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Culture of India

Nearly one sixth of all the human beings on Earth live in India, the world’s most populous democracy. Officially titled the Republic of India, it?s 1,269,413 sq. mi. lie in South Asia, occupying most of the Indian subcontinent, bordered by Pakistan (W); China, Nepal, and Bhutan (N); and Myanmar (E) and Bangladesh forms an enclave in the NE. Its borders encompass a vast variety of peoples, practicing most of the world’s major religions, speaking scores of different languages, divided into thousands of socially exclusive castes, and combining the physical traits of several major racial groups (Compton?s).

The modern nation of India (also known by its ancient Hindi name, Bharat) is smaller than the Indian Empire formerly ruled by Britain. Burma (now Myanmar), a mainly Buddhist country lying to the east, was administratively detached from India in 1937. Ten years later, when Britain granted independence to the peoples of the Indian subcontinent, two regions with Muslim majorities–a large one in the northwest (West Pakistan) and a smaller one in the northeast (East Pakistan)–were partitioned from the predominantly Hindu areas and became the separate nation of Pakistan. East Pakistan broke away from Pakistan in 1971 to form the independent nation of Bangladesh. Also bordering India on its long northern frontier are the People’s Republic of China and the relatively small kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. The island republic of Sri Lanka lies just off India’s southern tip (New World Encyclopedia).

Much of India’s area of almost 1.3 million square miles (3.3 million square kilometers–including the Pakistani-held part of Jammu and Kashmir) is a peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east. There are three distinct physiographic regions. In the north the high peaks of the Himalayas lie partly in India but mostly just beyond its borders in Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. South of the mountains, the low-lying Indo-Gangetic Plain, shared with Pakistan and Bangladesh, extends more than 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal (Compton?s). Finally, the peninsular tableland, largely the Deccan, together with its adjacent coastal plains, makes up more than half of the nation’s area.

In general, India’s climate is governed by the monsoon, or seasonal, rain-bearing wind. Most of the country has three seasons: hot, wet, and cool. During the hot season, which usually lasts from early March to mid-June, very high temperatures are accompanied by intermittent winds and occasional dust storms (Concise).

Strong, humid winds from the southwest and south usually lasts from early March to mid-June, very high temperatures are accompanied by intermittent winds and occasional dust storms.

Most of the far northeast (north and east of Bangladesh), northern West Bengal, and the west coast from Cochin to somewhat north of Bombay get more than 80 inches (200 centimeters) of rainfall annually. This is usually enough to keep the soil moist throughout the year. The natural vegetation associated with these regions is an exceedingly varied, broadleaf, evergreen rain forest, typically tall and dense. Much of the rain forest, however, is in hilly regions that have been repeatedly burned over and cleared for slash-and-burn agriculture, a type of farming particularly associated with India’s tribal population. As a result, the soil has become less fertile. Where the forest has grown again, it is generally lower and less open than the original vegetation (New World Encyclopedia).

It is not certain which racial group first occupied India. The assumption is often made that the first inhabitants had characteristics in common with the small-statured, dark, aboriginal population of Australia, as well as with other tribal groups still found in isolated, forested regions of Southeast Asia. Therefore, the term proto-Australoid has been applied to the racial type represented by a number of tribes still living in India, mainly in the states of Bihar, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh. Other early arrivals were the ancestors of the peoples, now living mainly in southern India, who speak languages of the Dravidian family. The Mongoloid peoples have also been in India a long time. Their present-day descendants include several tribal groups living along the frontiers with Myanmar, China (Tibet), Bhutan, and Nepal.

Linguistic differences are much clearer than those of racial groupings. Two linguistic groups, the Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian, account for all but a tiny proportion of the population (Compton?s). Of the Indo-Aryan languages, Hindi, the official national language, is the most important. In its standard form and its many dialects, it is spoken by about 43 percent of the population and is understood by a large number of others. It is predominant in the northern and central regions. Included among the Hindi variations is Urdu, referred to until 1947 as Hindustani or Khari Boli, which is recognized as a separate “official” language in the Indian constitution. Urdu is also the official language of Pakistan and is spoken by most Indian Muslims (except in the far south and east).

