CHAPTER II: CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY ON HINDI
In the previous post, I discussed how the aggressive Sanskritisation of Hindi in Nagri script led to the trifurcation of the Hindi into Hindi, Urdu, and Hindustani. Building on those arguments, here I will discuss the politics of mainstream politicians of those times on the issue of language and then move on to the constituent assembly debates.
Congress leaders and Hindi
Initially, Congress leaders preferred & envisaged Hindustani in both Nagri and Nastaliq (Persian) script as the pan-India language of the future Republic. Prominent Congress leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru referred it as the golden mean between the Hindi (Sanskritised) and Hindi (Persianised or Urdu). The latter said that Sanskritised Hindi in Nagri script was the language of Pandits and not of the common people who spoke and understood Hindustani with dialectal variations. In his opinion, Hindustani could be a catalyst for unity between the North and the South and Hindus and Muslims. But at the same time, Brahmanical & Hindu upper-caste lobbies in Congress led by Purushottamdas Tandon started pushing for Sanskritised Hindi as the sole national language. The consensus over Hindustani as the national language prevailed nonetheless till the partition of India after which Nagri chauvinist became more fanatical in their demand for purging Nastaliq and imposition of Sanskritised Hindi.
However, once the Muslim League left India for Pakistan as all references to Nastaliq Hindi or Hindustani in the constituent assembly were controversially replaced by Hindi (Sanskritised). This move however stroked fierce opposition from southern and eastern provinces who tolerated Hindustani because of its naturally hybridised character as the connecting tongue in large parts of India as opposed to hyper Sanskritised Hindi which they thought of as an artificial language of little utility and inferior to their classical languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, etc.
Hindi in the Constituent Assembly Debates
In September 1949, after Gopalswamy Ayanger moved an amendment in the constituent assembly that Hindi in Devanagari shall be the official language of the Union, RV Dhulekar (a Maharashtrian Brahmin) moved another amendment for unqualified adoption of Hindi in Devanagari script as the sole official language of India. A Bengali Brahmin (LK Maitra) went a step further and demanded that Sanskrit be made the national and official language. Quite preposterously he went on babbling for quite a long time to buttress his point about the richness of Sanskrit by citing a host of literature and views of orientalists on this issue.
Mr. Frank Anthony at that time criticized Hindi chauvinists by saying that the kind of Sanskritised Hindi they want to speak is unintelligible to the majority of Hindi speakers. He denounced the fanatical purge through which colloquial Urdu terms such as ‘Subah-Savera’ were being replaced by extreme Sanskrit words unfamiliar to people at large. He also said that he failed to read the so-called Hindi translation of the constitution as he couldn’t understand even one word in four sentences. Deshbandhu Gupta, another High caste Hindu resented that Courts of UP and Bihar were still giving judgments in Urdu (Hindi Nastaliq) despite Hindi in Nagri script being declared as the sole official language of those provinces.
Muslim members of the assembly such as Kazi Syed Karimuddin vouched for Hindustani as the national language. He said that aggressive demands for Hindi in Devanagari is reactionary on account of Pakistan declaring Urdu as its national language. He said that Hindustani be preferred over artificially Sanskritised Hindi as people can better express themselves and exchange their ideas in the former as it has evolved through common intercourse. He reminded the house that Congress had agreed that the national language of India would be Hindustani written both in Devanagri and Urdu scripts and that if Mahatma Gandhi was alive today he, would have stood firm like a rock for the cause of Hindustani. To this, some Brahmin members replied that Gandhi said so in the appeasement of Muslims.
Members of the southern states like T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar opined that compared to Hindi (in Devanagari), southern languages are far better cultivated and have greater pieces of literature. Satish Chandra proposed Bengali as the national language on account of its long history, ancient and brilliant literature and due to its international character due it being taught in foreign universities such as Oxford, Warsaw, Harvard, etc.
Algu Rai Shastri said that there is no question of imposition as it was not the members but the House or the Drafting Committee that has suggested that Hindi shall be the official language of the State and the Parliament. According to him, Hindi in Devanagri script stands far superior to any other script on account of having a definite and intelligible phonetic basis. He also submitted that the words of other languages that have become part of Hindi must be considered to be part and parcel of the Hindi and asserted that that language alone should be termed Hindi which has this tendency of including all such words.
Shyama Prasad Mukharjee said that Hindi be preferred because it is understood by the largest single majority in this country. He also opined that if Hindi were to really occupy an All-India position and not merely replace English for certain official purposes, it must be allowed to absorb by natural process words and idioms not only from Sanskrit but also from other sister languages of India and that people should be allowed to speak Hindi in their own ways.
