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Linguistic Diversity in India

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

M. Satyavathi

India is a rich country with many languages, each with distinct script, grammar, vocabulary and literary traditions. There are nearly 19500 dialects many without script and some with script. India is the fourth largest multi-lingual country. According to 1991 census there are 1500 known languages that are considered as mother tongue to people. These languages are grouped into 114 major language, for example, Bhojpuri, Magadh, Chhattisgarhi, Bundelkhandi, Rajasthani, Bhil under Hindi. Out of these 114 groups 22 are recognized in the VIII schedule of Indian constitution. Hindi is spoken by larger number of people that is around 40% hence it became the official language of the union government. However, it is specified that English version also must accompany it for non-Hindi speaking people. Every state has its mother tongue as its official language.

Features of Indian languages:

The fundamental unit is known as Akshara.

Words are made up of one or more Aksharas.

Aksharas are pronounced independently as the languages are completely symbolic.

There are samyuktaaksharai.e.Akshara with more than one consonant.

Every language has its own script different from each other.

There are nearly 10 to 12 scripts. They use reduplication which is a specific feature

Indian languages are classified into:

Indo-Aryan language which is a branch of Indo-European language




Most of the north Indian languages are Indo-Aryan languages. Sanskrit now a classical language is the oldest Indo-Aryan branch from which north Indian languages are derived, influenced or adopted. The script of Sanskrit is Devanagari script (language of Gods).The ancient literature like Vedas, Upanishads, Epics, Shastras, Puranasare is written in Sanskrit. Most of the religious books used Sanskrit in their discourses. Hindi uses Sanskrit script whereas, Urdu, its sister language, is influenced by Persian / Arabic languages and written from right to left.

Dravidian languages are mostly spoken in South India and parts of north Sri Lanka. It is one of the largest language families, completely unrelated to any other language. Before Aryan invasion Indians used Dravidian languages only. Later the invaders pushed the natives to the south. The word Dravida was first used by Robert A Coldwell in 1816 in his book ‘Comparative Grammar of Dravidians of South India’. Part VIII of Indian Constitution listed Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu as recognized Indian languages. In spite of differences in sound most of these languages share few common features. They borrowed words from Sanskrit. However, Tamil borrowed least Sanskrit and Telugu the largest words. All consonants in these languages have an inherent vowel.

Added to these major branches, Sino-Tibetan and Austro-Asiatic languages further expanded the multi linguistic structure. Sino-Tibetan is spoken in western Himalayas and north eastern frontiers. These include Meitei, Bodo, Naga etc. Austro-Asiaticare spoken in east and north- east India that includes Santhal, Munda etc. The great Andamanese languages comprise of number of extinct and one endangered language. The Ongan family of southern Andamans comprised of two extant languages: Onga and Jarawa, the extinct language is Jangil. In addition to these Sentinels’ language is the language of north Sentinale island nothing much is known about it.

The importance of linguistic diversity is reflected in freedom struggle. The Indian National Congress in its endeavor to give equal recognition and respect to all languages agreed for the creation of provinces in Independent India based on the principle of language. As early as 1917 Indian National Congress committed itself for linguistic formation of provinces. Based on that principle separate Andhra circle was created, followed by Sindh circle. Consequent to this in 1920 at Nagpur session of Indian National Congress it was decided for linguistic provincial congress committees which were supported by Gandhi.

Pandit Nehru appreciated the language diversity and expressed in one of his articles in 1937 “a living language is a throbbing vital thing, ever changing, ever growing and mirroring the people who speak and write it. Our languages inherited rich culture, spoken by millions, tied up with life, culture, ideas of masses that can grow with them”. However, after partition owing to the tragic miseries of people the Congress under the leadership of Pandit Nehru was not willing for linguistic division. It was supported by C. Rajagopalachari and Sardar Patel. They deferred the division for stability, security and unity and Gandhi was persuaded by Nehru in this regard. But on 25th January 1948 Gandhi insisted that the principle must not be surrendered. Unfortunately, within a week he was assassinated.

The then Government gave importance to building a strong nation and presumed that the linguistic division would result in many more partitions. As a result, many regional leaders of Congress did not agree with the national leaders. A fresh committee referred to as JVP committee was constituted consisting of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya. They argued that language is not only a binding force but also a separating factor and every separatist tendency should be discouraged.

Number of linguistic movements was renewed demanding separate linguistic states. Of all the movements the demand for separate Andhra for Telugu speaking people was strongest. This was strongly condemned by Nehru and others. On 22 May 1952, Nehru expressed in Parliament that foremost efforts have been directed to consolidate India and the linguistic formation would take place when the right time comes. However, he did not specify when that right time would be. Thus, the demand for separate Telugu state began on 19th October 1952 by Potti Sriramulu a disciple of Gandhi at Madras by fast on to death with the blessings of Swami Sitaram along with Telugu speaking people.

His fast was not taken seriously by national leaders. Nehru and Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) ignored it. After 58 days of fast Potti Sriramulu died on 15th December 1952. The entire Andhra was engulfed in chaos and public property was damaged. Two days after his death Nehru stated that Andhra would be formed on 1st October 1953. It was inaugurated on that day with Kurnool as its capital. This intensified similar demands. The then government unwillingly appointed States Reorganization Commission. It was a three-member committee consisting of Faizal Ali, H.N. Kundru and K.M. Panikkar. They travelled across India to study the demands and recommended for reorganization of states on linguistic basis and submitted their report after 18 months of their appointment in October 1955. They expressed arguments and counter arguments urged a balanced approach and recognized the homogeneity of linguistic formation.

Finally, on 1st November 1956, 14 states and 6 union territories were formed on the principle of linguistic reorganization. In due course many more states were formed. This principle has consolidated and strengthened the unity and integrity of India. To promote, preserve and protect the diversified languages three language formulae was introduced whose purpose was to respect, recognize and retain the multi lingual nature of India. The linguistic reorganization of states not only consolidated and strengthened Indian federalism which is centralized but also helped people to interact with democratically elected representatives in their local language and promoted democracy at grass root level.

M. Satyavathi

Retired P.G.T, Political Science

Oxford Senior Secondary School

Vikas Puri

New Delhi

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Suyash Singh
Suyash Singh
10 Kas 2020

Very informative article. The author has documented the history and the facts very well.

Linguistic reorganization of the states has definitely consolidated and strengthened the Indian federation. Respecting other’s language is like respecting their mothers. Kudos to the author for highlighting the linguistic diversity in India and its important role in uniting India.

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