Other important Indo-Aryan languages are Bengali (the official language of the state of West Bengal and also of Bangladesh), Panjabi (the official language of the state of Punjab and the most widely spoken language of Pakistan), and Marathi, Gujarati, Oriya, Assamese, and Kashmiri (respectively, the official languages of the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, Assam, and Jammu and Kashmir). Two other languages of the Indo-Aryan family are among the 15 regarded as official languages by the constitution: Sanskrit, a classical literary language, and Sindhi, spoken largely in the Sind province of Pakistan and also by Hindu refugees who came to India after partition in 1947. The list of official languages includes four Dravidian tongues: Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada, which predominate, respectively, in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka (Compton?s).

English is understood by most educated persons. While it is not one of the 15 languages, it is officially recognized and is used, for example, for correspondence between Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi-speaking states. It is also the language shared by the Dravidian-speaking south and the Hindi-speaking north. Of the scores of languages not officially recognized, many are spoken almost exclusively by tribal peoples, known collectively as Adibasis (New World Encyclopedia).

Though a number of religions flourish in India’s tolerant social climate, four fifths of the people are Hindus. Hinduism evolved from Vedism, the religion of the early Aryan invaders. While it recognizes innumerable gods, they are widely regarded as diverse manifestations of one great universal spirit. Hinduism has no standard orthodox form. It is, in effect, what people who call themselves Hindus do in carrying out their dharma, or religious obligations. This varies considerably from one region and social group to another.

The social groups with which Hindus identify most strongly are their jatis, or castes. A caste is a hereditary group whose members intermarry only among themselves. Each has its own origin myth, traditional occupation, rules relating to kinship, diet, and various forms of behavior. Castes are graded in a social and ritual hierarchy in which each expects respect from inferior groups and gives respect to superior ones. While obviously creating disparities, the caste system is not regarded by most Hindus as unjust. According to generally accepted beliefs associated with reincarnation, or rebirth after death, the caste into which one is born depends on one’s karma–that is, one’s accumulated good and bad deeds in previous existences. The way to achieve higher status in future incarnations is to accept one’s station in life and live accordingly. This is the path that may eventually lead to salvation, called moksha, freedom from the continuous round of rebirths (New World Encyclopedia).

Muslims, who constitute 11 percent of the population, are the largest religious minority. Many of these followers of the monotheistic faith of Islam are descendants of invaders from the Middle East and Central Asia who began entering the subcontinent as early as the 8th century. Most, however, are descendants of converts from Hinduism and other faiths. The majority belong to the Sunnah branch of Islam, though the Shi’ah sect is well represented among Muslim trading groups of Gujarat.

Although Islam, unlike Hinduism, stresses the equality of people, the institution of caste is so strong in the subcontinent that it has affected the communities professing Islam and most other faiths. Thus, most Indian Muslims intermarry within graded, castelike groups, many of which have traditional occupations. Muslims form a majority of the population in Jammu and Kashmir and substantial minorities in the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, and Kerala.

Sikhs, with 2.6 percent of the population, are predominant in the state of Punjab. Their faith, which dates from the early 16th century, combines aspects of Hinduism, such as belief in reincarnation, with ideas borrowed from Islam, in particular strict belief in only one God. A militant brotherhood, they are recognizable by their distinctive beards and turbans. Sikhs form a prominent part of India’s army and are influential in many professions and in government (Concise).

Households often consist of more than one married couple. These joint families are usually headed by a senior male, whose wife, mother, or another related senior female assigns domestic chores to the women and girls. Generally the extended family may include his unmarried children, his younger brothers and their wives and unmarried children, his unmarried sisters, and his married sons and grandsons and their wives and unmarried children. In practice, however, brothers commonly separate and form new households soon after the death of their father.

Over most of India (though not in the south or northeast), a girl marries outside her village, usually while still in her teens. Even where a female marries within the village, she moves to the husband’s household. Widow remarriage is frowned upon. Married couples display a marked preference for male children. Boys are desired not only because of their anticipated contribution to the family income but also because sons are needed to perform certain rites at a parent’s cremation. Girls, on the other hand, are seen as a liability because they require expensive dowries when they are married. Various state governments have tried to discourage this practice, but often families still go into debt to provide dowries; a family with several daughters and no sons may face financial disaster. Boys are expected to help in the fields and girls in the home. The freedom that girls enjoy is restricted after they reach the age of puberty; in northern India, even among the Hindus, female seclusion is common (New World Encyclopedia).

