Gist of Rajya Sabha TV: Promoting Native Languages

Introduction

In this edition of the show, the significance of the native language or simply put, the mother tongue is to be discussed. Reaching out to the Members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu elaborated on the importance of strong foundational skills in the first language in the initial years of informal learning at home. Describing the first learned and spoken mother tongue as the ‘soul of life’, Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha has passionately urged all the Members of Parliament to actively contribute to the cause of preservation and promotion of Indian languages.

Edited Excerpts from the debate

How significant is language?

  • With over 19,500 mother tongues or dialects spoken across India, the language diversity in India is absolutely massive. There is a saying in India, ‘The language in India changes every few kilometers as does the water’.
  • This sums up the nature of India’s language diversity.
  • There are 22 official languages of India at the state and/or regional level, all of which have constitutional recognition.
  • Of these 22 languages, native speaker numbers range from 528 million (for Hindi) to 24,821 for Sanskrit.
  • Language is a crucial and defining aspect in the life of every individual. Not only a medium of effective communication, it is a harbour of culture and systems of knowledge.
  • Language acclimatises the individual and the community to the surrounding environment by equipping them with the necessary knowledge, which has been accumulating and evolving together for centuries.

What is International Mother Language Day?

  • International Mother Language Day is celebrated every year on 21st February.
  • The main purpose of celebrating this day is to promote the awareness of language and cultural diversity all across the world.

Background

  • At the partition of India in 1947, the Bengal province was divided according to the predominant religions of the inhabitants.
  • The western part became part of India and the eastern part became a province of Pakistan known as East Bengal and later East Pakistan.
  • However, there was economic, cultural and lingual friction between East and West Pakistan.
  • These tensions were apparent in 1948 when Pakistan's government declared that Urdu was the sole national language.
  • This sparked protests amongst the Bengali-speaking majority in East Pakistan. The government outlawed the protests but on February 21, 1952, students at the University of Dhaka and other activists organized a protest.
  • Later that day, the police opened fire at the demonstrators and killed four students.
  • These students' deaths in fighting for the right to use their mother language are now remembered on International Mother Language Day.
  • The unrest continued as Bengali speakers campaigned for the right to use their mother language.
  • Bengali became an official language in Pakistan on February 29, 1956.
  • Following the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, Bangladesh became an independent country with Bengali as its official language.
  • On November 17, 1999, UNESCO proclaimed February 21 to be International Mother Language Day and it was first observed on February 21, 2000.
  • Each year the celebrations around International Mother Language Day concentrate on a particular theme.

How languages are facing the threat of extinction?

  • In India, the data collected about mother tongues through the 2011 census showed 19,569 languages, which after linguistic scrutiny and categorisation resulted in 1,369 ‘rationalised’ mother tongues.
  • Nearly 400 of these languages however are facing the threat of extinction in the coming 50 years.
  • 87 languages in India are under threat of disappearing; 9 are already extinct, according to UNESCO's e-atlas.

Nepal has 71 endangered languages (second highest in South Asia), Pakistan has 27, Bangladesh five and Sri Lanka, just one.

  • While this data speaks volumes about the linguistic diversity in India, it also highlights the continued need to protect and nurture the languages spoken by the minorities.

Example

  • A case in point is the language Apatani, spoken in Arunachal Pradesh. It is listed as a non-scheduled language in Census 2001 and UNESCO lists it as a "definitely endangered" language in its e-atlas.
  • Being "definitely endangered" means that "children no longer learn this language as their mother tongue at home," according to UNESCO.
  • While GOI recognizes Apatani, many mother tongues, especially those with a thousand or less speakers, get no such acknowledgment.
  • The only proof of their existence is the UNESCO e-atlas that lists them as endangered.

Hurdles/Challenges

  • Problem of definition: The Indian government does not recognize many of the languages listed in UNESCO's e-atlas.
  • No focus on tribal languages: The tribal languages are just on paper. Of the 9 tribal languages, Monta, Khampti, Mishmi, and Singpho are only taught. The rest do not have a book, no teachers and no funds.
  • Moving away from the mother tongue: India’s linguistic diversity is under threat because linguistic minorities are gradually letting go of their mother tongues.

Conclusion

The linguistic diversity of India is an integral part of our nationalism unlike the countries founded on the principle of one language or religion. A robust futuristic framework for promotion and strengthening of Indian languages should set at rest any misgivings that any one language will be forcibly thrust on the people.

Given the current scenario, there is urgent need to protect Indian languages and promote the use of mother tongue in fields ranging from education to administration.  Promotion of Indian languages will blend linguistic pride with national vision, increase the GER by promoting faster learning and revamp the usage and the vibrancy of all Indian languages and multilingualism.

Value Addition

What is the mother tongue language?

  • Mother tongues are basically at the bottom of the rack.
  • They are classified as dialects under 'non-scheduled languages'.
  • These are languages the government recognizes but doesn't consider important enough to include in the Eight Schedule (ES), which is a list of 22 languages officially recognized as languages spoken in India.

Protection provided to linguistic rights

Linguistic rights protect the individual and collective right to choose one's language or languages for communication both within the private and the public spheres. Linguistic rights are protected under:

  • Indian Constitution (Article 29 (1) and Article 350 A)
  • UN legislation
  • Article 27 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 107 (3)

Language provisions in the Constitution of the Indian Union

  • Official Language: Article 343(1) of the Constitution provides that Hindi in Devanagari script shall be the Official Language of the Union.
    • The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.
  • However, the Constitution did not declare Hindi as the National language, it rather accorded Hindi the status of ‘official language’ along with English. 
  • Article 350A: It deals with the facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at the primary stage. 
  • Article 351: It provides a directive for the development of the Hindi language. 

What are the official and classical languages in India?

  • Official Language: Currently, the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution contains 22 official languages-Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri.
  • Classical Languages in India: Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia

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