Languages with official status in India
The Constitution of India designates a bilingual approach for official language of the Government of India employing usage of Hindi written in the Devanagari script, as well as English. Hindi and English find everyday use for important official purposes such as parliamentary proceedings, judiciary, communications between the Central Government and a State Government. States within India have the liberty and powers to specify their own official language(s) through legislation and therefore there are more than 20 officially recognized languages in India, including English, Hindi, Telugu, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi etc. The number of native Hindi speakers range between 14.5 to 24.5% in total Indian population, however, other dialects of Hindi termed as Hindi languages are spoken by nearly 45% percent of Indians, mostly accounted from the states falling under the Hindi belt. In comparison to Hindi, other Indian languages are not far behind and are spoken by around 10% or less of the population. English continues to be used for some official purposes, by the Government of India in conjunction with Hindi, the number of English speakers within India has grown significantly in India—to nearly 20%.
States specify their own official language(s) through legislation. The section of the Constitution of India dealing with official languages therefore includes detailed provisions which deal not just with the languages used for the official purposes of the union, but also with the languages that are to be used for the official purposes of each state and union territory in the country, and the languages that are to be used for communication between the union and the states inter se.
During the British Raj, English was used for purposes at the federal level. The Indian constitution adopted in 1950 envisaged that Hindi would be gradually phased in to replace English over a fifteen-year period, but gave Parliament the power to, by law, provide for the continued use of English even thereafter. Plans to make Hindi the sole official language of the Republic met with resistance in some parts of the country. Hindi continues to be used today, in combination with other (at the central level and in some states) State official languages at the state level.
The legal framework governing the use of languages for official purpose currently includes the Constitution, the Official Languages Act, 1963, Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, and various state laws, as well as rules and regulations made by the central government and the states.
- 1 Official languages of the Union
- 2 State level
- 3 Eighth Schedule to the Constitution
- 4 Union-State and interstate communication
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Official languages of the Union
The Indian constitution, in 1950, declared Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e., on 26 January 1965. The prospect of the changeover, however, led to much alarm in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, especially Dravidian-speaking states whose languages were not related to Hindi at all. As a result, Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, 1963, which provided for the continued use of Hindi for official purposes along with English, even after 1965.
In late 1964, an attempt was made to expressly provide for an end to the use of English, but it was met with protests from states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Puducherry and Andhra Pradesh. Some of these protests also turned violent. As a result, the proposal was dropped, and the Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not be ended until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language, and by each house of the Indian Parliament.
The current position is thus that the Union government continues to use English in addition to Hindi for its official purposes as a "subsidiary official language," but is also required to prepare and execute a programme to progressively increase its use of Hindi. The exact extent to which, and the areas in which, the Union government uses Hindi and English, respectively, is determined by the provisions of the Constitution, the Official Languages Act, 1963, the Official Languages Rules, 1976, and statutory instruments made by the Department of Official Language under these laws.
Parliamentary proceedings and laws
The Indian constitution draws a distinction between the language to be used in Parliamentary proceedings, and the language in which laws are to be made. Parliamentary business, according to the Constitution, may be conducted in either Hindi or English. The use of English in parliamentary proceedings was to be phased out at the end of fifteen years unless Parliament chose to extend its use, which Parliament did through the Official Languages Act, 1963. In addition, the constitution permits a person who is unable to express himself in either Hindi or English to, with the permission of the Speaker of the relevant House, address the House in his mother tongue.
In contrast, the constitution requires the authoritative text of all laws, including Parliamentary enactments and statutory instruments, to be in English, until Parliament decides otherwise. Parliament has not exercised its power to so decide, instead merely requiring that all such laws and instruments, and all bills brought before it, also be translated into Hindi, though the English text remains authoritative.
The constitution provides that all proceedings in the Supreme Court of India, the country's highest court and the High Courts, shall be in English. Parliament has the power to alter this by law, but has not done so.