Most villagers are farmers. The majority own some land, usually in scattered parcels, but a substantial number must rent all or part of the land they farm, either for cash or for an agreed-upon share of the harvest. The amount depends on whether the cultivator or the landlord pays for seed and irrigation water, and on who provides the animals for plowing. Shares typically range from one third to one half the harvest. Many families, especially among the scheduled castes, have no land at all, and both adults and children must sell their labor to the larger farmers.

The simple tools used by most Indian farmers are generally made in the villages. Plows are wooden, with short iron tips. They furrow but do not turn the soil. Draft animals are mainly oxen in the drier regions and water buffalo in the wetter, rice-growing areas. Both cattle and water buffalo are milked, but yields are low. Transport is still largely by oxcart or buffalo cart, though the use of trucks is gaining as a result of road improvement. Tractor cultivation is rare except in Haryana and the Punjab (Compton?s).

Goods and services that are not available locally are obtained from nearby villages, at weekly outdoor markets, in towns and cities, and at fairs, usually held in connection with religious holidays. Payment for goods and services provided within the village may be either in cash or in kind. The latter type of payment, usually a portion of grain at the time of harvest, used to be the customary rule. Most specialized-caste families catered to a particular set of patron families, known as jajmans, with whom they were linked by hereditary ties. This jajmani system is breaking down over most of India, but patron-client alliances among various castes remain a common feature of village life.

Most villages have at least a primary school offering up to six years of instruction. Some also offer adult education classes in the evening. While few villages can support a well-trained doctor, many have practitioners of traditional medicine. Government-aided dispensaries are increasingly common.

For entertainment men join their fellow caste members or those from castes at levels close to their own to pass the evening hours smoking and chatting. Women and girls talk at the village well and may join groups to sing religious songs. Male youths sometimes form sports clubs or drama groups. Village-owned radios set up in public spaces are common, but television is rare. Traveling storytellers, musicians, acrobats, and snake charmers relieve the drabness of life, as do weddings, religious celebrations, trips to local fairs, and occasional religious pilgrimages.

India’s present constitution went into effect on Jan. 26, 1950. At that time, the nation changed its status from a dominion to a federal republic, though it remained within the Commonwealth. The governor- general, appointed by the British Crown, was replaced by a president, chosen by an electoral college. The president is the official chief of state, but the office is largely ceremonial.

Village government is in the hands of a democratically elected council, known as a panchayat, presided over by a village headman. In former days virtually all panchayat members were men of the upper castes, usually those who owned the most land. Now many states require that a certain number of women and members of scheduled castes be included. Increasingly, elections are held by secret ballot. The panchayats are expected to work closely with the government-sponsored Community Development Program, which has divided the entire country into community development blocks, averaging about a hundred villages each. Village-level workers within each block are the chief links between the government and the villagers. They bring news to the villagers of developments that might benefit them and report back the sentiments of the people (Concise).

The artistic and literary heritage of India is exceptionally rich. Probably most renowned are the country’s architectural masterpieces. These date from many different ages. The ancient Buddhist domed stupa, or shrine, at Sanchi was probably begun by the emperor Asoka in the mid-3rd century BC. The Kailasa Temple at Ellora was carved out of solid rock in the 8th century. The enormous, elaborately sculptured Sun Temple at Konarak dates from the 13th century, and the Minakshi Temple in Madurai, with its striking outer towers and inner Hall of 1,000 Pillars, from the 16th century. The sublime Taj Mahal at Agra was built in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife. Every major region and religious group of India has produced works of extraordinary merit. Hindu and Jaina temples are usually richly embellished by sculpture. Because of the Islamic opposition to representative art, mosques are comparatively austere and rely for adornment largely on inlaid stonework, decorative tiles, geometric designs in stone, plaster, or wood, and ornate calligraphy (Compton?s).

Painting is relatively less developed, and much of the work of the past has fallen victim to weather. However, the well-preserved, sensuous cave paintings at Ajanta, dating from the 1st century BC to the 7th century AD, demonstrate great technical proficiency at an early date. Altogether different is the lyric and romantic style of the various schools of miniature painting that flourished in the courts of the Mughals and the Rajput princes in the 16th and subsequent centuries. Modern painting, inspired by both European and Far Eastern models, has had several internationally recognized exponents.

