"Languages or mother tongues? India's constitution and its linguistic diversity"


A Professor of linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ayesha Kidwai spoke about the loss of languages in India. While the Constitution guarantees each individual rights to study in their own language, over the years the state has consistently worked towards ignoring a number of mother tongues.

"The Indian state does not know, it does not know how many mother tongues are spoken in this country. It certainly determines what languages are, and of course dialects have no mention."

"India is a country that has lived in this linguistic ignorance – for what reason? First let me tell you the facts as we know them because the last time the government mentioned them was in 1962, where it actually listed what the mother tongues in our country were, and (the number stands) at sixteen hundred and fifty two."

"Now imagine a state that has to deal with the fact that this Constitution, this pesky Constitution of ours, that says every citizen has the right to education in their mother tongue. 1652 languages and forget about the dialects. So from the 1971 census onwards, our country or our nation has been losing pluralism and the recognition of people and their rights to their culture and language at a steady rate."

The Indian state employs three strategies to axe this massive number of languages to a few hundreds. First, it does not include languages that have less than 10,000 speakers. Second, Many languages are clubbed under one main "language". Kidwai says, this is what has led people to wrongly believe that Hindi is the national language.

India has no national language, it has official languages and associate official languages.

The third strategy is to cut out languages that have no script, which Kidwai says is a tragedy. She cites the example of the Soviet Union, which also had thousands of languages, and had a written script for every language by 1925, unlike India.

With the loss of every language, we lose the associated knowledge system, mourns Kidwai.

"The Nation and its regions: How does it all add up?


G Arunima, a professor at JNU's Centre for Women's Studies, spoke on the intended homogenisation of Indian society, a problematic concept because of the "danger of a single story."

Calling herself a nation-agnostic and pointing at the fact that idea of nations is a fairly recent, one she says, "We need to take differences seriously. The issue of homogenisation is probably politically one of the most dangerous things." She stresses on the need for diversity, citing differences between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, for instance.

Differences define each state, Arunima asserts, and connects it with the idea of the larger nation state.

"Every region is different and their idea of differences varies. It can range from language to food and it is these differences that define nationalism of varied cultures within the larger canvas of a nation state," she said, adding that "it is important to accept the differences instead of trying to bind everyone into a single story."

"South Africa meet India"


A sociology professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Ari Sitas spoke of the difference in the perceived meaning of terms such as nationalism in countries with a history of colonialism, versus those that were never colonised.

"The concept of nationalism in colonies emerges in two ways. The first is an idea of nationalism that come as a response to the rule of colonial powers where the individual and collective view is that enough is enough. The second emergence of nationalism is a work of imagination where movements and steps are undertaken by the masses which shape the process of freedom from colonial forces and the creation of a nation state."

He spoke of South Africa's long journey from colonialism to apartheid and to its freedom, saying that "Freedom is not in the Constitution the day it is declared, it is a long process for each of us to remove the constraints which keep us unfree."

Calling India the "laboratory of the national question", Sitas concluded, "I hope that JNU, as the custodian of the national question, for which it was created, still keeps up the tradition of thinking".