PT Chacko opined that a national language can be decided upon only by mutual agreement and not by taking votes and that no language can be imposed upon an unwilling people for no nation has ever succeeded in imposing the language of the majority upon the minority. Talking about Hindustani he said he does not know much of Hindi but know a little of Hindustani which the ordinary people use, that inferior Hindustani in which official folks talk to the servants and ordinary workmen. P. Subbarayan proposed that the language of the Union should be Hindustani in Roman script as a matter of convenience.
Kuladhar Chaliha said that he was impressed by the dignity, flexibility, refinement of style, sweet intonations of Hindustani language and all this would make Hindustani a better substitute for Hindi. However, on the issue of the national language, he proposed that Sanskrit be accorded that status as Sanskrit and India are co-extensive and all that is good and all that is valuable and all that we fight for and all that we hold precious have come from Sanskrit literature.
BM Gupta proposed a compromise formula by saying that the name of the language be accepted as Hindi with a directive clause to placate to proponents of both Hindustani and Sanskritised Hindi that Sanskrit shall be the primary source of vocabulary, but at the same time the words from other languages shall not be boycotted. He said that controversies regarding Hindi were emerging due to certain amendments that advocate Sanskritised Hindi as the official language and because of a strong tendency in certain influential quarters that Hindi should be over-Sanskritised, and perhaps owing to that tendency there has been some difficulty about the adoption of this language as the official language.
Jawaharlal Nehru supported the amendment moved by Gopalaswami Ayyangar and cautioned that it is a dangerous thing to allow a language to become the pet child of purists and such like people because then it is cut off from the common people. In his words, “if we proceed wisely with this Hindi language, if we proceed wisely in two ways, by making it an inclusive language and not an exclusive one, and include in it all the language elements in India which have gone to build it up with a streak of Urdu or a mixture of Hindustani not by statute, remember, but by allowing it to grow normally as it should grow and if, secondly, it is not, if I may say so, forced down upon an unwilling people, I have no doubt it will grow and become a very great language.”On the Hind-Hindustani-Urdu divide, he said that he like referring all of them collectively as ‘Hindi’ however he was a little afraid that it might signify some constricted and restricted meaning to the others. He said that many members can speak both Hindi and Urdu with equal facility and it is rather interesting and right that we should know both as they both have got a rich and fine vocabulary. To put in his own words-“We Find that in a particular subject or type of subjects we speak better in Hindi than in Urdu and in another type of subject Urdu suits us better; it suits the genius of that subject a little better. My point is that I want both these instruments which strengthen Hindi that is going to be developed as our official and national language of the country.”Jaipal Singh of Bihar argued that he has no problem with Hindi if it is accepted the way it ie its prevalent vocabulary be not purged in favor of Sanskrit. In his words-“I do speak Hindi as it is spoken in my province of Bihar, but that is not the Hindi which my friends want me to accept here. Let Hindi be the language as it is spoken everywhere. Let it enrich itself by taking words from other languages. Let us not think that, if other words are brought into Hindi or Hindustani, we shall be impoverishing it. A language grows and is enriched because it has the courage to borrow words from other languages. I do not mind whether you call it Hindustani or Hindi.”
Maulana Hasrat Mohani vehemently argued that a fraud is being committed with Hindi because in reality people of the northern states speak Hindi that is Hindustani and Urdu but in the name of Hindi, a Sanskritised Hindi is being imposed. He also demanded a referendum in UP over Hindi and Sanskritised Hindi. In his words-“Not a single person speaks Hindi in the Sanskritised form there.”
