India is a country in the country in South Asia with the largest population in the world. As at 2013, the country’s population was estimated to be about 1.25 billion people coming in the second position after China. The diversity and the rich history of India dating back to about 5 millennia can better be understood by looking at its language history. It is not just the large number of people that is fascinating about India. The country boasts with about 1652 “Mother Tongues” as per the census conducted in 1961 (Thirumalai par.1). Even though these “Mother Tongues” may not directly correspond to the number of languages or dialect being spoken in the country, it gives a picture of how diverse the language history of India is positioned. These statistics puts India as one of the most multilingual nation globally. The Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian languages, for instance, have been cited as the two single largest languages in the world. The linguistic richness in India is what explains the cultural diversity of the country which has served to present multiple challenges and opportunities in the Asian country (Baldridge 1). The political arrangement over the last few decades where the country has been at the helm of various empires and also fragmented Kingdoms has facilitated cross-language assimilation. These assimilations have promoted the transfer of common linguistic features across the diverse mother tongue languages. The role played by the assimilation among the diverse languages is significant in studies the political landscape of the country. Ideally, the largest language groups could have claimed dominance over the rest minority languages but thanks to the cross-language interactions which have put every language on the same level ground.
The independence of India in 1947 led to the installation of Hindi language as the common language which will be used by all the diverse groups. However, English has also found its way as being the alternative official language due to minimal resistance experienced at the beginning as other groups felt that Hindi was being imposed on them. The eighth schedule of the Indian constitution attempts to provide a common ground where a limited number of languages will be recognized as languages of India. Initially, the Eighth Schedule had only 14 languages listed. These languages included Bengali, Assamese, Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kashmiri, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, Oriya, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, and Telugu. Amendments have however been made to include other 8 languages to form part of the list making the total constitutional languages of India be 22 (Ministry of Home Affairs par.2). This paper will be digging deeper into the language issue in India and the role it has played in the social, economic and most importantly, the economic sphere of India since independence.
India’s Cultural, Ethnic, and Economic Zone
India has a history of being a society which was intensely divided. The religious and community grouping were the main factors that separated one group from another. The culture among the various groups in the nation was so diverse too, and so was the ethnic zoning (Brass 5). The British colonizers worked for the subdivision of the continent into two subcontinents; one for the rising Muslim League and the other for the Pakistani Movements. However, the exit of the colonizer led to the re-merging of the two groups who felt that they could work together irrespective of the religious diversion. As much as the promise of working and staying together was much alive during the independence period, the current dynamics in the region has nothing to do with unity and integration. The diverse ethnic and cultural groups which exist in India zones has escalated conflicts and made it almost impractical to have a united India. The country has a total of eight religions which play a major role in the country. In addition, the country 22 states and the nine union territories which have come up with a wide range of ideological inclinations working against a unified dream. The diverse ethnic groupings have led to the emergence of two main zones in India; the Eastern Zone and the North-east zone. The two zones have been pursuing different ideological beliefs with the Northeast zone which comprise of the majority native ethnic groups feeling so much alienated. The country also has two other regions namely North India and South India. The west India has Goa, Gujarat, and Maharashtra as the main areas. This is the region characterized by astute business and ambitious entrepreneurship with people in the region being highly economically conscious hence controlling most of the Indian Money. The level of education in the region is however compromised with people being self-motivated and believing in self-sought opportunities than offered jobs. East India is however characterized by a less industrious culture which has been influenced by belief in communism and collective economy (Dreze, & Amartya 120). The people in the region, however, value education and science and are more dynamic and less reserved. The Northeast India is struggling with identification challenges as they have been neglected by previous regimes and are less considered to be part and parcel of India (Agrawal 13).