The Official Language Act provides that the Union government shall use both Hindi and English in most administrative documents that are intended for the public. The Official Languages Rules, in contrast, provide for a higher degree of use of Hindi in communications between offices of the central government (other than offices in Tamil Nadu, to which the rules do not apply). Communications between different departments within the central government may be in either Hindi or English, although a translation into the other language must be provided if required. Communications within offices of the same department, however, must be in Hindi if the offices are in Hindi-speaking states, and in either Hindi or English otherwise with Hindi being used in proportion to the percentage of staff in the receiving office who have a working knowledge of Hindi. Notes and memos in files may be in either Hindi or English, with the Government having a duty to provide a translation into the other language if required.
Various steps have been taken by the Indian government to implement the use and familiarisation of Hindi extensively. Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha headquartered at Chennai was formed to spread Hindi in South Indian states. Regional Hindi implementation offices at Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Bhopal, Delhi and Ghaziabad have been established to monitor the implementation of Hindi in Central government offices and PSUs.
Annual targets are set by the Department of Official Language regarding the amount of correspondence being carried out in Hindi. A Parliament Committee on Official Language constituted in 1976 periodically reviews the progress in the use of Hindi and submits a report to the President. The governmental body which makes policy decisions and established guidelines for promotion of Hindi is the Kendriya Hindi Samiti (est. 1967). In every city that has more than ten central Government offices, a Town Official Language Implementation Committee is established and cash awards are given to government employees who write books in Hindi. All Central government offices and PSUs are to establish Hindi Cells for implementation of Hindi in their offices.
The Indian constitution does not specify the official languages to be used by the states for the conduct of their official functions, and leaves each state free to, through its legislature, adopt Hindi or any language used in its territory as its official language or languages. The language need not be one of those listed in the Eighth Schedule, and several states have adopted official languages which are not so listed. Examples include Kokborok in Tripura; Mizo in Mizoram; Khasi and Garo in Meghalaya; French in Puducherry.
Legislature and administration
The constitutional provisions in relation to use of the official language in legislation at the State level largely mirror those relating to the official language at the central level, with minor variations. State legislatures may conduct their business in their official language, Hindi or (for a transitional period, which the legislature can extend if it so chooses) English, and members who cannot use any of these have the same rights to their mother tongue with the Speaker's permission. The authoritative text of all laws must be in English, unless Parliament passes a law permitting a state to use another language, and if the original text of a law is in a different language, an authoritative English translation of all laws must be prepared.
The state has the right to regulate the use of its official language in public administration, and in general, neither the constitution nor any central enactment imposes any restriction on this right. However, every person submitting a petition for the redress of a grievance to an officer or authority of the state government has a constitutional right to submit it in any language used in that state, regardless of its official status.
In addition, the constitution grants the central government, acting through the President, the power to issue certain directives to the government of a state in relation to the use of minority languages for official purposes. The President may direct a State to officially recognise a language spoken in its territory for specified purposes and in specified regions, if its speakers demand it and satisfy him that a substantial proportion of the State's population desire its use. Similarly, States and local authorities are required to endeavour to provide primary education in the mother tongue for all linguistic minorities, regardless of whether their language is official in that State, and the President has the power to issue directions he deems necessary to ensure that they are provided these facilities.
States have significantly less freedom in relation to determine the language in which judicial proceedings in their respective High Courts will be conducted. The constitution gives the power to authorise the use of Hindi, or the state's official language in proceedings of the High Court to the Governor, rather than the state legislature, and requires the Governor to obtain the consent of the President of India, who in these matters acts on the advice of the Government of India. The Official Languages Act gives the Governor a similar power, subject to similar conditions, in relation to the language in which the High Court's judgments will be delivered.
Four states - Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan- have been granted the right to conduct proceedings in their High Courts in their official language, which, for all of them, was Hindi. However, the only non-Hindi state to seek a similar power - Tamil Nadu, which sought the right to conduct proceedings in Tamil in its High Court - had its application rejected by the central government earlier, which said it was advised to do so by the Supreme Court. In 2006, the law ministry said that it would not object to Tamil Nadu state's desire to conduct Madras High Court proceedings in Tamil. In 2010, the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court allowed lawyers to argue cases in Tamil.
