in the Constitution of India, one language is going to be accepted by all by a process of coercion, I say, sir, that that will not be possible to achieve. Unity in diversity is India’s keynote and must be achieved by a process of understanding and consent and for that a proper atmosphere has to be created.

On contrasting this with Nehru’s attitude who said “Although English must continue to be a most important language in India, no nation could become great on the basis of a foreign language. The language India chose for itself must be a language of the people, not a language of the learned coterie. It is the reference to Hindustani that has allowed me to support MA formula. Else it would have been very difficult for me”, it is clear that Nehru had no more interest in provincial languages being given equal treatment than Ambedkar had when he had introduced Sanskrit to be made the national language, so as to douse the ‘jealousies raised by the special status accorded to Hindi’. After much deliberations and resignations from a couple of members including Tandon, M-A formula was passed with 5 amendments among deafening cheer.

Reference

1. The Indian Constitution – Cornerstone of a Nation by Granville Austin

2. India: A History – John Keay

3. The Indian Constitution – Fadia and Fadia

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The Muslim Leadership In India – The Ultimate Sham – Part 1

After a really long time, on a good weekend, finally I reached the fabled Usman Road and Ranganathan Street in T. Nagar. The place was nothing short of a concentration camp (may be a tad too exaggerative). The path leading from the sub-urban railway station to the main road was a suffocating journey. I needn’t have actually walked, I could stay there and the crowd would push me forward. “Soochi kuththan polum idamilla” as the saying goes in Malayalam. You don’t have a place to even stick a needle on the ground. One would assume, the saying was created keeping Ranganathan Street in mind.
And then my mind started thinking something really gruesome – about terror attacks. One assault would have triggered a massive disaster in the place. T Nagar commercial area is the most crowded place in Chennai, where people from all walks of life and economic strata go for their purchase. In Deepavali days, the crowd would be a lot worse. A terror attack would be fatal to one and all present there, considering the number of people who visit the place, the number of shops present there and the swelling crowd which also surrounds the main shopping region. Not only will the crowd be affected in an unimaginably horrifying way, but also the resulting stampede around the commercial area would cause further chaos. I was not able to stay there longer, with all these horrifying thoughts, and I left.
This is just one example, how in a perverse way, the Islamic terrorists have entered the psyche of Indian population. Everyday people are living in fear, if not in a blatantly explicit way, at least in the deep recesses of their minds. As depicted poignantly in “A Wednesday”, those travelling in sub-urban railways do not know if they are going to meet each other the next day. And why do we fear; just because a set of Muslim fundamentalists want to wage Jihad on non-Muslims? Is that it? I find it ridiculous that India, one of the most progressive nations in the world, with as much state welfare-ism and entitlement-based schemes a nation can have; a nation in which the discrimination towards its minorities, if not non-existent, is positively low; is  subjected to such gruesome and inhuman acts. Not one citizen of India finds any justification as to why we, of all the people, who are here in a corner of the world, trying to mind our own business, trying to cope up with our irresponsible politicians, with more than half the population struggling to meet another day’s end; should suffer at the hands of some lunatics, just because they think they have been told to do so by some heavenly ordain. We don’t want yet another burden, thank you, we are miserable enough.
When situation in India reeks of such a terrorist threat at any point of time, is it abnormal that there is a sense of alienation and fear? Let us take RSS as an example. When Nathuram Godse got arrested in connection with Mahatma Gandhi’s murder, it was found that he was a member of RSS. RSS was subsequently banned by Jawaharlal Nehru and Savarkar was politically and socially ostracized by the ruling elites. None of the “national leaders” even attended the funeral ceremony of this nationalist leader. Did we see media preaching to others, asking everyone to be kind to RSS, because although Nathuram Godse may have been a member, he was not one at the time of the assassination and that there is a good possibility that the Sangh may not have had a hand in the Gandhiji’s murder? Did anyone preach that such a phobia is uncalled for? Did someone pinpoint the sheer scale of social work that RSS has been involving it in? Not then, not now. We only have self-indulgent journalists of the likes of Sagarika Ghose, trying to doubt what the Sangh conspires, even when they are helping the terrified North Eastern people to go back home. She asked “Why [is the] RSS [the] self-appointed protector of NE students? Where are [the] law and order, police and state machinery? What’s the hidden agenda here?” The same media shamelessly broadcasted how Muslim clerics and members from Muslim communities were helping these hapless Indians. This is not to be misconstrued that Muslims should not be shown by the media as kind-hearted accommodating people. Focus was not on the fact that North Easterners were leaving because they were being threatened by Muslim fanatics, but that since RSS is doing its very best to help them, i.e. since RSS being “overtly helpful” they must be cooking up some nasty conspiracy inside the Sangh Parivar National Instability and Saffron Terrorism Private Ltd.
 At this point, let us, including the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and every other people of all religions, let us ask ourselves as Indians, what is the Muslim leadership doing to allay the fear that they care more about the nation than about Jihad, than about what is happening to Muslims of other nation? Any topic which deals with such a question will be met with the standard response “Why should Muslims prove their patriotism? We need not prove anything to anyone. We are as much Indians as anyone is and we don’t need a certificate of Indian-ness from a bunch of right wingers.” A very admirable defence and it is to be appreciated. But remember that from time immemorial the onus lies on wrong doers to prove that they have straightened themselves. The onus is on Germany to say that they do not hate Jews, it is not the other way round, the onus is on Israel to prove that they don’t have a pathological hatred for Palestinian Muslims instead of other way round, the onus is on the whites to show that they are not racists, the onus is on Muslims to show us that they care for India most and religion later. After all it is not as if Muslims are a historically wronged group like the people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The incidents which have been lately cropping up, reminiscent of the 1990s when the appeasement and the concept of Muslim martyrdom were at its peak, show that nothing has changed in 20 years, and if possible, it has worsened with the 8 year rule of UPA. Let us see some example.
1.       Vandemataram 

 Jam ait-e-Ulema Hind or the JEU on Tuesday issued a fatwa against singing national song ‘Vande Mataram’ saying in their resolution that Muslims should not sing ‘Vande Mataram’ as it’s reciting is against the Islam. The resolution, which was passed at the Deoband national convention meet, says that Muslims should not sing ‘Vande Mataram’ as some verses of the patriotic song are against the tenets of Islam. The JEU leader said that the some of the line in the song is against Islam.” said a Times of India article.  The sad part is that Hon. Home Minister of India, Mr. P Chidamabaram was right there on the stage when such resolutions were announced. Congress responded in its ever apologetic tone, reserved for appeasing Muslim anger since time immemorial, “This is a very sensitive issue. It is our national song. And there are also religious sentiments attached. Keeping in mind all these facts, the issue should not be made controversial” Standard argument is as given by Mr. Kamal Farooqui, SP leader and a member of Muslim Law Board: “We love the nation but can’t worship it”, and it follows the same mould as that of the leader of the erstwhile Samata Party, Syed Sahabuddin’s comment “I do not consider it devta.I respect it. I do not worship it.


Written on 2nd October 2012 

Link to other parts

  1. Part 2 – Assam Riots

  2. Part 3 – Ghaziabad Riots

  3. Part 4 – Muslim Youth Radicalisation

  4. Part 5 – “Innocence of Muslims” 

  5. Part 6 – A Chance for Indian Muslims