Language can be defined as Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols India is known for its diversity; diversity of religion, culture, tradition, languages, dialect etc.
Eighth schedule of the constitution of India recognizes as many as 22 languages. G A Grierson made the first linguistic survey of India and made a list of 544 dialects and 179 languages, despite of the fact that many linguists don’t accepted Grierson’s survey. But by any estimate, more than 500 dialects are spoken in India and out of them; around 25 languages are spoken by around 97 of Indian population.
All the languages are classified into four main language families :
• Austro-Asiatic or Nishad
• Sino-Tibetan or Kirat
• Dravidian or Dravid
• Indo-Aryan or Aryan
Among the above mentioned language, Nishad and Kirat are almost entirely tribal languages. Aryan family is the largest one constituting 73 percent of the languages spoken in India. Khasi, Santhali, Nicobari etc are part of Nishad family. Ladakhi, Manipuri and Ahom belong to the Kirat group. Dravidian family includes Telugu, Tamil, Kannad and Malayalam. Aryan is the largest family and includes Punjabi, Sindhi, Awadhi, Chhattisgarhi, Marathi, Konkani, Garhwali, Rajasthani, Guajarati, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya etc.
Even before the independence, reorganization of provinces on the basis of language was one of the Congress demand and after independence, Andhra Pradesh was the first state created on linguistic basis and Telugu was its official language and later many states were carved on linguistic basis like almost all North Eastern states, Gujarat, Kerala etc. The linguistic diversity noticed in the macro-structure of the country is also reflected in its regional and micro-structure, i.e. in the constituent States. Even though the State boundaries are carved on the basis of dominant languages, the States are multi-lingual.
The minority languages in the States of course vary from province to province. When one surveys the linguistic scenario of the country it appears India is a country of linguistic minorities. All the States have their dominant languages, yet they also have certain numbers of minority languages. Even States, like Arunanchal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram etc. have minority languages.
The Indian constitution binds the whole country irrespective of linguistic and cultural variations. Articles 343 to 351 of the Constitution deal with the language situation in India. Articles 29 and 30 and 347 have been devised to safeguard the interest of speakers of minority languages. Article 350 (B) envisages the appointment of a Special Officer for linguistic minorities Languages in India occupy an important place in country’s social, cultural and political identity.
In fact many cultures are known by their language only for instance, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali, Gujrati, Assamese, Marathi, Kannada and many more. Most distinguished feature of these cultures, apart from dance, music, dress is language and script. Languages are an important instrument in establishing identity of an individual, state and Nation. For that matter when India was conceiving an idea of making Hindi the National language of the country, Dravidian family vehemently opposed the idea and no national language was chosen. During pre as well as post independence years, country has witnessed many linguistic movements in the country few of them demanding reorganization of states on linguistic basis.
Among the linguistic movements witnessed by independent India, Pure Tamil Movement was most successful to agitate the nation at large. Here nation realized that whenever a linguistic movement starts due to some specific reason, it put forth the religious, social, political and caste divisions prevalent in the society.
In 1986, Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced the “National Education Policy”. This education policy provided for setting up Navodaya Schools, where the DMK claimed teaching of Hindi would be compulsory. The Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) led by M. G. Ramachandran (which had split from the DMK in 1972), was in power in Tamil Nadu and the DMK was the main opposition party. Karunanidhi announced an agitation against the opening of Navodaya Schools in Tamil Nadu.
In Bengal and other non-Hindi agitation was not as vehement as in Tamil Nadu but even there the perceived attempt to impose Hindi is strongly resented. In Maharashtra, although the issues were much simpler, again an agitation had to be carried out to achieve the division of the province into Gujarat and Maharashtra on linguistic basis. Even there, the problem of a Marathi-speaking area, Belgium, being left in Karnataka rather than being merged into Maharashtra still continues. In other parts of the country too, there are still ‘boundary’ disputes and other problems relating to linguistic issues.
Recently, after much agitation on the issue and in order to mollify the Muslim electorate, Urdu has been accorded the status of secondary official language, in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is recognized as a regional language in Andhra Pradesh also. Language is primarily the business of the people and linguistic integration has to be achieved at the popular rather than official level. Indeed this is one of the significant findings of the monumental ‘Peoples of India’ study carried out by the Anthropological Survey of India.
The study of nearly 4000 communities that constitute India has found that, traditionally as well as now a very large number for them is bilingual, using one language for internal communication and the other for interacting with neighboring ‘communities’. In fact this could have been the only way of survival in the multi-ethnic plurality of India.
In India, it has been seen that languages are not merely the modes of communalism but are also systems of misunderstanding and therefore the linguistic problem has to be addressed at various levels : inters-group, inter-group; as elements of discourse and as barriers in social-cultural interaction.