The culture of the country has been rooted from the native ethnic groups that make up the entire cultural unit of India. Religion has played a significant role in dictating the direction of culture in the country with Dharmic religion being the dominant factor. The India’s rich cultural beliefs characterized by Indian philosophy, music, literature, and art are a product of religious inclination across the Indi’s population. The western region which is predominantly practicing Hindu religion has had extensive interaction with other communities in other countries and regions like Persia and Pamir mountains. The main religions which are being practiced in the country include Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism. Even though the four religions are considered to have their birthplace in India, the country also has the largest number of Muslims at 13% putting it at the top of the countries. Architecture, art, clothing, and unique customs, and traditions make the country one of the leading cultural countries in the world.
In addition, India has experienced numerous religious conflicts. The major factions that have been at logger heads for a long time are the Hindu and the Muslims. This conflict between Hindus and Muslims is the reason why Pakistan exists, as it once a part of the larger India territory. The dedication of the Indians is almost at the same level with the loyalty that they express towards their ethnic groups. In fact, most of the ethnic groups and languages can directly trace their origins to the religion that they practice. Islam is considered a foreign religion in the country, as the rest of the major religions originate from that country. While a majority of the countries that were colonized dropped their cultures and their religions in favor of the European ones, it is interesting how the residents this country managed to conserve their local culture and religion without the European influence causing a considerable deviation from the traditional practices. This is indicative of how the culture language and religion of the people of this country is held important to them. It therefore can be expected that the ethnic backgrounds and the languages used by the different communities in this country play a significant role in the politics of the country.
Political mobilization theme
Language has played a key role in driving the political ideology in India. The political mobilization themes have been developed and centered on language. The social networks and communal bonds that have been developed over time has been premised on the fact that people will associate and forge a common political direction with those whom they are able to communicate with (Rajagopalan 22). The caste which was the traditional and pervasive natural association model has undergone a series of reforms and changes that make it consistent with changes in both economic and political atmosphere of the country (Rudolph, & Rudolph 19). The role played by British imperialism in developing new values and elements of modernity in India cannot be overemphasized too. It is the influence of outside forces coupled with the structural adaptation of the local ethnic communities and languages that have served to develop political mobilization themes over time.
The vertical mobilization strategy that gave the notables; mostly the Indian traditional elite to dominate over those in the lower caste was also significant in India. These elites establish an attachment to their ethnic groups and could play a big role in dictating the political direction of the group. The Horizontal mobilization strategy was also evident courtesy of the enlightenment of the lower caste Indians which led to political awareness and revolution. The North Eastern India which has felt neglected over time is slowing adopting horizontal mobilization strategy to dictate their political direction. The notable key figures in Indian political system have attempted to use the mass mobilization strategy to ensure that everyone is carried on board. Rajiv Gandhi is one such notable figure. The skillful mobilization directed towards the theme is pushing the British from India enable Gandhi to build a strong political base in the country that lasted for several years. The maintenance of direct demagogic link with the local leadership whose opinion dominated over a large section of the diverse cultures and languages was the mobilization strategy adopted by the Nehru family in their political dominance. The conflicting ideologies among the subcontinents of India coupled with economic inequality that has marred the country’s system in the past have led to the need for charismatic leadership with a simple appeal to rise to the throne of governance. The complexities of India’s politics are one that is replicated in other countries that have diverse backgrounds. The failure of the Congress party which was a major political entity since independence led to the sprouting of other political parties that were able to launch a competitive political mobilization in various regions. Small parties like DMK in Tamil, Jana Congress in Orissa, and the Muslim League in Kerala are some of the political functions that opted to pursue their unique political mobilization. A large number of political groupings indicate the lack of a common political stand and ideology that can be able to bring together the interests of the large factions in India.
It would be expected that after colonization from the British that was experienced in this country that the different communities would be united in terms of political ideologies. The opposite has happened, after several years of independence. The truth of the matter is that india is conglomeration of many different nations, if each of the distinct tribal and ethnic groups could be considered as a nation. Each of these groups has its cultural practices and wants that it puts ahead of any other ideology that might be of interest to the whole country at large. This is a problem that is rampant in many developing nations and less developed nations in asia, Africa and the middle east. The political landscape, instead of getting defined by the ideologies held by a group, is determined by the tribal affiliations of the political leaders. India is a democracy and this has the effect of ensuring that the majority ethnic groups get their way in terms of politics and leadership. The smaller communities that were in the past marginalized continue to wallow in the same troubles that have beset them for many years, because it is difficult to have one of their own in positions of leadership, and even when they do, the amount of influence wielded by their leaders is limited compared to the one held by the leaders that come from the majority ethnic groups.
