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Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Author: Prashant shivaji Dound, I Year of B.A.,LL.B(Hons) from Maharashtra National Law University,Nagpur


Nationalism has a way of oppressing others”- Noam Chomsky

How can be the feeling of love and pride for one’s language can be detrimental for the growth of people and their languages ? Linguistic nationalism is something which isn’t new to India. It draws its history long back ago when India wasn’t even an independent state. Traces of an evolved version of linguistic nationalism still exist today with different mechanism and fluid as compared what it consisted of in pre-independence stage. People might consider linguistic nationalism as in good light where people intent to protect and promote their own language but I aim to view it from not so popular view where I intent to study how the linguistic nationalism creates problems for the marginal minority speaker and to their language. Linguistic tussle is no new thing to India it could find its importance in politics and political representation too. Language getting align with politics is no wrong but it should be limited to certain level or else it creates problem for linguistic minorities .

Keywords Detrimental, Growth, Linguistic, Minority, Nationalism, Politics, Representation.


To understand the current tussle of linguistic nationalism which exist in India and the problem it creates for those people who are not loudly expressed in the society we would have to turn back some pages in history to understand the nuance of the scenario and how a term which shares its linkages to European soil came up on the Indian subcontinent.

Nationalism as a term draws its roots to the Europe where the concept of nationalism got developed, evolved and spread across the globe. India had imported modern nationalism from Europe. Though Indian nationalism doesn’t share very much in common to the way Nationalistic feeling emerged in Europe and the way it emerged in India. Yet there existed a belief in the political corridor of our country in the 40s-50s (and it somewhat still exist today) to have a homogenous language throughout the country because that was apparently what European nationalism list as one of the essential to have successful nation-state(Though there exist many other reasons such as the desire to have own indigenous language in place of English which was believed to be as a symbol of colonial-era which existed in post-independent India. The formation of the nation-state in Europe, especially in Western Europe, was also based on building common linguistic homogeneity thus Nationalists believed to do so in India to foster the sense of collective belonging which was the prime reason for having homogeneity of language in the European nation-state. They believed doing so would strengthen the social fabric of the country but contradictorily to it, it caused many linguistic nationalistic outbursts in parts of India. Voices were raised against the blatant move of considering Hindi as the sole national language of the country after 1965. Protest erupted across the country especially in non-Hindi speaking states as the year 1965 came closer.

People were now taking much pride in their own linguistic culture and considered the formulation of Hindi as a national language as a dictatorial step, Though the subsequent government in power didn’t allow it to happen due to ever-increasing linguistic nationalistic protest which might have further led to secession emotions among such state but the true achievement for these linguistic nationalist movements was the formulation of the 1956 State reorganisation commission’s suggestion and formulation of state based on linguistic culture later on.

The Official Languages Act of 1963 retained the status of English as an official language of Public administration. Still, governments have tried to promote Hindi as a national language since it comes under its responsibility to promote Hindi in devnagri script across the state.

If we see the whole process in a sequence from a big picture view, one could easily conclude that these linguistic nationalistic movements saved the rich linguistic diversity of our country to date but when we zoom in on details then we realize this linguistic nationalistic movement and tussle between other big regionals languages might have sidelined the importance of certain marginal language which has very few takers in this movement of linguistic nationalism. This is where the researcher is going to research on.

Though the area of research on this topic can be very wide the author just wants to look at how these linguistic nationalistic feelings/movements might have disturbed or might have created problems for the marginal linguistic population in our country. Though there appears to be less literature on the same directly, the author also tries to take help from popular language statistics sources and regional news articles.

Rise of linguistic nationalism and the struggle for marginals

Linguistic nationalist movements in India have been regarded with great respect in society. Those leading such procession or protest were and are still considered as the true lover of their mother tongue .though they might be carrying good intention of promotion of their language or in against any forceful imposition of another alien language to them. But how can it cause trouble for the marginal (in sense with those people who speak a particular language which have less number of the speaker which might not put them up in the map of languages spoken in India or they might be scattered in the different territory of the jurisdiction where their language is not the majority language) is the question which must be of some great concern to us.

The number of languages facing the danger of getting wiped out is very large in India now. Devy, who documented 780 Indian languages while conducting the People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2010, also, shockingly, found that 600 of these languages were dying. Though various reasons might be playing their part here I believe one of the reasons might be excessive promotion and imposition of certain language by both state and central government in heat of linguistic nationalism.

Often in India promotion of one language has been done at the cost of another and it doesn’t need to be proved in, one or other language has been always intended to replace in others e.g In the contention of making Hindi as the national language, other languages were discarded. This whole scenario has created repulsions in past and it still creates repulsion in the political corridor of Delhi.

Representation matters representation of elected members of parliament ensures that the voice of the linguistic minority (as compared to the Hindi)is heard. But how many languages in total do we have? There are a total of 121 languages that are considered mother tongues. Of these, 22 languages are included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.Are all of these 122 languages are represented in the Loksabha through their MPs? No, we can’t infer that but people might be sure that 22 of the scheduled language might have representation in the parliament. What if I say there was a language that is among the scheduled languages which was spoken for the first time in the parliament in 2019? “'Santhali' reverberated in Rajya Sabha for the first time in 67 years since its inception when BJD MP Sarojini Hembram on Friday spoke in the language of the tribal community Santhals.”

