You are on page 1of 2

Language Conflict in India Author: Email: Homepage: Institution: Linguistic Field: Abstract:

Alok Kumar Das click here to access email Singhania University Sociolinguistics Language is a vehicle of thought and a means of communication. And more often than not it has also been a means of conflict. And without conflict there is no violence. If I say that the issue of language is as sensitive in the life of a country as is that of religion, I may sound ingenuous. But the fact is that the former is not only older than the latter, it also covers more domains of life than the latter. Language and religion are both intermittent and the net result of the conflicts involving them can be profoundly detrimental to our unity. Both can have extreme political consequences. If religion can create Pakistan, Bangladesh is a glaring example of language conflict. The historical universality of language contact and consequent bilingualism together with intensification of such contacts in contemporary society makes language conflict an inevitable reality. In India, the language conflict is more than simply a conflict between languages. Many other factors come into play which include conflicts between political parties; pressure groups; social classes; elite groups vs. the rest of the population; and conflicts between institutions fulfilling specific functions within the state. This implies that the concept of language conflict can be best explained in the apt and manner of Nelde (1990) who points out that language is often only the symbol of a conflict which is actually taking place in other domains, such as politics, economy, administration, or education. The history of language conflict in modern times can be traced back to 1938, when the Madras Government headed by C. Rajgopalachari made Hindi a compulsory language to be learned by the students of the state. Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy, the founder of Dravidian Movement, opposed this tooth and nail and launched an anti-Hindi agitation. The recommendations of the Official Language Commission led to some serious developments in Assam. Likewise, anti-English riots and demonstrations began in northern states U.P., Bihar, M.P. and Rajasthan and the mobs, mostly students, indulged in acts of lawlessness and violence involving destruction of government property. To counter this, in 1967, anti-Hindi demonstrations by students began in Madras, soon spreading to Andhra Pradesh and Mysore. Under the stress of emotions and ignorance, linguistic minorities in certain states became object of physical assault and violence and the majority community formed the lopsided concept of the sons of the soil. The present-day contours of language controversy have very much changed from what it was say some 25 years or so back. The past controversies over a host of issues, such as the resentment of non-Hindi regions over Hindi being chosen the official language of the Union, only partial acceptability of the three language formula and the HindiEnglish controversy, seem to have calmed down to a greater extent than perhaps expected. But this may only be a pause as the country is passing through a phase of economic transition and a period of great social mobility. The issues of language conflict should not be considered solved until they actually are. The attention might have shifted towards the issues of more immediate consequences; the undercurrent of language conflict is on. Direction has changed; the agents and factors are different. Though I totally disagree with scholars like Selig Harrison that the language parochialism would lead either to the Balkanisation of India or towards the destruction of democracy, any forecast of an impending socio-linguistic upheaval can be overruled. Given the multiplicity of sociolinguistic problems in India, a scientific and

truly pluralist approach is required in order to find some widely acceptable solutions. Rest perhaps can be taken care of by Indias long experience of multilingualism, diglossia, oral transmission, and above all linguistic tolerance.