“Languages – Make Us Strangers In Our Own Country?”

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Politics & Governance

Languages – Make us Strangers in our Own Country!

by Maj P. Tuhinikar Choudary (Retd) (Mob: +91 98480 47477)

Chairman – Institute for Democratic & Economic Affairz (IDEAz)




Language is for communication, both Nationally and Globally and, enough importance must be given to the Mother tongue / Local language and also to develop our ancient language Sanskrit. Especially today as the world is recognizing the importance of Sanskrit and is seeking to learn it.

The three languages formula has not worked out well because;

  1. People rightly insist on favouring their Mother Tongue and script
  2. They do not want to learn an additional script as they see it as a disadvantage and as

discriminatory, when compared to people for whom that script is of their Mother tongue.

  1. Also there is a great demand to continue with English, the language of our Constitution, as it

gives us an advantage, even Globally.


We need to have a more practical and widely acceptable Language Policy.




Language is for communication, both Globally and Nationally.·

In a Country like India, with so many languages, parochial insistence on one language over·

the other defeats the purpose of Nation-wide communication.

Rational, open minded approach will show the way.·


Quotations for consideration:

  • “Language is for easy and proper communication and not for proving one’s erudition or for
  • ” – Anon
  • “A common language is the most obvious binding element in any society.” – Michael Howard.
  • “ All I know is what I have words for. The limits of my language means the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein.
  • “Knowledge in Sanskrit will go a long way in finding solutions to the contemporary problems like global warming, unsustainable consumption, civilizational clash, terrorism etc.” – Sushma Swaraj.



To encourage a common language that allows for better National Integration and another for ease

of Global Communication, both with a common script and to also encourage the local language with

its phonetic script that can also be used for Sanskrit as our National language.


Key Concepts:

  • English, the language of our Constitution, deserves to be recognized as our Nation’s Official

language, with its script (Roman) also used for our Working language (Hindustani). The English do not have a script of their own and had themselves adopted the Roman script.

  • It is not the English, but the Americans, who are responsible for the spread and recognition of English/American as the global language for science. If World War II had been won by the Germans, this language would have been German.
  • The Local language / Mother tongue must be encouraged and its phonetic script also be used for Sanskrit, which for historic and knowledge reasons needs to be recognized and established as our National language.
  • If our ancestors had insisted only on their ‘Mother Tongue’, then we should all have been
  • speaking ONLY in PRAKRIT or PALI or such other ancient vernacular language. If they had sought the advantage of better communicability over purity of traditional language or mother tongue, then perhaps we too today, should strive for better communicability for each of us all across our country and globally, even as we seek to encourage knowledge and use of each of our ‘Mother Tongues’.
  • Learning a language is not a difficult process provided it is taken up systematically and in a

manner appropriate to the age of the learner. Learning by speaking and play in childhood is the best way.


Learning a language….. by speaking and play in childhood is the best way.


Some decades ago, when AT &T was the only telecom giant in the USA, it carried out a study to

determine how large a vocabulary was required to be able to communicate well in English. A

study of all the words used in a 24 hours period in telephone conversations in New York city led

them to conclude that general conversations needed knowledge of only about 300 words, while

most business and other financial transactions needed knowledge of at most another 300 words.

The fluency lay not in knowing the words, but in knowing the grammar and idiomatic use of


So to teach a language, one first should learn the words for common items and activities

in that language and how they are used together. This means, first learn to speak, the grammar

and idiomatic usage will then follow.


Teaching the alphabet and writing is the next stage and not the first. Children pick-up the

mother tongue, or even the different language, if any, of their playmates, Ayahs or maids etc. They do not need to attend classes to do so. So teaching should start by making children pickup the other spoken languages too and only thereafter be taught to recognize and correlate the written words.


Perhaps the best way would be for schools, from the play school itself, insisting on children

speaking in only one language each day of the school. Say, Monday – English, Tuesday –

Hindustani, Wednesday – Mother Tongue or local language, Thursday – Sanskrit, Friday –

English, Saturday – Sanskrit. Of course on Sunday at home it would be the mother tongue or

local language.


