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India’s Language Debate

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Last updated on July 10, 2022

With a population of 1.38 billion, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. The more obvious evidence of this diversity is the hundreds of languages that exist in the country. The government recognizes both Hindi and English as official languages, meaning parliamentary business must be in either Hindi or English. However, the government lists 22 languages as ‘scheduled’ languages, which are used more regionally. States have the ability to pick their own individual languages, which don’t have to be from this list of 22. 

However, under Narendra Modi, India’s current Prime Minister, the government is pushing to make Hindi the national language. This movement has been met with resistance, as many feel it goes against the federalist model that India was created by. Hindi is the most widely spoken language in India, by far, but that still leaves millions of people out who do not speak the language. Hindi is already an approved language for federal business, along with English. But why these two?

Well, it’s all history. India’s history can either be very long or very short, depending on how you look at it. As one of the oldest civilizations, the Indian subcontinent has been home to many different groups of people, who all had different cultures. There were kings who unified parts of India, and empires did last. But a truly unified country didn’t really exist until independence in 1947. Because of this, English was the most common language amongst the new leaders of the country, with Hindi as a close second. 

Language is one of the most significant factors in identity. For centuries, people have used the language they speak as an identifier of who they are. Before national identity was a real concept, people were united through language. Modi’s government is trying to boost nationalism, and making Hindi the national language would be a big leap in national identity. 

Yes, it’s true, unity is vital for a country to thrive. But unity comes at a cost, and in this case, it’s the loss of diversity. Languages are already being forgotten, and nationalizing Hindi would only exacerbate the issue. Losing unique and rich languages in order to promote nationalism might backfire, as people prefer to keep culture within their state’s laws. 

While Modi sees what he’s doing as the right choice for India, his quest for lingual gentrification is something that will negatively harm tens of millions of Indian citizens. Instead of trying to make Hindi the only national language, the government should accept the vast diversity of India and let all languages flourish. But what will result from his policies remains to be seen. Hopefully, not too many languages will be forgotten.

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