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Legal faultline – language preserve of centre, state

Hindi is only the official language of the Central Government. However, it is not the national language of India. Incidentally, there is no such thing. The recent controversy over the removal of Hindi from the Metro stations in Bengaluru and the demand for Kannada in banks across the state would not have arisen at all had the Central government and its unthinking politicians protected the sensibilities of Kannadigas. 

Language laws in India represent the unresolved fault lines in our Constitution and are a potent force to divide people – a factor that sustains the politics around it.

India is and has always been a multilingual country. A hundred years ago, there were more than a 1000 different languages in this country, and most people didn’t identify themselves with any particular language. A report of the British agents in South India in the 1830s had said that several people in the south speak many languages easily– Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam (of course, these language names were written differently in those days). In fact, the very concept of a ‘mother tongue’ was rarely found in the literature that originated on Indian soil before 1850. Of course, one could not have had thousands of languages in this country if people had chosen to squabble amongst themselves for linguistic supremacy! 

Then, along came European scholars who stressed the notion of linguistic identity. India changed dramatically and disturbingly after the 1850s. Around that time, Hindustani language, the amalgam of numerous languages in northern India was artificially separated into two streams – Urdu, which retained ‘foreign’ Persian words and Hindi, which turned to Sanskrit to deny its Persian roots. 

Eventually, Pakistan came into existence and adopted Urdu as its official language, a minority language in the new country. What happened afterwards holds a firm lesson for us. Pakistan began to disintegrate from the very first day of its formation -…

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