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In recent years the issues related to the tribal and other minor and minority languages in India have been raised and debated by linguists, educationists and politicians from different perspectives. Issues are identified, suggestions are made for resolving them and in the absence of political will and non- implementation of policy and recommendations, the issues merely multiply and no solutions appear to be in sight. The Official Language Policy (OLP) and the constitutional provisions have a direct impact on the development of Tribal languages and resolving of the language issues. In the development of any tribal language, there is a need to identify the issues, provide suggestions and make sincere efforts in resolving the issues in the framework of the constitutional provisions and the OLP. This would help in finding out appropriate model for the development of tribal languages.
The development of any language depends on its use in different domains like administration, education and mass-media. It is necessary to review briefly the constitutional provisions and the OLP..
The multilingual, multi-cultural and multiethnic characteristics of India, varying socioeconomic strata of people and complex communication patterns, were well recognized during the pre- independence period. There is evidence to show that before the rulers from outside began ruling different parts of the country, local languages had a prominent role in administration. Two major foreign languages-Persian and English came to be used in administration with the arrival of Mughals and Britishers in India respectively. During the independence struggle, prominent political leaders, especially Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, advocated the use of provincial or regional languages in different states, and Hindustani in both Devanagri and Perso- Arabic scripts at the Union level, for inter-state communication. They supported the idea of reorganization of states on linguistic basis for the administrative convenience.
The history of reorganization of Indian States on linguistic basis began during early British administration. It was supported by political movements launched by Mahesh Narayan for the removal of Hindi speaking regions from Bengal in 1886. Lokmanya Tilak strongly pleaded the idea of reorganization of states on language basis before the Royal Commission in 1908. The Motilal Nehru Committee set-up by the All Parties Conference in 1928 also supported the idea. The Indian National Congress reaffirmed the principle on several occasions between 1928 and 1947 (Mazumdar 1970:53-54).
After independence, the committees and commissions on the reorganization of states focused on four basic principles of administrative convenience: language, culture, development, and unity. A States Reorganization Commission set-up in 1953 looked into different principles and made suggestions on the categorization of monolingual (where 70% or more of the entire population speak the same language), and bilingual (where 30% or more of the entire population speak a language other than the language of the region) states. It also recommended that the language of the minority should be used in official business in a district, where it is spoken by 70% or more of the population; in bilingual districts, municipal areas or in Talukas where minorities contribute to 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the population, all documents, notices, electoral rolls etc. must be printed in both the languages.
The principle of reorganization of states on linguistic basis has over the years given rise to various political movements. The linguistic and cultural identity is a strong unifying force behind these movements. The dominance of the so-called major regional or official language and non- implementation of the recommendation for the protection of rights of linguistic minorities are primarily responsible for rise of political movements on linguistic basis.
The Constitution of India in its Eighth Schedule as of now lists 21 major languages namely Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Marathi, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Santhali, Sanskrit,
Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Bodo, Dogri and Santhali have been recently added to this schedule. All the states have a choice to select any of the languages listed above as official language or languages for the state. Whereas all states, naturally, have made a choice in favour of their regional or dominant native language as the official language, Jammu and Kashmir was the only state, which chose Urdu a non-native language, as the official language of the state. The Constitution declares Hindi in Devanagri script as the official language of the Union along with English as an associate official language, which was supposed to be replaced by Hindi within 15 years (i.e. up to 1965). However, politically motivated anti-Hindi agitations resulted in the passing of Official Language Act, 1963, followed by an amendment in 1967, which guarantees the use of English as an associate official language for an indefinite period of time.
The Constitution protects the right of the linguistic minorities in each state for the preference of their linguistic and cultural identity. All the states are bound to make provision for the use of minority languages in education and also in local administration where these languages are spoken natively. Though there are constitutional safeguards for linguistic minorities as far as their right to the use of their languages in education and local administration in the states is concerned, in practice, these provisions are not implemented adequately. Not only a large number of languages of linguistic minorities but also languages of majority population (as in the case of Kashmiri and Dogri in Kashmir and Jammu regions of the state of Jammu & Kashmir respectively) have not been assigned any role in administration.
The use of any language in administration, education and mass- media necessitates the development and standardization of appropriate registers of the language. Towards this end, different steps have been taken at both Union and state levels. At the Union level, various commissions and boards have been formed for undertaking the work and for funding and monitoring the language development programmes taken-up by various states. The Government of India has setup the following prominent institutions under the Union Department of Education:
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