Union Home Minister Amit Shah's comments urging people of different states to communicate with each other in Hindi instead of English has sparked a fresh controversy.
Presiding over the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee on Thursday, Shah said, "when citizens of States who speak other language, communicate with each other, it should be in the language of India."
Shah, who heads the Department of Official Language, added that Hindi should be used as an alternative to English and not regional languages.
The Home Minister said that emphasis will be given to impart an elementary knowledge of Hindi to students up to class 9.
Shah also said that 22,000 Hindi teachers have been recruited in the eight North East states while nine tribal communities of the North East have converted their dialects' scripts to Devanagari. He also said that 70 per cent of the Union Cabinet's agenda is prepared in Hindi.
Shah's comments sparked outrage with former Karnataka Chief Minister saying, "I take strong offence to Amit Shah's comment on Official language & medium of communication. Hindi is not our National Language & we will never let it to be."
Is Hindi India's National Language?
India does not have a National Language but Hindi and English are used for official communication.
Article 343 of the Indian Constitution states that Hindi written in Devanagari script would be the official language of Union.
It stipulated that English will be used in official communications for 15 years after the adoption of the Constitution in 1950.
The southern states were opposed to the deadline with leaders like CN Annadurai and EV Ramaswami calling for English to continue to be the language of official communication beyond the 15-year period.
As a compromise, PM Jawaharlal Nehru passed the Official Languages Act 1963 which stated that English may be used in official communication beyond the stipulated 15 years.
The Act was amended by PM Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1967 to ensure English would be used indefinitely.
Section three of the Act ensures that all communication within the central government, between central and state governments, and between the two state governments is done in English and Hindi both.
Section four of the Act constituted the Committee on Official Language which was tasked with reviewing and propagating the use of Hindi across the country.
In 1975, the Department of Official Language was set up.
The Historical Push For Hindi To Be The Sole Official Language
The call for Hindi to replace English as the official language has been made since India gained independence from the British in 1947.
The Constituent Assembly debated the issue at length with backers of Hindi arguing that uniting the country would not be possible without a uniform language.
Despite agreeing that English cannot be India's official language, those against the move based their opposition in response to the "fanaticism and intolerance of those who support it (Hindi)" as former Lok Sabha leader Sardar Hukam Singh put it.
Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee also condemned the push for Hindi stating, "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."
"If you want that Hindi is to really occupy an All-India position and not merely replace English for certain official purposes, you make Hindi worthy of that position and allow it to absorb by natural process words and idioms not only from Sanskrit but also from other sister languages of India," Mukherjee added.
Nehru's death and the pro-Hindi Shastri coming to power raised fears among southern leaders of Hindi becoming the sole language of communication.
This led to widespread protests and riots in Tamil Nadu with the Congress leadership split between Hindi-speaking and regional leaders.
Faced with stern opposition in the south, Shastri ended the protests by stating that English would continue to remain the official language of communication.
Since coming the power in 2014, the Narendra Modi government has pushed for Hindi to be adopted by non-Hindi speakers which has been met with stiff opposition. #StopHindiImposition has trended many times since 2014 on social media to protest Hindi imposition in non-Hindi speaking states.
In 2014, the centre issued an order asking bureaucrats to use Hindi on social media and other websites which drew immediate backlash. The PMO clarified days later that the use of Hindi on social media was only for officials in the Hindi belt.
In 2019, the centre tried to make Hindi compulsory for students under the draft National Education Police (NEP) 2019 but faced opposition.
In 2019, DMK MP Kanimozhi alleged that a CISF officer at the Chennai airport asked her if she was Indian because she asked to be addressed in English or Tamil as she did not know Hindi.
A month later, the MP popularised T-shirts with the Tamil phrase "Hindi Theriyathu Poda" (I do not know Hindi, get lost) with many southern film stars putting photos on social media of them wearing the shirt.
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