language politics

Ten things you didn’t know about our polyglot nation

India’s multilingual map throws up many surprises.

The linguistic diversity in India’s literature runs far wider than in any other country in the world. What makes this possible? Among others, the zeal with which different local languages are promoted both by state administrations and by language activists. Here are ten of the most fascinating features of the country’s complex linguistic map:

One
The states and union territories of India carry out their day-to-day administrative work in 18 “official” languages. It is not mandatory for these official languages to belong to Schedule VIII of the Indian Constitution. For example, neither English, the sole official language for four states and one union territory, nor Kokborok, the official language of Tripura, are part of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Twenty-eight languages, several of which are still in the process of “scriptalisation”, have been declared as additional official languages.

Two
Jharkhand has the largest number of languages with “official” status. Hindi in Devanagari script is the official language of Jharkhand, and Urdu, the second official language of the state. In addition to Urdu, the following ten languages have been also identified as additional second official languages of the state: Santhali, Bangla, Mundari, Ho, Kharia, Kurukh (Oraon), Kurmali, Khertha, Nagpuri, Panchpargania and Odia.

Jharkhand is closely followed by Sikkim. While English is the official language, the following eleven languages have been identified as additional official languages: Bhutia, Lepcha, Limboo, Newari, Gurung, Manger, Mukhia, Rai, Sherpa and Tamang.

West Bengal holds third place in this list. Bengali is the official language, along with Nepali in the Darjeeling and Kurseong sub-divisions of the Darjeeling district, the other official languages are: Hindi, Urdu, Santhali, Odia, Punjabi and Marathi.

Three
While the three-language formula, as enshrined in the famous Kothari Commission Report (1964-66) is used as a template by most Indian states in school education, Tamil Nadu is the only Indian state which follows a two-language formula – all official work in the state is conducted in only English and Tamil.

Four
The state of Nagaland has the largest number of language academies promoting minority languages of the state.

Five
The moment the population of a linguistic minority group is equal to more than 15 per cent of the population of a district, tehsil, taluka or municipality, the state governments need to ensure translations and publications of Rules, Regulations, Notices, etc. in the relevant languages spoken by these groups. While the other states are still trying to achieve this, West Bengal has reduced this percentage to 10 – and is the most successful follower of this policy.

Six
Language activists of Chhattisgarh are campaigning to have Chhattisgarhi included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and to be used more in the state where most official work is carried out in Hindi. They secured a great victory on January 8, 2002 when Hon’ble Justice Fakhruddin of the Raipur High Court awarded a judgment in Chhatisgarhi.

Seven
The emphasis on the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in primary school (Classes I to V) has inspired schools in Assam to work in ten different mediums of instruction: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Hindi, English, Manipuri, Garo, Nepali, Hmar and Karbi Anglong. Six other mother tongues are studied as subjects: Mising, Bishnupriya, Tai, Rabha, Tiwa and Deuri.

Eight
Assamese is the link language between different communities in Arunachal Pradesh.

Nine
In medieval times, Braj was the lingua franca in north India. From Punjab to Assam, from Guru Nanak to Shankara Deva, path-breaking original texts were composed in Braj bhasha, and these remain in currency in oral modes, ritual practices and performative texts even now.

Ten
Urdu is the official language of Jammu and Kashmir ever since the Dogra rajas made it the official language in 1889. This is interesting as Urdu is not a mother tongue for any of the major communities of the state – the mother tongues are as diverse as Kashmiri, Dogri, Balti, Dardi, Punjabi, Hindi, Pashto, Ladakhi, Pahari and Kohistani. But, historically, Urdu used to act as the lingua franca.

Devapriya Roy is the author of two novels, a PhD thesis on the Natyashastra, and most recently, with Saurav Jha, of The Heat and Dust Project: the Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.