Classical Indian music, dance, and drama are closely linked. Their roots go back nearly 2,000 years. Their mastery calls for great discipline and intensive practice. Each has a conventionalized “language” that demands considerable sophistication on the part of the audience. As with architecture, a number of regional styles have developed. Folk music and dance also show wide regional variations (Compton?s).

The literature of India covers many fields of knowledge, but religious and philosophical texts are particularly numerous. The oldest religious texts, the Vedas (beginning with the ‘Rig-Veda’ around 1500 BC, were transmitted only by word of mouth for many centuries before being committed to writing. For most Hindus the two best-known texts are the great epics, the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabharata’, composed roughly 2,000 years ago. The former recounts the adventures of the god-king Rama and provides models of proper conduct for both men and women. The latter, the longest poem ever written, relates a great mythical war involving all the peoples of ancient India. The most important portion of that epic, the ‘Bhagavadgita’, is the principal Hindu tract on morality and ethics (Compton?s).

Indian Muslim literature covers a wide range of practical subjects. However, the authority of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, leaves little room for religious speculation. Poetry is particularly admired.

India. Compton?s Encyclopedia Online. 1 November 1999

India. Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Third Edition. 1 November 1999.

India. New World Encyclopedia. New York: Pelican, 1995.

MLA. Modern Language Association. 23 October 1999

Official Name: Republic of India.

Capital: New Delhi.

India: Indus, from Sanskrit Sindhu referring to Indus River.

National Emblem: Adapted from Sarnath Lion Capital of Asoka in 1950. Four lions (one of which is hidden from view) standing back to back with wheel in the center of the abacus; a bull on the right, a horse on the left, and the outlines of the other wheels on the extreme right and left. The words Satyameva jayate (Truth Alone Triumphs) are inscribed below the wheel in the Devanagari script.

Anthem: ‘Jana Gana Mana’ (Lord of the People, of Society, and of the Mind).

Borders: Coast, 3,533 miles (5,686 kilometers); land frontier, 9,425 miles (15,168 kilometers).

Natural Regions: Himalaya; Indo-Gangetic Plain; Deccan.

Major Ranges: Himayalas, Karakoram, Vindbya, Aravalli, Satpura, Western and Eastern Ghats.

Major Peaks: Nanda Devi, 25,646 feet (7,817 meters); Kamet, 25,447 feet (7,756 meters); Anai Mudi, 8,842 feet (2,695 meters).

Major Rivers: Ganges, Yamuna (Jumna), Brahmaputra, Narbada, Mahanadi, Godavari, Kaveri.

Notable Lake: Wular.

Major Islands: Andaman, Nicobar, Lakshadweep.

Climate: Three seasons for most of the country–cold season from November to February; hot season from March to June; rainy season from June to October.

Population (1996 estimate): 952,969,000; 733.1 persons per square mile (288.8 persons per square kilometer); 26.8 percent urban, 73.2 percent rural (1995 estimate).

Vital Statistics (estimated rate per 1,000 population): Births, 26.5; deaths, 9.8.

Life Expectancy (at birth): Males, 58.7 years; females, 59.8.

Major Languages: Hindi (official), English (official), Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese.

Major Religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism.

MAJOR CITIES (1991 estimate)

Bombay (9,925,891) Major port and financial and commercial center of India; capital of Maharashtra state; well known for cotton-textile, film, and printing industry; Victoria Gardens, Brabourne Stadium, and Marine Drive.

Delhi (7,206,704) Capital of India; political, educational, cultural, and transportation center; Red Fort, Central Secretariat, Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Qutab Minar, and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Calcutta (4,399,819) Major port, capital of West Bengal state; cultural, commercial, religious, educational, and political centerError! Bookmark not defined.

Madras (3,841,396) Major port and capital of Tamil Nadu state; educational, transportation, cultural and traditional handicraft center; the Indian Institute of Technology, University of Madras, the Madras Government Museum, Napier Park, Marina beach, and the Corporation Stadium.

Bangalore (3,302,296) Capital of Karnataka state; leading cultural, educational, industrial, publishing, and transportation center of south India; Vidhana Saudha, Mysore Government Museum, Lal Bagh, and Hesaraghatta Lake.

