Official Languages Recognized By The Indian Constitution
India is a multi-lingual polity. Very well developed regional languages were widely spoken and used in different parts of the country. Even during the freedom movement, our national leaders were concerned about a lingua-franca for the whole of India.
After elaborate discussion in the Constituent Assembly, 14 languages out 1652 spoken in India were recognized as the official languages and they are listed in the eighth schedule of the constitution. 91% of India’s population speaks these languages. However 46% of Indians speak Hindi.
The Indian Constitution contains provisions regarding the official languages recognized in India.
Firstly it has been provided that Hindi in Devanagari script shall be the official language of the Union. But side by side with Hindi, English also was to remain in use for 15 years after the constitution came into force. The constitution also provides that even after the expiry of fifteen years, the Parliament may provide for, and as a matter of fact has provided for continuance of English as one of the two official languages of the union. By the provision of the constitution, English was to be discontinued after 1965. But the Official Languages Act of 1963 permits the continued use of English side by side with Hindi.
Article. 344 of the constitution enjoin the President to appoint a Language Commission on the expiry of 5 years and then again on the expiry of 10 years after the constitution came into force. The Commission was to report to the President on
- (1) progress in the use of Hindi,
- (2) restrictions on the use of English
- (3) language to be used in the Supreme Court and the High Courts and
- (4) the language to be used for communication between the Union and the States or between the states etc.
The recommendations of the commission were to be examined by a joint committee of the Parliament of 30 members, 20 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. The President was empowered to issue directions on the basis of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee.
The First Official Language Commission under the chairmanship of B.G. Kher, appointed in 1955, reported in 1957. The recommendations of the Commission, improved and modified by the Parliamentary joint Committee suggested:
- that the constitution’s scheme on national language is basically sound;
- that English should be replaced by Hindi as the language of the union but there should be no rigid date for the change-over;
- that up to 1965, English should be the principal language and Hindi should serve as the subsidiary language of the union. After 1965 the position should be reversed;
- that there should be no rigidity regarding abolition of English even after 1965 and the Parliament may provide for its continuance for as long as necessary, and
- that, in terms of Article 351, Hindi should be developed as fast as possible to serve “as medium of expression for all elements of the composite culture of India.”
The Presidential order issued on the basis of recommendations of the Parliamentary committee provided for a Standing Language Commission. The Presidential order also provided :
- That the Union Public Service Commission examinations for recruitment to central services should be conducted in English and after sometime, both in English and Hindi;
- That the text of Parliamentary Laws shall be in English but there should also be an authorized Hindi text;
- State legislation should also have an authorized Hindi Version;
- Hindi should eventually be the language of the Supreme Court. In the states regional languages, besides Hindi may be used, while English was to continue as language of inter-state communication, emphasis was placed in terms of Article 346 on the replacement of English by Hindi. The states were authorized to use a language for official purposes. English however should continue to be in the use till any other language is by law made the official language of the state.
The Official Language Act of 1963 did not make any far reaching changes. English was to continue as official languages of the union even after the expiration of 15 years after the commencement of the Constitution, this should be a Hindi text of the laws passed by the Parliament, states were required to have a Hindi version of the laws passed by the state legislatures, courts including High Courts were permitted to give judgments in Hindi and English was to continue in inter-state communications between non-Hindi speaking states or between Hindi speaking and non-Hindi-speaking states.
The question of official language remains an explosive issue. The three language formula suggested by the Kothari Commission could not solve the problem. There is a strong anti-Hindi sentiment in the non-Hindi speaking areas. Hence there is the possibility of English remaining as the official language and the language of inter-state communication by default. There is also the possibility of English continuing as the medium of instruction particularly for higher education.