It can be assumed that the unifying of these various marginalized ethnic groups politically could solve the problem of lack of representation in leadership. However, this is made impossible by the differences that these groups have in terms of culture and practices. These aspects of the different ethnic groups have been designed such that they put them at a default position where they are antagonists. It would also not be in the interests of the establishment in place to have the smaller ethnic groups united in terms of politics, and that is inclusive of the leaders of the minority ethnic groups. This is because they are the ones that continue to benefit from the present state of affairs. The continued lack of representation of the minority groups from the government and the measures that are taken in trying to rectify that are beneficial to the groups of persons that happen to have influence in such communities. In addition, the lack of economic development and powerlessness of these groups make their leaders, who are less than effective to continue being relevant in the eyes of these communities. This is probably the reason why majority of the leaders in India would prefer the people to identify themselves in terms of their ethnicity as opposed to considering themselves as Indians. The groups that have remained in leadership are inclusive the ones that were royalties before the colonialists; the ones that collaborated with the colonial powers and thus gained considerable wealth; and a few of the legitimate freedom fighters. These leaders and their families continue to wield political power, and when challenged on the authenticity of their claim to power, they resort to their ethnic groups for support.
The numerous number of languages in india and the reverence and loyalty that the speakers of such languages have for their ethnic groups have led to a fragmented democracy. There are so many conflicting political ideologies, and even when several ethnic groups have compatible ideologies, it is hard for them to come together due to differences that they have had in the previous years. These are the factors that have slowed the growth of India, despite having the second largest population in the world, which makes for a very large workforce and market for consumption. All is not lost, however. This is because as time progresses, the education levels of the population is improving, and this is making it easier for persons from different communities to come together and reason and work towards mutual benefits. The growth of IT and communications technology in the country is also connecting young persons from different backgrounds, making them realize that the problems they face are similar despite their differing ethnicities. There is increased tolerance among the young for political and social opinions that they do not necessarily ascribe to, and this creates a platform for them to come together and reach a common perspective that is different from that of the older generations. The caste system that had kept the different segments of Indian population apart from each other is slowly but surely disintegrating. These developments point to a future where the ethnicity or the language of the political leaders will not matter. This is likely to be a period where the leaders will be held accountable for their views and actions and not have the opportunity to revert back to their ethnic for unwarranted support.
Hindi is India’s National language but not the Official
As indicated above, the struggle by successive regimes to develop a unified language that can be spoken by all the languages in India has been elusive bearing little or no fruits. A lot of efforts were made through constitutional amendments to aid the installation of Hindi as the India’s official language. The attempts were aimed at phasing out English in the country and instead promoted the use of Hindi for official purposes. Among the challenges faced included the role and position that had been taken by English as the country’s official language. The revolution and opposition mostly from Madras state with the help of Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) party made things unbearable for the promotion of Hindi. The minority saw the move as Hindi imperialism and were willing to accommodate English, which was an outside language. The political atmosphere that was created by the revolts brought to fore the underneath suspicion and tension that existed among the diverse communities and ethnic groups in India. As a move to resolve issues, the government and political players agreed to cede ground and maintain English as an official language and instead make Hindi as a national language. The attempts to make Hindi the official language in India are understandable as it is the most prominent local language in the country. As at 2012, there were more than 422 million people in India alone that identified Hindi as their mother tongue (Gusain, 2012). This number however, is not enough to justify the move to make it both the national language and official language in India.
