Report of the Official Language Commission, 1956
Dr. Rajendra Prasad – at the time the president of India – appointed the Official Language Commission on June 7, 1955, with B. G. Kher as its chairperson. (Kher was the first chief minister of the state of Bombay after Independence.) The Commission submitted its report on July 31, 1956.
The Commission was asked to make recommendations on
the “progressive use of the Hindi language for all official purposes of the
Union,” and on restrictions on the use of English for such purposes; the form
of numerals to be used; and the preparation of a time schedule according to
which Hindi could gradually replace English as the government’s official
language, as the medium of communication between central and state governments,
and as the medium of communication between state governments.
The report contains 15 chapters: an introduction
(Chapter I); language in the modern world (Chapter II); linguistics in India
(Chapter III); the ‘Indian language problem’ (Chapters IV and V); the ‘union
language’ and education system (Chapter VI); language in public administration
(Chapters VII and VIII); the language of law and courts (Chapters IX, X, XI and
XII); the propagation of Hindi and regional languages (Chapter XIII); the
National Language Programme (Chapter XIV); and concluding remarks (Chapter XV).
Language is a medium of expression, and it is part of all processes of imparting knowledge in every subject, the report notes. Literacy is indispensable in all modern societies: “Without skilled and literate artisans and farmers, countries cannot progress in the modern world beyond a rudimentary stage, as technological or agrarian advance of any considerable dimensions or character, becomes impossible…in a society where the mass of its members are illiterate.”
During the last 100 years of British rule, English language superseded Indian languages in the “the work, activities and thought processes of the higher intelligentsia of all linguistic regions.” It was the official language of governance and the medium of instruction for all ‘advanced education’. This, notes the report, is why the indigenous languages failed to develop a sufficiently rich and precise vocabulary “for the requirements of modern life.”
The ‘Indian language problem’, the report says, is that after Independence, it became important to devise a linguistic medium to promote the political unity of the country. Hindi was considered an appropriate language for this. A second aspect of the ‘Indian language problem’ is that regional languages had to be made “adequate vehicles of thought and expression in their appropriate spheres” once English was displaced as the official language.
The report examines multilingual countries, such as Canada, and their approach to official languages. In 1951, the total population of Canada was 14 million – 9.4 million people spoke English, 2.7 million spoke French and 1.7 million spoke both languages. English and French were both official languages in Canada: while English was the working language of the government, all communications in French were answered in French. In universities where the medium of expression was exclusively English or French, there existed arrangements for teaching in the other language.
The problem of language in the Indian educational system, the report observes, concerns imparting knowledge in English, Hindi and regional languages. The Commission recommends that state governments and universities take their own decision regarding the language of education.
The report states that state governments are ‘better placed’ than the central government to promote the spread of the Hindi language through education, and should be financially aided by the central government to do so.
In order to change the official language for public administration in India from English to Hindi, the report states that it is necessary to prepare and standardise the appropriate terminologies for administration; official publications containing rules, regulations, manuals and other procedural literature must be translated into Hindi; and administrative personnel must be trained to attain appropriate standards of linguistic competence.
Hindi was proposed as India’s official language, notes the report, but the supporters of this proposition often went further than that. “Some even have started a slogan like this: ‘Hind, Hindu and Hindi, these three are one’. Our Prime Minister [Jawaharlal Nehru] has again and again reiterated his view that India is not one but fourteen national languages – he does not give any pre-eminence to Hindi as a language over the rest.” The people in non-Hindi speaking states are “being politely asked to help in the development of Hindi as something of a sacred duty, and are naturally getting anxious and nervous, and are reviewing their attitude towards Hindi."
The Commission recommends that the government’s plan for the progressive use of Hindi for official purposes “should be kept in abeyance for the time being.” This is because “the present political situation in the various States of India is quite abnormal and full of ferment through the working of linguistic and territorial jealousies and oppositions, and is not in the least propitious for any far-reaching change which may be taken to affect or modify the linguistic and other rights of various sections of the Indian people, particularly when they are outside the Hindi orbit.”
Focus and Factoids by Anahit Bindra.
Official Language Commission (Chairperson: B. G Kher)
Government of India
31 Jul, 1956