Hyderabad (3,145,939) Capital of Andhra Pradesh state; educational, cultural, industrial, commercial, and handicraft center; the Char Minar, Mecca Masjid, Salar Jung Museum, and racecourse.

Ahmadabad (2,954,526) Industrial, commercial, financial, and educational city; major cotton-textile center, Lake Kankaria, Gandhi Ashram, Jama Masjid, Tin Darwaza (Three Gates), and the Tomb of Ahmad Shah.

Kanpur (1,879,420) Industrial and commercial city; rail and lead junction; Kanpur University, the Indian Institute of Technology, and a Hindu glass temple, cantonment, and Sati Chaura.

Nagpur (1,624,752) Transportation, industrial, educational, agricultural, and cultural center; British Fort, Ambajheri Tank, Bhonsla Palace, Kasturchand Park, and Secretariat.

Lucknow (1,619,115) Capital of Uttar Pradesh state; transportation, commercial, educational, cultural, and handicraft center; Hazratganj, Great Imambara, Rumi Darwaza, Residency, botanical and zoological gardens.

Pune (1,566,651) Educational, cultural, commercial, and industrial center; Empress Gardens, Wellesley Bridge, Deccan College, Statue of Shivaji, and Shanwar Wada (Saturday Palace).

Chief Agricultural Products: Crops–sugarcane, rice, wheat, corn (maize), sorghum, millet, mangoes, bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, apples oilseeds, pulses, coconuts. Livestock–cattle, goats, water buffalo, sheep.

Chief Mined Products: Limestone, iron ore, bauxite, manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, lead, gold, diamonds, coal, crude petroleum, natural gas.

Chief Manufactured Products: Cement, finished steel, steel ingots, refined sugar, fertilizers, paper and paperboard, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, cotton cloth.

Foreign Trade: Imports 59 percent, exports 41 percent.

Chief Imports: Fuel oil and refined petroleum products, chemicals, fertilizers, iron and steel, machinery, vegetable oils, rough diamonds, transport equipment, electrical machinery, foodstuffs.

Chief Exports: Handicrafts, engineering goods, tea, fish, fruits and vegetables, coffee, textile yarn and fabrics, clothing, leather, precious and semiprecious stones, iron ore, road motor vehicles, works of art, tobacco, iron and steel.

Chief Trading Partners: United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia.

Monetary Unit: 1 Indian rupee = 100 paisa.

Public Schools: Lower primary (age 6-10) is free throughout India; secondary (age 11-17) is free in most areas.

Compulsory School Age: From 6 to 14 in all states except Nagaland and Himachal Pradesh.

Literacy: 52 percent.

Leading Universities: More than 100; Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Allahabad, Benaras Hindu, Mysore, Patna, Osmania.

Notable Libraries: Central Secretariat Library, New Delhi; National Library, Calcutta; Indian Council of World Affairs Library, New Delhi, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna.

Notable Museums and Art Galleries: Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Bombay; Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, Calcutta; Indian Museum, Calcutta; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Government Museum and National Art Gallery, Madras.

Know about India - Is Hindi our national language?

Know about India - Is Hindi our national language?

What did we learn in our schools? Is Hindi the national language of India? See this video for the right answer.

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The Constitution of India,
"Our Constitution" by Subhash C. Kashyap
"Introduction to the Constitution of India" by Dr. Durga Das Basu

Snell R, Weightman S

Snell R. Weightman S. Teach Yourself Hindi. Audio

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Date: 1989
Format / Quality: mp3 / 80kbps