In the USA a play TV series ‘Sesame Street’ was started to teach English. Today many similar programmes are available for various languages, to not only do the same for language skills but also thereby spread awareness of common cultural concepts.


Key Metrics:

  • India has about 25 officially recognized major languages, each with its own script, another 600 or so other languages and over 1600 distinct dialects across 28 States and 9 Union Territories.
  • Though many Indians are multilingual from infancy, communicating effectively across ALL
  • languages and scripts is impossible.
  • Many countries across the world (UK, Germany, Russia, Japan, Spain, USA and the Scandinavian
  • Countries) are encouraging the learning of Sanskrit in their Schools and Universities and are
  • clamouring for Sanskrit teachers, because of the ancient knowledge within it, and also its
  • advantages in Artificial Intelligence work.
  • Most languages have less than, or about one hundred thousand words. Over the centuries of worldwide colonization, English has gathered together a vocabulary of over a million words. The root structure of Sanskrit enables it to generate a near unlimited number of words.
  • It is estimated that all the books, in all the many languages that have been printed since the invention of the printing press. Would not be more than 1.30 million. It is estimated that the number of books available in Sanskrit and available today are over 40 million of which 95 percent remain untranslated.



As citizens of our Country, we are free to go where ever we please within it, but once we are out of our own State, or the State we were brought up in, we are handicapped. We can no longer freely communicate, either verbally or in writing, with the people now around us. We find ourselves Strangers within our own Country. This leads to divisiveness.


…once we are out of …the State we were brought up in, …We find ourselves Strangers within our

own Country.


Perhaps some around us speak and understand English (Indian) or ‘INGLISH’ and moving within that restricted circle we find our self quite at home, but that circle intersects often with other local circles in which people do not speak ‘INGLISH’ and there once again we are Strangers or ‘Pardesis’ – and thus at a loss. If we know some Hindi or Hindustani (the pidgin or mixed version of Hindi, Urdu, English and some of the other Indian Languages) we might get by in many parts of the Country where the local Language is Hindi or its cousin or in other urban centres where some of the people are familiar with Hindi / Hindustani. But in other areas, mostly rural, we will again find ourselves at a loss.

Not only that we can’t communicate, except for a few commonly recognized words aided by sign

language, but we also cannot read or make sense of the Milestones, Name Boards, Destination

Boards on Buses, Direction Boards, Buildings etc and hence cannot know where to go and to whom for help, and even when we do find someone we are unable to communicate satisfactorily and are therefore again handicapped.

So, as it is no one’s stand that everyone should know all the languages of the Country and yet, as we do need to be able to at least communicate with one another, we need to find a solution to this problem of communicating well with each other across the Country and even Globally.

Many suggestions had been made and we can take a look at some of the main ones and try to

understand why, even after over 70 years of independence, we still have not found a satisfactory


What needed consideration was to;

  1. Select the language of our Constitution, English, as the Official language of the Nation. In

fact, as more Indians speak English, than in any other Nation and as we have our own style

of speaking it and a modified vocabulary, perhaps it would be better to call it English (Indian)


  1. Recognizing that language is for better and easier communication and that often such

communication is better undertaken in the popular vernacular form, perhaps with the

vocabulary including words mixed in from many sources, that has already established itself

as a reasonably functional and practical medium of communication and take the best of

whatever is found acceptable to best serve the needs of our citizens in their lives within the

Country i.e. Hindustani as popularized by Bollywood Cinema as the Working language for the


Select the language of our Constitution, English as the Official language,…Hindustani…as the

Working language…, the Mother Tongue as the Local language, …Sanskrit as the National