There is also a legal blockade as concerns the definition of a national language in the country’s constitution. There is no definition of a national language in the nation’s constitution, and neither is there a provision that it must be one of the local languages. As mentioned earlier on, there is a problem with regards to the other minority communities when Hindi is proposed to become the national and official language of the nation. This is because over hundreds of years, these communities have been competing against each other for resources and dominance, and the imposition of Hindi on them and the whole country at large as the national and official language seems and sounds as if they are being subjected to Hindu imperialism. While majority of the population does not mind having the most widespread language to become the national language and possibly the official language, the minorities are strongly objected to that. These smaller language groups, which are quite numerous, have been on the receiving end of marginalization due to not having the political clout and outfit to represent their interests since the country gained independence. If the smaller language groups could come together and present a united political front, then there is a possibility that their interests would be taken seriously by the administration and other political leaders in the country. But this is very hard, and it is caused by the fact that the cultures of these groups are so diverse, that they can hardly trust each other. There is also the perception that the persons belonging from other language groups are not likely to have the best interests of a particular ethnic group that is different from theirs.
The argument for English to be identified and confirmed as the official and national language by the minority groups is supported by the fact that it is a foreign language, and there is no ethnic group in the country that can be perceived as having or getting an advantage over the others. However, there is a drawback to this position. This because the language was introduced into the country through colonization and subjugation of the local populations. This ensures that there is a significant portion of Indians that are opposed to have English as the national language, though it has over the years remained the de facto official language in the country. India, as any other country that was under colonial rule in the past, would want to disengage from relics that remind the population of the age of oppression that they had to endure during the colonial days. The removal of English from the position of official language in the country is likely to have far reaching consequences as opposed to the advantages it would bring. In addition to the resistance from within the country, there is a likelihood of the country becoming isolated from the rest of the world in terms of advancement and trade. It is becoming more imperative as time passes that a global language be established to accommodate the unifying of different markets and trade zones that has been made possible technology and globalization of the financial systems. It is important for Indians to be conversant with at least one of the recognized international languages, and English is a good candidate for the country. The economic growth that the country has experienced in the past three decades can be traced to the use of English, though not intentionally, as the official language in India.
Getting rid of extreme nationalism mentality is important in deciding what would be the best decision to make in India regarding the use of the national and official language, and in deciding which of the local language is best placed to function as such. There is a high probability that most of the native minority will die soon, as the number of speakers of those languages continues to dwindle as time passes by. The reasons for this is the education received by the children of the minority groups, and their propensity to adopt the western lifestyle, which actively excludes the use of their native language for one that is most popular in their vicinity. At the same time, the larger ethnic groups are continuing to grow bigger, as they assimilate the descendants of the minority ethnic groups. The rural urban migration of the minority groups is also a potent contributor to the dying out of their languages. The recommendation that Hindi be used as the national language is welcome, as it will prove to be a sober decision in the long term. There is a need therefore to have a clear definition of a national language in the constitution and differentiate it effectively from the official language. The function of the national language is to ensure that the prevailing culture of the Indians is conserved, while the official language is to ensure that the interests of the country and its citizens are catered for in the global arena. Having made that distinction, it will be possible to have two major languages in the countries, one acting as the national language and the other functioning as the official language.
In conclusion, it is evident that language has played a significant role in the India’s politics. During the independence period, the upper and political class that spoke a homogeneous English language was able to bring together the diverse groups in their common stand against colonization. The exit of British colonizers meant that the enlightened Indians from different ethnic divisions become more disintegrated. The failure of Congress party to bring together various languages ruined the common political spirit that had been developed over time. The level of inequality and hard economic times in the country has led to a belief that it is only those whom you can communicate together that one can have a common political stand with them. The lack of a common code in almost all the areas of politics and governance has encouraged every language grouping to identify their unique codes which have led to the formation of several political parties to champion the interest of particular language groups. The political competition has hence been reduced into one that is not guided by principles but rather language groups. After the tension and revolt from DMK party, the government relented in imposing Hindi as the official language of India; consequently, the party has rooted for the inclusion of Tamil besides Hindi and English as the official languages to be used. As things stand currently, English remains the official language of the country, and a lot are yet to be seen in future regarding language changes
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