This course is designed to enable those with no previous knowledge of Hindi to reach the point where they can communicate effectively in Hindi and can read, write and converse on a range of topics. It is also intended for speakers of other Indian languages who may or may not know some Hindi already, but who wish to be able to speak and write India's national language accurately and with increasing fluency. The course has also proved effective as teaching material for both class and individual tuition.
The Hindi presented in this course is primarily colloquial and practical, and here some explanation of the position of Hindi may be helpful. Hindi is the national language of India; but, as the language map (Fig. 1) shows, it is one of several languages used in different parts of the sub-continent. 'National', then, has to be understood as meaning the 'official' or 'link' language. Although the map shows the homeland of Hindi to be in the North, it is studied, taught, spoken and understood widely throughout the sub-continent, whether as mother tongue or as a second or a third language.
Hindi has a special relationship with Urdu: their grammar is virtually identical, and they have a substantial vocabulary in common. The two languages, however, quickly part company, because Urdu is written from right to left in a modified form of the Arabic script and has drawn the bulk of its vocabulary from Persian and Arabic, while Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and, in common with other Indian languages, has drawn much of its vocabulary from Sanskrit. Like all languages, Hindi has many different styles and speech registers, appropriate in different contexts. At the most colloquial level it reflects more the common ground with Urdu, while in formal and official contexts a more Sanskritized style is found. The language of this course is that which is used unselfconsciously by Hindi speakers and writers in the various, mainly informal, situations which arc introduced. The more formal Sanskritized Hindi is best learnt after acquiring the basic communicative competence which is the primary aim of this course. We have chosen not to include here many of the English words which some Hindi speakers use freely in their conversations.
Hindi is a most enjoyable language, and is not difficult to learn. By the time you finish this course, you should be able to handle a wide range of the topics and subjects that occur in everyday situations. A good command of Hindi is an entry into a fascinating and richly diversified culture, and well worth the effort needed to acquire it.

Publisher: Routledge Date: 1996 Pages: 346 ISBN: 0415419565. This new and extensively revised edition of Colloquial Hindi is easy to use and completely up to date. Specifically written by experienced teachers for self-study or class use, the course offers you a step-by-step approach to written and spoken Hindi. No prior knowledge of the language is required. Colloquial.

Publisher: Routledge Date: 2008 ISBN: 0415419565. Quality: mp3 / 128kkps This new and extensively revised edition of Colloquial Hindi is easy to use and completely up to date. Specifically written by experienced teachers for self-study or class use, the course offers you a step-by-step approach to written and spoken Hindi. No prior knowledge of the language is required.

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Date: 2003 Pages: 265 CD 1,2 Teach Yourself Beginner's Hindi is a friendly introduction to the language that's easy to follow from start to finish. It will appeal to anyone who wants to learn Hindi but feels daunted by the prospect of complicated grammar, classes and coursebooks. Everything is explained in simple English and there are hints.

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Date: 2003 Format / Quality: mp3 / 320kkps Book Teach Yourself Beginner's Hindi is a friendly introduction to the language that's easy to follow from start to finish. It will appeal to anyone who wants to learn Hindi but feels daunted by the prospect of complicated grammar, classes and coursebooks. Everything is explained in simple English and.

The Hindu: Hindi chauvinism

`Under the British, English had emerged as the language of higher education and administration. Would it remain in this position after the British left? The politicians of the North thought that it should be replaced by Hindi. The politicians and people of the South preferred that English continue as the vehicle of inter-provincial communication.'

I HAVE recently been reading the debates of the Constituent Assembly of India. These are a treasure-trove; invaluable to the scholar, but also well worth reading by the citizen. Among the topics debated by the Assembly were federalism, minority rights, preventive detection — topics that were contentious then, and continue to be contentious now. However, by far the most controversial subject was language: the language to be spoken in the House, the language in which the Constitution would be written, the language which would be given that singular designation, "national".

On December 10, 1946, effectively the first day of business, R.V. Dhulekar of the United Provinces moved an amendment. When he began speaking in Hindustani, the Chairman reminded him that many members did not know the language. This was Dhulekar's reply: "People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in this House to fashion a Constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this Assembly. They had better leave."

The remarks created a commotion in the House. "Order, order!" yelled the Chairman, but Dhulekar then moved that "the Procedure Committee should frame rules in Hindustani and not in English. As an Indian I appeal that we, who are out to win freedom for our country and are fighting for it should think and speak in our own language. We have all along been talking of America, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and the House of Commons. It has given me a headache. I wonder why Indians do not speak in their own language. As an Indian I feel that the proceedings of the House should be conducted in Hindustani. We are not concerned with the history of the world. We have the history of our own country of millions of past years."

The printed proceedings continue:

"The Chairman: Order, order!

Shri R.V. Dhulekar (speaking still in Hindustani): I request you to allow me to move my amendment.

The Chairman: Order, order! I do not permit you to proceed further. The House is with me that you are out of order."

