This article on ‘Official Language Under The Indian Constitution: All You Need To Know’ was written by Samriddha Krishna Behera an intern at Legal Upanishad.
India, recognised for its rich cultural legacy and diverse population, has always supported language diversity. The makers of the Indian Constitution recognised the importance of language in uniting the nation and providing all residents with access to government services. They inserted provisions about the official language to handle the complexities of the many languages spoken across the country.
The issue of the official language under the Indian Constitution is crucial because it reflects the core of India’s unity in diversity. This article dives into the constitutional framework governing the official language, the selection process, and attempts taken to reconcile linguistic diversity with administrative efficiency. It also investigates the difficulties encountered in executing the official language policy and the function of language in creating national integration.
THE PROVISIONS OF OFFICIAL LANGUAGES IN THE CONSTITUTION
A country’s official languages play an important role in government, administration, national integration, and communication. In the instance of India, a country noted for its linguistic diversity, the rules on official languages in the Constitution were carefully constructed to find a balance between uniting the country and maintaining its diverse nature.
Part XVII of the Indian Constitution, especially Articles 343 to 351, contains these provisions. Let us now look at the major provisions:
- Article 343: Official Language of the Union: According to Article 343, Hindi in Devanagari script is the official language of the Union of India. This article was inserted into the Constitution to foster unity and facilitate successful interaction between the Central Government and the states.
- Article 344: Commission and Parliamentary Committee on Official Language: Article 344 directs the President of India to create a commission to assess the progress of the usage of Hindi as the official language every ten years. The panel is entrusted with recommending methods for more efficient Hindi implementation and delivering findings to the President.
- Article 345: State’s Official Language or Languages: Article 345 empowers state legislatures to designate one or more of the languages prevalent within the state as the official language(s) for purposes of communication within the state’s jurisdiction. This clause recognises each state’s linguistic uniqueness and permits them to maintain and develop their regional languages.
- Article 346: Official Language for Inter-State Communication or Inter-State Communication with the Union: Article 346 enables any one or more languages to be used for interactions between states or between a state and the Union. This clause guarantees that linguistic obstacles do not obstruct inter-state or inter-governmental interaction and cooperation.
- Article 347: Special Arrangements for Language Spoken by a Subset of a State’s Population: Article 347 enables the Governor of a State to establish special arrangements for the utilisation of any minority language spoken by a large subset of the state’s population. This clause guarantees that linguistic minorities may communicate and receive government services in their native language.
- Article 348: Language to be used in the Supreme Court and High Courts, as well as in Acts, Bills, and other documents: Article 348 stipulates that English will be used for official Union functions and interactions between the Union and the states until Parliament decides otherwise. This clause was inserted to address non-Hindi-speaking states’ worries about potential language discrimination and to improve interaction between the Central Government and the various states.
- Article 349: Specific Mechanism for the Enactment of Certain Language Legislation: Article 349 specifies a specific mechanism for Parliament to pass legislation pertaining to the use of the Union’s or any state’s official language, including the continuance of English as an official language. Any such law must be approved by the President and cannot be declared unlawful because it violates the linguistic standards of the Constitution.
- Article 350: Language to be used in representations for redress of grievances: Article 350 provides that anybody can file a grievance with the Central or State Government in any of the official languages recognised by the Constitution. This clause maintains the ideals of language accessibility and inclusion.
- Article 351: Hindi language development directive: Article 351 asks the Union Government to encourage the expansion of the Hindi language in order to develop it as a vehicle of expression for all parts of India’s composite culture. The importance of language in creating national integration is emphasised in this essay.
THE JOURNEY OF LANGUAGE POLICY IN INDIA
Language policy in India has been the topic of heated debates and discussions. There were huge protests in non-Hindi-speaking states in the early years following independence against the introduction of Hindi as the only official language. To address these issues, the government implemented a three-language system in schools, pushing students to study Hindi, English, and the regional tongue. This strategy sought to create a balance between the promotion of Hindi and the preservation of regional languages.
Several states have also established their linguistic identity throughout the years, resulting in the recognition of indigenous languages as officially recognised languages within their own territory. India now recognises 22 official languages, each with its own alphabet and cultural importance.
CHALLENGES AND IMPLEMENTATION
While the official language requirements in the constitution were intended to create linguistic unity, difficulties in executing the policy have persisted. One of the most significant obstacles is the language barrier that occurs between various linguistic populations. This can occasionally obstruct efficient communication and collaboration among governments, undermining national unity.
Another difficulty is providing adequate resources and opportunities for regional language development and promotion. Many languages are in danger of extinction as a result of a lack of institutional support and a preference for dominant languages in education and the media.
The Indian Constitution’s official language clauses demonstrate the country’s dedication to inclusion and plurality. Recognising India’s tremendous linguistic diversity, the country has worked to strike a balance between developing a uniting language and protecting regional identities.
Adopting numerous official languages has been critical to ensuring that linguistic variety does not become a barrier to national cohesion. To preserve this linguistic peace, the government and society must promote the preservation and advancement of all languages. It is not only a constitutional obligation to emphasise linguistic variety, but it is also an acknowledgment of India’s cultural tapestry and a step towards a more inclusive and united society.
The constitutional provisions on official languages in India are a testament to the nation’s commitment to preserving its linguistic diversity while promoting a sense of unity and inclusivity. The recognition of multiple languages, the use of Hindi as the official language, and the flexibility in language use for various purposes demonstrate the Constitutional framers’ foresight in ensuring harmonious coexistence among the numerous linguistic communities in India.
- Manish, “National Language of India & 22 Official Languages of India List”, Study IQ, 12 June 2023, available at: https://www.studyiq.com/articles/the-national-language-of-india/
- Gursimran Kaur Bakshi, “Official languages of India : a descriptive analysis”, iPleaders Blog, 4 August 2021, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/official-languages-india-descriptive-analysis/
- “Languages Included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution”, Department of official Language, available at: https://rajbhasha.gov.in/en/languages-included-eighth-schedule-indian-constitution
- “A Brief Note on Official Language”, Unacademy, available at: https://unacademy.com/content/upsc/study-material/general-awareness/a-brief-note-on-official-language/