  1. Select an Indian language as the National language. This could be Sanskrit, our ancient

language of all Vedic literature, or any other acceptable Indian language, or perhaps the

language most spoken across the country. However being only one out of the 25 officially

recognized languages, the most spoken Language will evidently not be any language spoken

by the majority of the people of the Country but only by more people than any of the other

languages. Make it compulsory for all the other Citizens to learn this selected Language even

if the script selected is radically different from that of their own Language. However will such

a policy be equitable and acceptable to all? Obviously the other language speakers, who too

associate their identity and community rights with their own language, are not going to love

this idea, but may only grudgingly give it a try as long as they are not disadvantaged till they

too can develop an adequate proficiency in the selected language. This was the basis of the

3-language formula which has proved in effective. Sanskrit has the advantage of being the

language of ancient India and being connected to all local languages and hence has the best

claim to be our National Language.


  1. Accord due recognition and importance to the Mother Tongue as the Local language and

encourage its learning. Everyone in India is rightfully proud of his/her mother tongue, but

unfortunately is also jingoistic about its importance in comparison to other languages,

refusing to accept that speakers of other languages could be equally right in calling for

recognition of the importance of their language.


  1. The first leaders of our Nation at the time of our Independence, dominated by Pandit

Jawaharlal Nehru, did not agree with the proposal for retaining English as the National

language, as they felt it offended their sentiments. They settled for practical reasons, to

allow it to continue as the Official language. They also did not accept the call for Hindustani

with the Roman Script.

  1. a) The proposal they decided on, was calling for a census to determine the most spoken

language and accepting English as a Pan Indian link language till the selected Indian

Language could be developed into a Pan Indian language. In their fervent enthusiasm

they thought this would take only 10 years. They, as a compromise measure also

decided to keep the mother tongue or local language as the third language wherever it

was not already the local language.

  1. b) For the National Language they considered Sanskrit, but dropped the idea as they

decided, the National language should be the language spoken by the most people in the

Country and even though Sanskrit was the root language for all Indian languages, it was

no longer the most spoken.


To be able to view this emotion laden matter in an objective and dispassionate way we need to

remember the following and understand their implications.

  • Our Country is as big as all of the European Countries put together and so comparisons with any one European Country and its language policy is invidious. History tells us that Greek, Latin, German and French each had their period of sway across all of Europe. However today English is being recognized as the leading language for communication and science, Pan Europe and even Globally and citizens of all Countries seek to learn it.
  • Hindustani (a vernacular offspring of Hindi and Urdu with words from many other languages thrown in) with script using the Roman / English alphabet is already the most common language of communication across the Country. We should recognize that many of our present languages are but developments from the vernacular version of the earlier spoken language (Sanskrit, Pali, Prakriti and so on). Even the present scripts of our languages are very different from the historic script versions. So this proposal is not without precedent. Though this was a very practical proposal, the jingoistic Hindi purists, seeing this as a threat to the primacy of Hindi, vehemently objected and had their way. It is surprising that they did not see the conflict in demanding that Hindi be imposed on speakers of other languages in the Country, many of such languages being classical languages in their own right.
  • The attention of such Hindi purists should be drawn to the fact that India is vastly larger and more diverse than just North India and also that recent linguistic research has found that the earliest roots of Hindi actually derive from Turkish and Persian unlike the really classical languages of India that mostly derived from Sanskrit. Even Tamil is said to have about 41 percent of its vocabulary from Sanskrit though many Tamilians would like to disagree, while Telugu, another ancient language has about 70 percent.
  • At the census, to arrive at the National language for India, soon after attaining our Independence the finding was that the language spoken most people in India was not Hindi but ‘Telugu’, a language that grew out of Sanskrit over 2500 years ago and is well recognized as the most versatile and pleasing language with the second best script in the world. But our then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and many other Leaders from the so called ‘Cow-belt’ of India, all non-Telugu speaking persons with a strong bias towards Hindi, arranged to have the figures ‘doctored’ by including various similar dialects under Hindi to be able to declare ‘Hindi and its dialects’, as the most spoken language in India and hence designate it as the National language for India.

At the census, to arrive at the National language for India, soon after attaining our Independence the finding was that the language spoken most people in India was not Hindi but ‘Telugu’.