At this point Dhulekar finally shut up. But the issue would not go away. In one session, members urged the House to order the Government to change all car number plates from English to Hindi. More substantively, they demanded that the official version of the Constitution be in Hindi, with an unofficial version in English. This the Drafting Committee did not accept, saying that the foreign language could better articulate the technical and legal terms of the document. When a draft Constitution was placed for discussion, members asked for a discussion of each clause in Hindi. To adopt a document written in English, they said, would be "insulting".

Under the British, English had emerged as the language of higher education and administration. Would it remain in this position after the British left? The politicians of the North thought that it should be replaced by Hindi. The politicians and people of the South preferred that English continue as the vehicle of inter-provincial communication.

Jawaharlal Nehru himself was exercised early by the question. In an essay of the late 1930s, he expressed his admiration for the major provincial languages. Without "infringing in the least on their domain", said Nehru, there must still be an all-India language of communication. English was too far removed from the masses; so he opted instead for Hindustani, which he defined as a "golden mean" between Hindu and Urdu.

Like Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi thought that Hindustani could unite North with South and Hindu with Muslim. It, rather than English, should be the rashtrabhasha. or national language. As he saw it, "Urdu diction is used by Muslims in writing. Hindi diction is used by Sanskrit pundits. Hindustani is the sweet mingling of the two". In 1945, he engaged in a lively exchange with Purushottamdas Tandon, a man who fought hard, not to say heroically, to rid Hindi of its foreign elements. Tandon was Vice-President of the All India Hindi Literature Conference, which held that Hindi with the Devanagari script alone should be the national language. Gandhi, who had long been a member of the Conference, was dismayed by its chauvinist drift. Since he believed that both the Nagari and Urdu scripts should be used, perhaps it was time to resign his membership. Tandon tried to dissuade him, but, as Gandhi put it, "How can I ride two horses? Who will understand me when I say that rashtrabhasha = Hindi and rashtrabhasha = Hindi + Urdu = Hindustani?"

Partition more-or-less killed the case for Hindustani. The move to further Sanskritise Hindi gathered pace. One can see this at work in the Constituent Assembly, where early references were to Hindustani, but later references all to Hindi. After the division of the country, the promoters of Hindi became even more fanatical. As Granville Austin observes, "The Hindi-wallahs were ready to risk splitting the Assembly and the country in their unreasoning pursuit of uniformity." Their crusade provoked some of the most heated debates in the House. Hindustani would not have been acceptable to South Indians; Hindi, even less so. Whenever a member spoke in Hindi, another member would ask for a translation into English. When the case was made for Hindi to be the sole national language, it was bitterly opposed. Representative are these remarks of T.T. Krishnamachari of Madras:

"We disliked the English language in the past. I disliked it because I was forced to learn Shakespeare and Milton, for which I had no taste at all. (I)f we are going to be compelled to learn Hindi. I would perhaps not to be able to do it because of my age, and perhaps I would not be willing to do it because of the amount of constraint you put on me. This kind of intolerance makes us fear that the strong Centre which we need, a strong Centre which is necessary will also mean the enslavement of people who do not speak the language of the Centre. I would, Sir, convey a warning on behalf of people of the South for the reason that there are already elements in South India who want separation. and my honourable friends in U.P. do not help us in any way by flogging their idea (of) `Hindi Imperialism' to the maximum extent possible. Sir, it is up to my friends in U.P. to have a whole-India; it is up to them to have a Hindi-India. The choice is theirs. "

The Assembly finally arrived at a compromise; that "the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagari script"; but for "15 years from the commencement of the Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement". Till 1965, at any rate, the proceedings of the courts, the services, and the all-India bureaucracy would be conducted in English.

In 1965, attempts were made to introduce Hindi by force, sparking widespread protests in Tamil Nadu. In 1967, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) rode to power in Tamil Nadu on the back of these protests. Wisely, the Union Government extended the use of English in inter-State communication. But from time to time, the chauvinists of Hindi try to press their case. In his previous term as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav wrote a letter in his language to the Chief Minister of Kerala, E.K. Nayanar. Mr. Nayanar replied in his language. It was a brilliant riposte: for while Hindi was not widely spoken in Thiruvanthapuram, in Lucknow, Malayalam was not known at all.

Ramachandra Guha is a historian and writer based in Bangalore. E-mail him at

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