ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Language Issue in Constituent Assembly Debates

The issue of the national language was one of the most contentious and passionately debated ones by members of the Constituent Assembly. The significance of this debate lies in the way the members imagined India as a nation, articulated regional and linguistic identities, and sought to build unity of purpose to lay the foundations of modern India. The debates revealed a divide between North and South India, and took on communal undertones too. The eventual choice of Hindi could be pushed through due to the numerical strength of the supporters of the language. This paper will unravel the varying standpoints of participants in this debate.

 

Indian social scientists and intellectuals have hitherto focused on secularism, communalism, nationalism, and casteism, as the major concerns in the Indian society. In that, liberalism, religious extremism, and socialism (in all its variants) have been the major ideological frames through which these issues have been debated and discussed for the last 50 years or so. Language, as an issue in India, has never occupied the kind of space it deserved in intellectual and social science discourses. I begin by pointing out that the language issue in India overrides, and has overridden, all other divisions based on ideology at the empirical level.

To make sense of the language issue in India, the best path is to go back to the Constituent Assembly debates (1999).1 English evolved as a common language across the country for administrative, judicial, and academic purposes in the 19th century. Dislodging English from its privileged position was essential for the leaders of the independent country to initiate the process of nation-building. However, the identification and acceptance of an alternative Indian language, in place of English, was a matter fraught with tremendous challenges. Three issues reverberated throughout the course of the Constituent Assembly meetings and remained contentious till its very end: the name of the nation state or country, the national anthem, and the national language. Interestingly, only the issue of the national language was debated by the Constituent Assembly thoroughly and passionately. The significance of this debate lies in the way that its members imagined India as a nation, articulated regional and linguistic identities, and sought to build unity of purpose to lay the foundations of modern India.

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Updated On : 4th Apr, 2021

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