The purists of language should recall how the purists of dance (Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi,

Kathakali, Odissi, Manipuri, etc) or music (Hindustani, Carnatic etc) had also led futile protests

against the common man’s attraction for the ‘Bollywood’ style through which he / she could

express their feelings in dance or music. Finally the protests died out as the purists noted that

this in no way prevented the expression and appreciation of the pure dance forms and

expressions of music. Each encouraged the other and gave rise to fusion forms. Also it was noted that what people earned in performing ‘Bollywood’ style allowed them to indulge in their passion for the purer styles and advance them. So too we can expect in the case of language.


Realistically at that time there was no practical way of enforcing any one language across India

till enough time was allowed for the rest of the Country to learn it proficiently. Unfortunately

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in his hurry did not allow for sufficient time for proper assimilation of  Hindi in those parts of the Country where it was effectively a foreign language, thus leading to a rift across the Country and to antagonism and resentment against what was perceived by many as an attempt by the Hindi speaking people to dominate the rest.


In the old days, even as most people literate in their local language, the Intelligentsia across the Country used Sanskrit as the link spoken language though it was written down in the local script. This was possible as languages in India are mainly phonetic and like using short hand, it was possible to write the words spoken in one language in the script of another and properly reproduce the speech when necessary. It was the spoken language that was recognized as important for communication; the script was only a means of recording it. It is historically wrong and untenable to claim that Sanskrit was always written in the Devanagari script


“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity is of wonderful structure, more

perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than

either” – Sir William Jones (English scholar)


But the policy of the British rulers, seeking to break the Brahmanical structure of the Indian

Society by banning all Sanskrit education and encourage only English and thus give importance

to the English culture, reduced Sanskrit, which till then was the language of learning and

communication across the country, even as it used the local phonetic language script, as now the

language of only a few, mostly priests and language experts. Today, Sanskrit is being recognized

as being extraordinarily precise and well structured language with a flexible root structure

having the potential to easily expand its vocabulary and with a rigour and depth of thought and

consciousness not available in other languages.


History has over the centuries encouraged the extraordinary growth and spread of English (in

India as English (Indian) or ‘INGLISH’ and its use, and of Hindustani over the past 70 years,

across the country. We need to recognize and act on this and not only bemoan the fact that

none of the other languages have kept pace.


Let us note how other Countries, faced with a similar problem of being multi-lingual, had dealt with the situation.

  • On attaining Independence, President Sukarno of Indonesia in around 1945 called together all the linguists of the many dialects spoken across his Country and asked them to come up with a common language and script for Indonesia based not on the Javanese language, spoken by most people of the country all in the Java region, but based on the Malay language more widely spoken by those out of the Java region. This was to prevent the dominance of the Javanese, something the Hindi purists in India should note. When the egos of each of these linguists came into play and they were ‘dilly-dallying’ over the importance of the task, he is reported to have ordered all of them confined to a University Campus till they settled the matter amongst themselves. This led to protests and outcry. But as the President was unmoved, they quickly got down to the task and within a few months arrived at an acceptable working form of the Country’s language- ‘Basha Indonesia’, using a modified form of Roman / Latin script. The language was further standardized in 1972.
  • President Sukarno was perhaps only following what another great Leader had done for his Country years before; President Kemal Ataturk of Turkey had standardized the ‘Roman Alphabet’ with suitable accent and diacritical marks or matras for Turkish.
  • In India it is not possible or even desirable to resort to such drastic measures. But the objective is to be recognized as desirable and hence a more consensual and democratic way is to be found to attain to the objective. What could be more so than the fact that by default, if nothing else, the present situation where common usage has accorded such a status to two languages and the fact that there is a irresistible demand to recognize the importance of the Mother tongue. It is these languages that we discuss here after.
  • In multi cultural and multi lingual Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yewrecognized that – “Many official and equal languages with English as the common working language is

the only practical way. However up to school level it would be good to have local

language schools to instill the local culture in them.”

