Official languages of India

Official languages of India

The Constitution of India envisages Hindi as the primary official language to be used by the Union Government, with English as the subsidiary official language. However, there are many languages that are accorded official language status at the state level. It envisages a situation where each state has its own official language(s), in addition to the official languages to be used by the Union government. The section of the Constitution of India dealing with official languages therefore includes detailed provisions [Part [ XVII] of the Constitution of India.] which deal not just with the languages used for the official purposes of the union, [Article [ 343] of the Constitution of India.] but also with the languages that are to be used for the official purposes of each state and union territory in the country, [Article [ 345] of the Constitution of India.] and the languages that are to be used for communication between the union and the states "inter se". [Article [ 346] of the Constitution of India.]

At the time the constitution entered into force, English was used for most official purposes both at the federal level and in the various states. The constitution envisaged the gradual phasing in of local languages, principally Hindi, to replace English over a fifteen-year period, but gave Parliament the power to, by law, provide for the continued use of English even thereafter. Accordingly, English continues to be used today, in combination with Hindi (at the central level and in some states) and other languages (at the state level).

The legal framework governing the use of languages for official purpose currently includes the Constitution, the Official Languages Act, 1963, Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, and various state laws, as well as rules and regulations made by the central government and the states.

Official languages at the Union level

Hindi and English

The Indian constitution, in 1950, declared Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. [Article [ 343(1)] .] Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e., on 26 January 1965. [Articles [ 343(2) and (3)] .] The prospect of the changeover, however, led to much alarm in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, as a result of which Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, 1963, [ [ DOL ] ] [ [ Commissioner Linguistic Minorities ] ] [ [ Language in India ] ] [ [ THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT, 1963 ] ] [ [ National Portal of India : Know India : Profile ] ] [,+1963&hl=ru&ct=clnk&cd=8&gl=ru&client=firefox-a] which provided for the continued use of English for official purposes along with Hindi, even after 1965. An attempt was made in late 1964 to expressly provide for an end to the use of English, but it was met with protests from across the country. Some of these protests also turned violent. Widespread protests occurred in states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh. As a result of these protests, the proposal was dropped, [cite web|url=,9171,940936,00.html|title=The force of words|accessdate=2007-06-05] [citation |last=Forrester |first=Duncan B. |title=The Madras Anti-Hindi Agitation, 1965: Political Protest and its Effects on Language Policy in India |journal=Pacific Affairs |volume=39 |issue=1/2 |pages=19-36 |date=Spring — Summer 1966 |year=1966 |doi=10.2307/2755179.] and the Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not be ended until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language, and by each house of the Indian Parliament. [Official Languages Act, 1963, [ S. 3(5)] .]

The current position is thus that the Union government may continue to use English in addition to Hindi for its official purposesOfficial Languages Act, 1963, [ S. 3(1)] .] as a "subsidiary official language," [ [ Notification No. 2/8/60-O.L. (Ministry of Home Affairs), dated 27th April, 1960] .] but is also required to prepare and execute a programme to progressively increase its use of Hindi.Official Languages Resolution, 1968, [ para. 1] .] The exact extent to which, and the areas in which, the Union government uses Hindi and English, respectively, is determined by the provisions of the Constitution, the Official Languages Act, 1963, the Official Languages Rules, 1976, and statutory instruments made by the Department of Official Language under these laws.

The language of Parliamentary proceedings and laws

The Indian constitution draws a distinction between the language to be used in Parliamentary proceedings, and the language in which laws are to be made. Parliamentary business, according to the Constitution, may be conducted in either Hindi or English. [Article [ 120(1)] .] The use of English in parliamentary proceedings was to be phased out at the end of fifteen years unless Parliament chose to extend its use, [Article [ 120(2)] .] which Parliament did through the Official Languages Act, 1963. [Official Languages Act, 1963, [ S. 3(1)(b)] .] In addition, the constitution permits a person who is unable to express himself in either Hindi or English to, with the permission of the Speaker of the relevant House, address the House in his mother tongue. [Article [ 120(1) first proviso] .]

In contrast, the constitution requires the authoritative text of all laws, including Parliamentary enactments and statutory instruments, to be in English, until Parliament decides otherwise. [Article [ 348(1)] .] Parliament has not exercised its power to so decide, instead merely requiring that all such laws and instruments, and all bills brought before it, also be translated into Hindi, though the English text remains authoritative. [Official Languages Act, 1963, [ Ss. 5(1) and (2)] .]

The language of the judiciary

The constitution provides that all proceedings in the Supreme Court of India, the country's highest court, shall be in English. [Article [ 348(1)(a)] .] Parliament has the power to alter this by law, but has not done so. [Article [ 348(1), leading text] .]