Indian states and union territories
|No.||Union Territory||Official Languages||Other officially recognised languages|
|1.||Andaman and Nicobar Islands||English||Bengali, Hindi Tamil and Telugu|
|3.||Dadra and Nagar Haveli||English||Gujarati and Hindi|
|4.||Daman and Diu||Konkani, Marathi and Gujarati|
|7.||Puducherry||Tamil, French, English||Malayalam (for Mahe), Telugu (for Yanam)|
Eighth Schedule to the Constitution
The Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution contains a list of 22 scheduled languages. At the time the constitution was enacted, inclusion in this list meant that the language was entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission, and that the language would be one of the bases that would be drawn upon to enrich Hindi, the official language of the Union. The list has since, however, acquired further significance. The Government of India is now under an obligation to take measures for the development of these languages, such that "they grow rapidly in richness and become effective means of communicating modern knowledge." In addition, a candidate appearing in an examination conducted for public service at a higher level is entitled to use any of these languages as the medium in which he or she answers the paper.
The table below lists the 22 languages set out in the eighth schedule as of May 2008, together with the regions where they are used.
Even though English language is not included in Eighth Schedule (as it is a foreign language), it is one of the official languages of Union of India.
Since 2003, a government committee has been looking into the feasibility of treating all languages in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution as "Official Languages of the Union".
Union-State and interstate communication
The language in which communications between different states, or from the union government to a state or a person in a state, shall be sent is regulated by the Official Languages Act and, for states other than Tamil Nadu, by the Official Languages Rules. Communication between states who use Hindi as their official language is required to be in Hindi, whereas communication between a state whose official language is Hindi and one whose is not is required to be in English, or in Hindi with an accompanying English translation (unless the receiving state agrees to dispense with the translation).
Communication between the union and states which use Hindi as their official language (classified by the Official Language Rules as "the states in Region A"), and with persons who live in those states, is generally in Hindi, except in certain cases. Communication with a second category of states "Region B", which do not use Hindi as their official language but have elected to communicate with the union in Hindi (currently Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra) is usually in Hindi, whilst communications sent to an individual in those states may be in either Hindi or English. Communication with all other states "Region C", and with people living in them, is in English.
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- Languages of India
- List of Indian languages by number of native speakers
- Names of the Indian Constitution in the official languages of India
- List of countries by English-speaking population
- Part XVII of the Constitution of India.
- Article 343 of the Constitution of India.
- Article 345 of the Constitution of India.
- Article 346 of the Constitution of India.
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- Article 343(1).
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- DOL[dead link]
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- S. 3(3)[dead link] names, amongst others, resolutions, general orders, rules, notifications, administrative or other reports or press communiques issued by a government department, agency or corporation; administrative and other reports and official papers laid before a House or the Houses of Parliament; and contracts and agreements executed, and licences, permits, notices and forms of tender issued by or on behalf of the government (including government companies).
- Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, paragraph 1(ii)[dead link]
- Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, paragraph 4(a)[dead link]
- Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, paragraphs 4(b) and (c)[dead link]
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- "Official Language - Constitutional/Statutory Provisions". Government of India.[dead link]
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- Constitution of India, Article 350A[dead link].
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- Language in Courts - a bridge or a barrier?
- Special Correspondent (12 March 2007), "Karunanidhi stands firm on Tamil in High Court", The Hindu: 1
- The Hindu : Tamil Nadu / Thanjavur News : No objection to Tamil as court language: A.P. Shah
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- Bengali language in three districts of Barak Valley and Bodo language in Bodo speaking Area. Language in Assam
- Urdu is recognised as an additional official language for seven specific purposes, namely, receiving and replying to representations from the public; receiving documents in government offices; publishing rules, regulations and notices; issuing important letters and orders; publishing important advertisements; publishing government gazettes; and signboards at important places and offices.Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, 43rd report: July 2004 - June 2005, pp. para 20.5, retrieved 2007-07-16[dead link]
- The Chhattisgarh Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2007 added "Hindi" as an official language of the state, in addition to Hindi."The Chhattisgarh Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2007". Government of India. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
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- Punjabi is officially designated as the "second language" of Haryana in March 2010.
- Himachal Pradesh adopted Hindi as the sole official language in 2008.Hindi to be official language of H.P.