  • Basha Indonesia, not only did away the hierarchy consciousness of the Java language wherein   different words were used to designate or address people with higher or lower social status, but also developed a simple and easy to learn grammar, allowing suffixes and prefixes to word roots to create new words with immediately predictable meanings, something as in Sanskrit.


For India the 3 languages formula has proved non-workable. A better proposal would be a Two script Four language formula. It is therefore proposed that ENGLISH (India) or ‘INGLISH’ be is recognized as our Official language and HINDUSTANI with the same Roman script recognized as our Working language. With the MOTHER Tongue recognized as the LOCAL language with its own script and SANSKRIT recognized as our National language with the same local phonetic script of the Mother Tongue / Local language. Thus with two scripts we could easily speak and deal with four languages. Perhaps thus even be able to better understand more Global as well as more Local spoken languages while still keeping our mother tongue and script and National / Ancient language alive and developing.


For India the 3 languages formula has proved non-workable. A better proposal would be a Two script Four language formula.


Specialist language courses could be conducted for other languages as demanded. The script could be common, based on the English alphabet or the phonetic script of the Mother tongue / Local language, to allow easy learning of other languages later on.


Action Plan:


In order to address all these issues effectively and satisfactorily, it is proposed as follows:

  1. Recognize English or English (Indian) or rather ‘INGLISH’ (Indian English) with the Roman

Script, as the OFFICIAL language of India.

  1. Recognize Hindustani (not Hindi), the Bollywood version that is prevalent across our

Country, with the ROMAN script as the WORKING language of India.

  1. Recognize the Mother tongue with its own Phonetic script as the LOCAL language across the


  1. Recognize SANSKRIT as the NATIONAL language of India using the same script as the LOCAL

language. This is how it was in the old days, when spoken Sanskrit was the same but the

written script was different from location to location.

Sanskrit, traditionally an oral language, can be written in any phonetic script, even in shorthand,

even though in the written form it may lose some of the clarity of the multiple meanings of the

words which depend on the pronunciation and emphasis. The script for Sanskrit is more an aide



  • OFFICIAL language – English (Indian) or ‘INGLISH’ with Roman script
  • WORKING language – Hindustani with Roman script
  • LOCAL language – Mother Tongue with its own script
  • NATIONAL language – SANSKRIT with same script as of the LOCAL language.


Learning languages must start with speaking during play from the earliest ages and reading and

writing can be learnt thereafter. Also perhaps each day of the week at School could be nominated

for one language.


  1. The almost majoritarian recognition that English, which we having re-made it with many

distinctive regional variants and should therefore perhaps be called as ENGLISH (Indian) or even

as ‘INGLISH’, is the link Language of the Country and those who know it have many an advantage

within and outside our Country. Especially as it has a vocabulary of over one million words which

is easily at least 8 to 12 times greater than that of any Indian Language, except Sanskrit, and therefore it would be ridiculous and practically impossible to try and generate that many new words.

We need feel no aversion to English as belonging only to England, because though it originated there it grew from the Shakespearean time vocabulary of less than One Lakh words to a vocabulary of over Ten Lakh words, mainly by absorbing words from most other languages from all over the world. The earlier ‘Chaucerian’ time English, the actual mother tongue of England, is today almost a foreign language even in England and hence we need have no hesitation in accepting English (India) or ‘INGLISH’ as our language. They are today many more ‘INGLISH’ speakers in India than in any other country in the world.


Such an advantage, especially when it allows us an edge in these days of globalization, is to be

further enhanced and exploited by encouraging the spread of the Language.

Nandan Nilekani in ‘Imagining India’ writes –

“Dalits also came to support English as an emancipatory language that enabled

communication across linguistic regions, giving (them) a nationwide solidarity and

enabling their voices to be heard in the public sphere… the importance of English as a

neutral player in India’s Language debate cannot be exaggerated.”


He also draws our attention to the difference of prosperity in Singapore, which chose English,

and of sectarian strife in Srilanka which in similar multi language circumstances chose its

majority language Sinhalese as its official language.


