Languages of India: Official and National Language Distinction

India, renowned for its linguistic diversity, navigates a complex terrain when it comes to the distinction between official and national languages. The Indian constitution, while not designating a singular national language, acknowledges both Hindi and English as official languages. Article 343 of the constitution specifically designates Hindi written in Devanagari script as the official language. In the initial years post-independence, India’s constitution accommodated a roster of 14 languages.

During the colonial era, English, Urdu, and Hindi held the mantle of official languages in India. The Official Languages Act of 1963 delineates languages permissible for official purposes within the Union of India, encompassing parliamentary proceedings, central and state legislation, and designated functions within the Hindi High Court.

As the linguistic tapestry unfurls, 22 languages currently stand as officially recognized tongues in India. Among them are Assamese, Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi, Kashmiri, Kannada, Konkani, Manipuri, Marathi, Malayalam, Odia, Nepali, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Bodo, Urdu, Sindhi, Santali, Marathi, and Dogri. Individual states wield the authority to adopt their official languages. The clamor for inclusion in the eighth schedule of the constitution echoes with more than 30 languages aspiring for recognition.

In 1950, the advent of the Indian constitution allowed the continued use of English in parliamentary proceedings. However, by 1964, dissent surfaced from regions where Hindi wasn’t the prevalent tongue. This led to the dual recognition of Hindi and English as official languages, a decision intended to reconcile linguistic diversity.

Despite governmental assertions that Hindi holds the mantle of national language, nuances exist in the terminology. Instances of Hindi being hailed as the national language have arisen within government discourse. Notably, in 2017, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu referred to Hindi as the national language during a public address. A persistent confusion lingers among citizens regarding the distinction between a national and an official language.

In essence, a national language symbolizes a country’s historical and cultural heritage, reflecting the language spoken by the majority. Conversely, an official language finds utility in state and central administrative functions. A country can embrace multiple official languages, but the designation of a national language remains singular. This intricate interplay of languages mirrors India’s rich societal fabric.