Mind Your Language Needed, A National Script!
India, strictly speaking, has no national language. For central official purpose the Constitution recognizes two official languages, Hindi and English. Hindi is the main official language, English is the associate official language. The Indian Constitution also approves India’s twenty-two recognized regional languages for official purposes. After six decades of independence should not India have evolved a national language? The absence of a national language can imperil the unity of multi-lingual India. This was brought home recently by a finding related to union cabinet meetings.
It transpires that Mr Alagiri heads the list of ministers who have played truant in cabinet meetings. Out of every ten cabinet meetings he has missed seven. His attendance in other ministerial meetings is equally poor. This is understandable. Alagiri speaks neither English nor Hindi. Business is conducted in these two languages in the cabinet. Recently in a ministerial meeting Alagiri took along his colleague A. Raja to interpret the discussion. Pranab Mukherjee who chaired the meeting ordered Raja to leave because he had not been invited.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi at the end of the recently concluded international Tamil conference held in Chennai demanded that Tamil be recognized as an official language at the centre. Tamil is a rich classical language. It has the oldest recorded literature of any language in the world. But it is spoken for the most part in Tamil Nadu and in parts of Sri Lanka. If it is accorded recognition as an official language at the central level inevitably there will be 21 other claimants making the same demand.
Matters discussed in cabinet meetings are privileged information. Officials concerned with the subjects on the agenda accompany their ministers and are privy to cabinet proceedings. But if 22 additional languages are to be used for cabinet meetings there would be required arrangements for interpreting all these languages by a permanent cadre of interpreters cleared to attend cabinet meetings. Is this practical? In parliament if a member desires to speak in any regional language he or she is required to obtain prior written
permission from the Speaker so that adequate arrangements for interpreting are put in place.
Clearly a national language is desirable. But it must evolve voluntarily. Fissiparous tendencies are reaching a dangerous level in different parts of the country. Can one help a national language to evolve? One can. If proper steps are taken a national language spoken and understood all over the country could naturally evolve within the next few decades.
This is how it could be attempted. The HRD ministry should introduce the Roman script in the Devnagari alphabet as an alternate script for all 22 recognized Indian languages. While the script would be Roman, the alphabet would remain ka, kha, ga. The Devnagari alphabet has been successfully converted into the Roman script in the Heidelberg University in Germany which is the world’s premier university for studying Sanskrit. The base for the attempted national language should be Hindustani that is derived from Sanskrit. Words in common usage from all regional languages as well as from English should be incorporated as the language continues to spread. Growth must be natural. The nationwide spread of Bollywood Hindi is a pointer.
Each year a committee of experts should expand the vocabulary of the proposed language by including new words from all languages that are in common use. For example, ask any illiterate labourer: “Time kya hai?” He would understand. If the English dictionary can incorporate thousands of Hindustani words to enrich English there is no reason why the proposed national language cannot replicate the formula. Along with samay and waqt, taim could be Hindustani.
The Roman script would facilitate the spread of the language worldwide. It would enable many more Indians to access English. English is not British or American, it is global. And only the Roman script has a global keyboard. The proposed language would be understood in neighbouring countries. It could conceivably become a recognized language in the United Nations within some decades. And it would evolve without coercion by the state. Access to the alternate Roman script would be left to the choice of students. Which parent would not prefer opening the doors of English, Hindustani and the respective regional language for children at one go? If this plan does not work, nothing will be lost. If it succeeds a major step towards consolidating both India and South Asia would have been taken. Language is the people’s most powerful unifier. Already much time has been lost. If this idea is to be explored the time to act is now. Will Kapil Sibal pay heed?
By Rajinder Puri