Raja Ram Mohan Roy had said – “So long as the English language is universal, it will remain


And Also as Shri C. Rajagopalachari, wrote – “English was Saraswati’s gift to India”.


  1. There is however, no gainsaying the fact that we in India have a great cultural and ethnic

treasure in our many local languages, mostly derived from Sanskrit. However, it may be noted

that no one today calls for any single regional language to be imposed as a National Language on

the other regions without they too agreeing to learn and communicate in the language of

another region (a uniformly applied 3 Language formula which has proven non-workable). But

given the multiplicity of languages and the predominance of Hindustani, a sort of mixed heritage

language based mainly on Hindi, but having elements of Urdu, some English and of many other

Indian languages to some extent or the other, that has established its sway and hold across India

over these post Independence decades. The so called ‘Bollywood’ movies have been a catalyst

for this spread. This language could have its script be based on the English Alphabet (Roman

Script). A script based on this alphabet would also have the advantage of recognition of the

scripts of many other languages that use Roman letters across the World. Infact during the

language crisis in the 50’s and 60’s, one of the 300 amendments suggested to the Language bill

was that Hindi be written in Roman script instead of the Devanagari script. Obviously this was not

accepted then. This requires reconsideration today. This one script then will easily allow us write

/ read both ‘INGLISH’ and Hindustani allowing us to communicate as both National and Global


Now before you purists respond ‘No Way’, please first look at what is around you and see the


The Military, which recruits soldiers from all across the Country has shown us the way. All Military Jawans, which ever part of India they come from, are taught in Hindustani with the ‘INGLISH’ / ROMAN script. This has proven to be the quickest and most effective way to bring everyone on to a common platform and also to allow the familiarity of the Alphabet to grow into a better knowledge of English to enable them to further expand their education and skills to be useful in a globalized world. There are now tens of millions of such soldiers and ex-soldiers across the Country all familiar with Roman Hindustani even as they also learn ‘INGLISH’.·

All people familiar with ‘INGLISH’ will find it no problem to read the script and pronounce the·

words even if the local spoken language is different. They will also have no difficulty in

recognizing common words on Milestones, Name Boards, Destination Boards on Buses, Direction

Boards, Buildings etc. There are many more millions of such people.

In order to make the pronunciation standardized and easy, we could look at the accent and·

diacritical marks / ‘Matras’ as in English, Turkish and even Indonesian / Malaysian languages,

though only if deemed necessary.

For better working communications in the local language, especially for inter-state employees or migrants it may be good to offer short spoken local language courses in each State.·


This in no way takes away anything from any of the Regional languages as it allows for both the

Mother Tongue as the Local language, and Sanskrit as the National language, to be taught with the same phonetic script of the Mother Tongue. This will give a boost to the Mother Tongue and allow local communication in it and also to establish spoken communication across the Country in Sanskrit as our National language. Sanskrit being the root language of almost all the local languages, this will even help us understand other local languages better.


To be willing to learn from others, to adopt, adapt and improve on whatever we see as good

practices elsewhere is only being smart. We Indians are generally recognized as smart people;

hopefully we will so act in this matter too. Of course even indecision, will not be able to stop the

slow but steady spread of ‘INGLISH’ and of ‘HINDUSTANI’ across the Country, but it would be better to allow it to do so in a quicker, conscious and planned manner.



The aim of having a common language is not to decry any local language, but to rationally arrive at the best way to allow communication across the Country and even Globally. Let us build on what advantages we now have than cry about what it could or should have been. Be Practical,

encouraging ‘INGLISH’ and Hindustani with a common Roman script and, the Mother tongue / Local language each with its own script and, Sanskrit with the local phonetic script would be the best way.

A TWO script and FOUR language formula that starts with speaking from Play School level and

writing from later classes, would be easier than the three script, three language formula as taught today, as it would be more acceptable to all since the Mother tongue / Local language has its due recognition, and would also allow easier communication both Nationally and Globally.


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