The language of administration

The Union government is required by law to progressively increase the use of Hindi in its official work, which it has sought to do through "persuasion, incentive and goodwill." [" [ Official language policy of the Union] ."]

The Official Language Act provides that the Union government shall use both Hindi and English in most administrative documents that are intended for the public. [ [ S. 3(3)] names, amongst others, resolutions, general orders, rules, notifications, administrative or other reports or press communiques issued by a government department, agency or corporation; administrative and other reports and official papers laid before a House or the Houses of Parliament; and contracts and agreements executed, and licences, permits, notices and forms of tender issued by or on behalf of the government (including government companies).] The Official Languages Rules, in contrast, provide for a higher degree of use of Hindi in communications between offices of the central government (other than offices in Tamil Nadu, to which the rules do not apply [Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, [ paragraph 1(ii)] ] ). Communications between different departments within the central government may be in either Hindi or English, although a translation into the other language must be provided if required. [Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, [ paragraph 4(a)] ] Communications within offices of the same department, however, must be in Hindi if the offices are in Hindi-speaking states, [Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, [ paragraphs 4(b) and (c)] ] and in either Hindi or English otherwise with Hindi being used in proportion to the percentage of staff in the receiving office who have a working knowledge of Hindi. [Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, [ paragraph 4(d)] ] Notes and memos in files may be in either Hindi or English, with the Government having a duty to provide a translation into the other language if required. [Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, [ paragraph 8] ]

In addition, every person submitting a petition for the redress of a grievance to a government officer or authority has a constitutional right to submit it in any language used in India.Constitution of India, Article [ 350] .]

The languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution

The Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution contains a list of 22 scheduled languages. At the time the constitution was enacted, inclusion in this list meant that the language was entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission, [Constitution of India, Article [ 344(1)] .] and that the language would be one of the bases that would be drawn upon to enrich Hindi, the official language of the Union. [Constitution of India, Article [ 351] .] The list has since, however, acquired further significance. The Government of India is now under an obligation to take measures for the development of these languages, such that "they grow rapidly in richness and become effective means of communicating modern knowledge." [Official Languages Resolution, 1968, [ para. 2] .] In addition, a candidate appearing in an examination conducted for public service at a higher level is entitled to use any of these languages as the medium in which he answers the paper. [Official Languages Resolution, 1968, [ para. 4] .]

Via the 92nd Constitutional amendment 2003, 4 new languages – Bodo, Maithili, Dogri, and Santhali – were added to the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. [ [ National Portal of India : Government : Constitution of India ] ]

The following table lists the languages set out in the eighth schedule as of May 2007, together with the regions where they are used:

The language of centre-state and interstate communication

The language in which communications between different states, or from the central government to a state or a person in a state, shall be sent is regulated by the Official Languages Act and, for states other than Tamil Nadu, by the Official Languages Rules. Communication between states who use Hindi as their official language is required to be in Hindi, whereas communication between a state whose official language is Hindi and one whose is not is required to be in English, or in Hindi with an accompanying English translation (unless the receiving state agrees to dispense with the translation).

Communication between the centre and states which use Hindi as their official language (classified by the Official Language Rules as "the states in Region A"), and with persons who live in those states, is in Hindi, except in exceptional cases. [Official Languages Rules, 1976, [ para. 3(1)] .] Communication with a second category of states, which do not use Hindi as their official language but are willing to communicate with the centre in Hindi (currently Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab and Chandigarh [Official Languages Rules, 1976, [ para. 2(g)] .] ) is usually in Hindi, whilst communications sent to an individual in those states may be in either Hindi or English. [Official Languages Rules, 1976, [ para. 3(2)] .] Communication with all other states, and with persons living in them, is in English. [Official Languages Rules, 1976, [ para. 3(3)] .]

See also

* Languages of India
* Linguistic demographics of India


External links

* [ Department of Official Language (DOL)] – Official webpage explains the chronological events related to "Official Languages Act" and amendments
* [ Central Institute of Indian Languages] – A comprehensive federal government site that offers complete info on Indian Languages
* [ Ethnologue] – Ethnologue report on the languages of India
* [ TDIL-MCIT,GoI] – Technology Development for Indian Languages, Government of India
* [ India at a Glance ] – The Official Portal of the Indian Government
* [,9171,940936,00.html?iid=chix-sphere The force of words - A TIME magazine article about India's language controversy]
* [ Multi-lingualism and language policy in India]
* [ Marathi Language Informative Web Portal]

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