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- Article 145 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir makes Urdu the official language of the state, but provides for the continued use of English for all official purposes.
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- Government of Sikkim, Introduction to Sikkim, retrieved 2007-07-16
- Eleven other languages — Bhutia, Lepcha, Limboo, Newari, Gurung, Mangar, Mukhia, Rai, Sherpa and Tamang - are termed "official", but only for the purposes of the preservation of culture and tradition. Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, 43rd report: July 2004 - June 2005, pp. paras 27.3–27.4, retrieved 2007-07-16[dead link]. See also Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, 41st report: July 2002 - June 2003, p. paras 28.4, 28.9, archived from the original on 2007-02-24, retrieved 2007-07-16
- "Bengali and Kokborok are the state/official language, English, Hindi, Manipuri and Chakma are other languages". Tripura Official government website. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
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- Hindi is the official language, and Urdu is used for seven specific purposes, similar to those for which it is used in Bihar. Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, 43rd report: July 2004 - June 2005, pp. paras 6.1–6.2, retrieved 2007-07-16[dead link]
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- Urdu and Punjabi are the two secondary official languages of Delhi under the Delhi Official Language Bill, 2000 Punjabi, Urdu made official languages in Delhi, The Times of India, 2003-06-25, retrieved 2007-07-17
- There are three primary languages used for official purposes - Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. Only, English is recognized for official uses as per the official language policy. The official language policy of the union territory states that the Tamil language should be the primary language used for all or any of the official purposes of the union territory. In case of Mahe and Yanam, Malayalam and Telugu, respectively, may be used instead of or in conjunction with Tamil. The English language may also be used for official purposes. (ACT 28, Gazetteer, Pondicherry Vol. 1, P. II)Multilingualism and second language acquisition and learning in Pondicherry
- Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Puducherry, General Information on Pondicherry, retrieved 2007-06-06[dead link]
- There are three primary languages used for official purposes - Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. However, English and French are also recognised for official uses as per the official language policy. The official language policy of the union territory states that the Tamil language should be the primary language used for all or any of the official purposes of the union territory. In case of Mahe and Yanam, Malayalam and Telugu, respectively, may be used instead of or in conjunction with Tamil. The English language may also be used for official purposes. The French language shall remain an official language of the establishments so long as the elected representatives of the people shall not decide otherwise (ACT 28, Gazetteer, Pondicherry Vol. 1, P. II)Multilingualism and second language acquisition and learning in Pondicherry
- Constitution of India, Article 344(1).
- Constitution of India, Article 351.
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- The 2001 census records two figures, of 258 million and 422 million "Hindi" speakers. However, both figures include languages other than Standard Hindi, such as Rajasthani (ca. 80 million in independent estimates), Bhojpuri (40 million), Awadhi (38 million), Chhattisgarhi (18 million), and dozens of other languages with a million to over ten million speakers apiece. The figure of 422 million specifically includes all such people, whereas the figure of 258 depends on speaker identification as recorded in the census. For example, of the estimated 38 million Awadhi speakers, only 2½ million gave their language as "Awadhi", with the rest apparently giving it as "Hindi" , and of the approximately 80 million Rajasthani speakers, only 18 million were counted separately. Maithili, listed as a separate language in the 2001 census but previously considered a dialect of Hindi, also appeared to be severely undercounted.
- 7.6 per Ethnologue
- 32 in India in 2000 per Ethnologue
- "A Committee has been constituted under the Chairmanship of Shri Sita Kant Mohapatra to make recommendation, inter-alia on the feasibility of treating all languages in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution, including Tamil, as Official Languages of the Union. The Government will consider the recommendations of the Committee and take a suitable decision in the matter."Indian parliament[dead link]
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- Department of Official Language (DOL) – Official webpage explains the chronological events related to Official Languages Act and amendments
- Central Institute of Indian Languages – A comprehensive federal government site that offers complete info on Indian Languages
- Reconciling Linguistic Diversity: The History and the Future of Language Policy in India by Jason Baldridge
- Ethnologue – Ethnologue report on the languages of India
- Multi-lingualism and language policy in India