September 15 is
observed as the Hindi Day. It was on this date in 1949 that the
Constituent Assembly adopted Hindi in Devanagari script as the official
language of the Indian union after a long and animated debate. Part XVII
of the Constitution comprising Articles 343 to 351 deals with the
subject. The Article 343 (1) declares the official language of the Union
shall be Hindi in Devanagri script. But a reading of the Articles 343
(2) onwards reveal what a difficult and complicated terrain the official
language issue had to navigate in a multi-lingual nation like India with
its government institutions dominated by laws, rules and regulations set
down in English.
It can at best be described as a compromise. All proceedings of the
Supreme Court, High Courts, authoritative texts of all Bills and Acts
introduced or passed in Parliament of state assemblies, all
orders/rules/laws and regulations passed under the Constitution have to
be in English (as in colonial India). Until the passage of the
Constitution (Fifty Eighth) Amendment Act on February 17, 1987 no
updated version of the Constitution (containing the amendments) could be
issued in Hindi containing the amendments. For various reasons the
performance of Hindi as an official language is far from satisfactory.
That is why Hindi is no way in sight of replacing English in government
even after 70 years. Our Constitution makers had allotted merely 15
years for this task.
The concept of official language (Raj Bhasha) pertains to various organs
of the state viz. legislature, executive, judiciary and armed forces
etc. However, the nation is larger than its government institutions. The
mass mobilization that Mahatma Gandhi initiated in India happened
outside institutions. His Non-Cooperation movement or opposition to
Congress participating in elections under the Government of India Act,
1919 reveal his disapproval to the nation being dependent on its
institutions. Gandhi was aware of the gulf between the state apparatus
in colonial India and her teeming millions. He wanted to address the
Indian nation rather than India, the state. One of the ways Gandhi did
it was to use the language of the masses rather than English.
The language question was an integral part of Gandhi’s Swadeshi
campaign. He understood that people could be involved in the mission for
Swaraj only through their languages. Therefore after his return from
South Africa in 1915, Gandhi insisted on greater usage of Hindi (and
other regional languages). His article in Pratap (Hindi) on May 28, 1917
advocated recognizing Hindi as the national language.
Therein he stated that most Indians, who knew neither Hindi nor English,
would find the former easier to learn. He said that it was only on
account of cowardice that Indians had not started conducting their
national business in Hindi. If Indians shed that cowardice, and
cultivate faith in Hindi, then even the work of national and provincial
councils could be conducted in that language.
It was in this article that Gandhi first mooted the idea of sending
Hindi missionaries in south India. His idea crystallized in the form of
Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha established in 1923. Gandhi’s long
speech at 2nd Gujarat Educational Conference at Bharuch on October 20,
1917 is considered a classic. Therein he paid tributes to the pioneering
efforts of Swami Dayanand Saraswati in popularizing Hindi.
Swami Dayanand (1824-1883), like Gandhi, hailed from Gujarat. He used
Sanskrit as the medium of religious disputation and preaching. He never
bothered to learn Hindi even while spending decades in the Himalayas and
northern India. But in 1873, while visiting Calcutta, he came across
Keshub Chunder Sen of Brahmo Samaj. Sen advised him to use Hindi instead
of Sanskrit to increase his reach amongst the masses. Interestingly
neither Swami Dayanand nor Keshub Chunder Sen were native Hindi
speakers. He heeded to the friendly advice and mastered Hindi thoroughly
in a short time. He wrote his magnum opus Satyarth Prakash (1875) in
Hindi. The Arya Samaj founded by him acted as a powerful agency to
Thus Gandhi took up the baton for Hindi where Swami Dayanand had left
it. Whereas Dayanand’s mission was religious, Gandhi’s was national.
Gandhi viewed Hindi as tool to ‘de-colonize’ the Indian mind. His
mission to popularize Hindi found many takers in southern India.
G. Durgabai (1909-1981), who later became a member of Constituent
Assembly, ran a popular Balika Hindi Pathshala at Kakinanda (Andhra
Pradesh) as a teenage girl. The Balika Hindi Pathshala was visited by
C.R. Das, Kasturba Gandhi, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Jamnalal Baja and C.F.
Andrews. They could hardly believe that the Pathshala which imparted
knowledge of Hindi to few hundred women was run by a teenager.
But the situation regarding Hindi had changed in south India by the time
same Durgabai reached the Constituent Assembly. She felt that zealous
propaganda in favour of Hindi by native Hindi speakers alienated others.
What the volunteers had achieved, misguided zealots threatened to undo.
Thus she says in her speech on September 14, 1949, “I am shocked to see
this agitation against that enthusiasm of ours with which we took to
Hindi in the early years of this century…....Sir, this overdone and
misused propaganda on their part is responsible and would be responsible
for losing the support of people who know and who are supporters on
Hindi like me”.
The dilemma captured by G. Durgabati in her speech has not lost
relevance after 70 years. Non-Hindi speakers would be more amenable to
Hindi through voluntary efforts rather than enforcing the legal status
of the language. An increased literary and cultural interaction between
Hindi and other Indian languages would help the cause of Hindi. Prime
Minister’s Narendra Modi’s charisma has helped Hindi in an unobtrusive
fashion. The aim would be to reach maximum people in a language they can