Santhali is one of those tribal languages which is showing a decline in growth. Take an example of Assam, before getting reorganised the bureaucracy of the Assam was dominated by the Bengali elites of Bengal who were having administration over local Assamese people and as the common middle-class aspiration of Assamese people grew on, the hatred towards Bengali people grew as they were considered as an outsider(of course the 1971 refugee crisis might have fuelled the hatred feelings ) and this has raised into a tussle between Bengalis and Assamese in Assam.What I want to highlight here is now that In between this tussle of languages there has been a decline of Santali in Assam. The number of Santali speakers fell from 2, 42,886 in 2001 to 2,13,139 in 2011 in the State.The same is the case with the Bodo in Assam.

One might also believe why is there even a need for a justifiable linguistic representation of language groups in parliament. Well, the answer is quite simple it’s easier to raise the concern of the respective linguistic group at a national stage and what can be the best public national stage other than the floor of parliament but how it becomes difficult for such linguistic cultured people to even send their representation in the parliament? well the reason is that they aren’t concentrated at one place. Santhali is the language which is spoken in more than 7 states.Though in a few states such as Chhattisgarh ,Odisha , Bengal you would get some takers of the language and supporters but in other states where this particular linguistic group has less numbers and hence doesn’t provide any political parties with any political mileage, thus there concerns remain unheard and unrepresented. Well, one can always give credit to India’s robust democratic freedom and system which didn’t allow any radical imposition of a single language over such a diverse society.

We all know that linguistic diversity in north east is quite rich as compare to what one might observe in the Gangetic plains though the number of dialects of the same language can be varried but when it comes to an functional understandable language then it all boils down to Hindi . As many as nine languages have a significant number of speakers among the tribal people in Manipur, while in Uttar Pradesh only one language is widely spoken but when it comes to representation of language in the parliament about 90% of 80 seats of UP can be sure shot representing MPs belonging to the linguistic group of Hindi which is also spoken by 90% of the population of UP but when it comes to Manipur it sends 2 representatives to the loksabha assuming that 1 one of them might be from the dominant Manipuri language the rest 1 can’t be represented by other language 8 prominent language groups . This example was only taken to create an image of what scenarios exist in our country as of now .What I fear is that if this linguistic nationalistic movements strike up again then who would be representing this and other fellow marginal languages which remain unheard in the power politics of the Linguistic nationalism .One might even argue that there is no need of such marginal languages to be represented at national level but it doesn’t appears so easy in India’s case. Each marginal language /tribal language is connected with a specific tribe or group of people and if we create such circumstance where they have no way but the only way is to adapt to a new language, all together that means slowly shedding out old linkages and getting assimilated in the mainstream but this all together doesn’t sound rightful in the context of article 29 of Indian constitution which lays down that It provides that “any section of the citizens residing in any part of India having a distinct language, script or culture of its own, shall have the right to conserve the same.” Moreover, in the article 350(b) it says that a “Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities appointed by the President of India to investigate all matters related to safeguarding of that linguistic minorities in under Indian constitution”

Which sought of indirectly demands the state(government) to look into linguistic matters of minorities but again the vicious cycle reaches up here “where are the linguistic minorities representing in the government?” to look into the matter and take faster cognizance of matters.

That’s how it becomes important for the representation of representatives in parliament who can raise their voice of concern towards the government and seek their attention. But since these linguistically different people are so less in numbers it becomes practically difficult for them to do so.

winning election, the only way to ensure representation?

Well, one can say that getting elected to parliament is not the only way one can become part of the government but one can always participate in civil services exam which fairly gives level ground for everyone but there comes another restriction or deterrence here in play that is the availability of quality resources and material in indigenous language for such linguistic minority people.There are still many states which still only provides limited option of language to pursue education, even it becomes difficult for a linguistic minority people to pursue primary education in their language. Take an example of NCERT books which are considered as primary source material for Civil services aspirants, it officially gets printed only in English, Hindi and Urdu. Though a translated version of the same might be available through private channel, publishers would also see his profit margin here and would try to limit and sale translated copies in popular languages other than these three. So it again leaves them with a gap of knowledge available in their indigenous.

Driving to the Hotspot: South India

South India is that part of India which has stood up first in driving up of the linguistic nationalistic feeling among the common people and made the others realise that we care for language much more than anything other and we won’t welcome any other imposition of language even if it’s also driven by another linguistic nationalistic feeling.