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad said that while it has been accepted that only the language spoken in Northern India can be made the Lingua Franca of whole India, the dispute is over its three different forms and styles namely, Urdu, Hindi, and Hindustani. He said that the general framework or the set up of the language spoken all over Northern India is one and the same, but in its literary style it has got two names-a styles resplendent with Persian is called Urdu and a style leaning towards Sanskrit is known as Hindi. In such a case he said that the term ‘Hindustani’ be preferred as it has developed a wider connotation and embraces all forms of the language spoken in Northern India. To buttress his point he talked about Gandhi who he said spoke in Hindustani but cautioned that his Hindustani was neither the idiomatic Urdu of Delhi or Lucknow nor the Sanskritised Hindi of Banares. In his words-“The language used by him was wider and more expansive. Any speaker could express himself freely in that language according to his own taste and learning and could make himself intelligible to thousands of his countrymen. Urdu-knowing people could speak in Urdu while Hindi knowing people could speak in Hindi. A speaker from Bombay would use Bombay-style Hindustani, while a Bengali speaker would speak in Hindustani with his own accent and style. All of them are covered by the wider term of ‘Hindustani’. Hindustani has a place for all these styles.”He also said that it was only because of a particular type of pre-conceived notion that the majority of members could not agree to adopt ‘Hindustani‘ in place of ‘Hindi’ nor were they prepared to accept any such interpretation which can widen the scope of Hindi.He deplored that the prejudice and narrow mindedness of many members were doing great injustice to the Urdu language even though it is the mother-tongue of millions of Hindus and Muslims of this country. In his words-“Of all the arguments employed against Hindustani, the greatest emphasis has been laid on the point that if ‘Hindustani’ is accepted then Urdu also will have to be accommodated. But I would like to tell you that by accommodating Urdu, the heavens will not come down. After all, Urdu is one of the Indian Languages. It was born and bred and brought up in India and it is the mother-tongue of millions of Hindus and Muslims of this country. Even today this is the language that serves the purpose of a medium of expression between different provinces and it is the only means of inter-provincial relations. Why should we allow our minds to be prejudiced to this extent against one of the languages of our country? Why should we allow ourselves to be swept away by the currents of our narrow-mindedness to such a great distance?”
He also said that he had no problem if ‘Hindustani’ be referred to as ‘Hindi’ in the constitution but had a fear that fanatics will usurp or misappropriate it for Sanskritised Hindi. He cautioned that members and countrymen must not allow the shape of Hindi to be deformed. In his words-“Instead of making it an artificial language let it remain an easy and intelligible medium of expression.”After some more discussions on this issue, all amendments that proposed Hindustani, Urdu or Hindi in Nastaliq script were negatived and the proposal to adopt Hindi in Devanagri script as the official language of the Union with the International form of Indian numerals was adopted on 14 September 1949. This day is now celebrated as Hindi Day.
What were Ambedkar’s views on the language issue?
Dr. Ambedkar didn’t speak extensively in the constituent assembly on the question of the form of Hindi ie Hindustani or Urdu. He was, however, a strong proponent of the reorganization of states on linguistic lines but asserted that the linguistic states so created must use Hindi as their official language instead of the language of the state itself to prevent India from becoming medieval India consisting of a variety of states indulging in rivalry and warfare.
Were Hindi (in Devanagri) supporters Hindu Upper castes?
An analysis of the constituent assembly debates shows that supporters of Hindi Sanskritised were largely Brahmins and OUCHs (other upper-caste Hindus). They include RV Dhulekar; LK Maitra; Lakshminarayan Sahu; Algu Rai Shastri; Shyama Prasad Mukharjee; Balkrishna Sharma; Kuladhar Chaliha; Ravi Shankar Shukla; Shri Ram Sahai, Raghu Vira, etc.
Since they were numerically and politically dominant in the Indian constituent assembly despite being a tiny minority in terms of their overall population in India, they were successful in purging out Nastaliq Hindi from the final draft of the constitution with thier sheer manipulative and coercive tactics.
But the analysis of the debates also shows that even though ‘Hindi in Devanagari’ was preferred over ‘Hindi in Nastaliq’, the constituent assembly as a whole didn’t desire hyper-Sanskritised Hindi either. Many prominent members including Nehru, Azad, Jaipal Singh, etc wanted the malleable and hybridized form of Hindi resembling Hindustani (a mixture of both Nastaliq & Nagri Hindi). Even though they preferred the term ‘Hindi’ over Hindustani but in form and essence they wanted it to be like Hindustani. Although Article 351 of the constitution does provide that its’ vocabulary may be drawn from Sanskrit wherever necessary or desirable, it also provides that it has to be done without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani. But in reality, most non-Sanskrit words have been deliberately and surreptitiously purged out of Hindi over a period of time and replaced with Sanskrit in the post-independent India.
- The Constitution of India 1950
- Constituent Assembly Debates (www.constitutionofindia.net)
- Tariq Rahman, From Hindi to Urdu: A social and Political History, Oxford University Press
- Bipin Chandra, India’s Struggle for Independence
- Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi
- Audrey Truschke, Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth
- Rajmohan Gandhi, Punjab: From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten
- A New English-Hindustani Dictionary, SW Fallon (archive.org)
- UP Hindi Sahitya Sammelan v State of UP AIR 2015 SC 1154
- The Gujarat University, Ahmedabad v Krishna Ranganath Mudholkar and Ors 1962