Kasargod’s linguistic diversity

Now let’s see another case that can be directly related to the tussle between linguistic nationalistic movements. This time we would move in south. It’s the district of Kasargod, Kerala adjoining the southern part of Karnataka. The district as a whole has been dominated by Malayalam speakers (80%) and the notable linguistic minority here is Kannada and Tulu. Here Malayalam and Karnataka have their linguistic state and due to linguistic politics here the concerns of the Kannad people in Kasargod is often raised by Karnataka’s politicians. Things take great turns here if it's related to language or any of the things related to the minority here for example There were rumours in Kasargod about just renaming of names of certain villages in Kasargod former C.M of Karnataka a wrote letter about his concern about the same to the current CM of Kerala to take his assurance which was given by so. “Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday informed former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah that no decision has been taken to change the name of any village in the Kasaragod district of Kerala.”When letters are just exchanged between CMs you can understand the intensity of emotions which are among people here and politics related to it but linguistic Nationalistic back in Kerala might not even like this attempt of interference from their counterparts in Karnataka they might also want to promote their language itself. This is quite obvious from the steps which were taken by the Kerala government in the Kasargod. The government has again begun its habit of posting Malayalam mother tongue teachers to Kannada medium schools located in the border areas of Karnataka and Kerala.

These steps are quite evident not only in Kerala but also throughout the country where such scenarios exist. Though on paper the Government very proudly says that “We are protecting linguistic minority community” it’s hard to see it on the ground.

In such scenarios, it’s often seen that such people are often considered as outsiders by the government bureaucratic babus(officers) and they often don’t consider themselves duty-bound to serve them because those holding these positions are always from the linguistic dominant community as exams of these particular post is often conducted in two to few languages only.

For e.g In Kerala, The Kerala Administration exam is conducted in English and Malayalam as of now. But authority leaders have promised to include Kannada and Tamil in future. One thing which must be seen here is that there was no mention of the inclusion in Tulu in future.

Tulu is a language that is spoken in southwestern Karnataka and northern Kerala

Even though Tulu is considered one of the Pancha Dravida Bhashas (the five prominent languages of South India), it never found a place in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution as an official language. what’s more concerning about this language is its very own nature which makes it a kind of oral language where you won’t find much of the written literature in Tulu moreover the literature you would find is written in Kannada script which would harm its distinct identity as compare to Kannada . As feared according to the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, published by U.N.E.S.C.O, Tulu is now considered a vulnerable language. But how come is linguistic nationalism related to here? Karnataka as a state was reorganised as a kannad linguistic state and the politics of the state had been revolving around the languages in the past. Among the four southern states, it has the least proportion of its population (66%) reporting Kannada as the mother tongue, compared with more than 85% in Tamil Nadu and (undivided) Andhra Pradesh, and 97% in Kerala, reported this paper, using 1991 data, from the Institute of Social and Economic Change This makes it quite clear why Karnataka despite being formed under the banner of linguistic reorganisation process carries insecurity with itself about its language. Hence the state wants to promote it at all possible levels. One such incident indicating the sensitivity of the state concerning language was the blackening of the nammametro Bengaluru signboards which were written in Hindi.

The issue of Belgaum (Belgavi) is also a similar case of linguistic nationalistic tussle between Marathi speaking and kannada speaking majority.Since the district of Belgaum comes under the jurisdiction of Karnataka it has tried to promote the kannad language in there. Various political pressure groups from both side often blacken the placard or banners in Belgaum if found written in other language than the one which they are promoting. Marathi people here are at a disadvantage when it comes to participating in the KPSC(Karnataka Public service commission) Exams. In the Belagavi district, Marathis account for 38% population. The Karnataka government has made knowledge of Kannada compulsory for government jobs. But there is hardly any Kannada school in the district The linguistic tussle has moreover taken a violent turn where you would find up news articles over physical manhandling of people and discrimination in mainstream media. Though there might be other political intentions playing their part here one can’t deny the involvement of linguistic nationalist sentiments here. The Marathi people here want to join Maharashtra because they feel their language would provide them with a greater sense of belongingness with Maharashtra. Of course, other reasons always do exist.

More recently the state government of Karnataka had issued two orders mandating the inclusion of Karnataka in degree college courses which was eventually dragged into court where the court orally observed that the state can’t impose Kannada upon students coming outside from the state.

These orders were certainly unwanted for a state which is emerging as one of the educational hubs of India still the state of Karnataka like few others also is struck by the wave of linguistic nationalistic feel where the state appears to be more insecure with regarding its language and in wake of this, the state is pursuing steps which might promote its language but finally at what cost? The cost of other fellow languages.


The linguistic nationalist movement which appears to have ended is not ended but still exist in its own form of new fractions. Though the aim of this fractions is different from that of past movements where the conservation of linguistic culture and to stop the imposition of Hindi was the primary aim ( in most of the cases as against to Hindi nationalistic movement where the aim was more of imposition of language throughout the state) It has more turn into a promotion of languages with linguistic nationalist backing where they appear to be more sensitive and tries to protect the interest of their linguistic cultured people where their number might be lacking. But not all languages and people have the same linguistic nationalist backing and those who don’t have such as santhali is facing a decline in regions where it’s not so dominant.

States reorganised on the basis of languages aren’t accepting or aren’t open-minded in recognising linguistic minority of their state neither they appear to be dedicated towards preservation of such linguistic minority and somewhat these intentions appear to be driven by linguistic nationalist feelings which appear to be outclassing the feeling of inclusive diverse culture which used to be at first place the face value of such linguistic nationalism culture which first started in India in the past


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