New Delhi: Although Hindi is the most widely spoken language in the country, almost six in every 10 people, or 56.37% of the citizens, do not identify it as their first language or mother tongue, shows the 2011 Census data on languages.
According to the data, more than 52 crore or 43.63% of the total of 121 crore Indians speak Hindi. It is followed by Bengali and Marathi, with 8.03% and 6.86% speakers, respectively. Telugu (6.7%) and Tamil (5.7%) are fourth and fifth-most spoken languages in the country.
The language debate was once again ignited on Saturday after Home Minister Amit Shah at an event in New Delhi marking ‘Hindi Diwas’ said “it was necessary to have a common language that becomes the mark of identity of the country. Today, if a language can keep the country united, it is the widely-spoken Hindi language.”
Shah said more people should converse in Hindi in order to fulfill the dream of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel of ‘one nation, one language’.
The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution identifies 22 scheduled languages — Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
As per the Census 2011 data, 96.71% of Indians have one of the 22 scheduled languages as their mother tongue, while the remaining 3.29% account for the other languages (non-scheduled).
Based on comparative data since 1971, Hindi speakers have also gone up 6.64 percentage points over the last 40 years — from 36.99% of the population to the latest figure. During the same time, speakers of southern languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam have declined marginally.
However, this could be due to higher fertility rates or the rate of population growth in north Indian states, where Hindi is the most spoken language, compared to southern states.
Hindi is the most spoken language in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh as well as the Union Territories of Delhi, Chandigarh, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
Similarly, Bengali is the most spoken language in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar islands. Nepali is the most spoken language in Sikkim.
Unsurprisingly, Shah’s statement drew sharp criticism from political leaders from southern states, with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief MK Stalin warning of another language protest unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi issues a clarification on Shah’s statement.
“PM Narendra Modi should issue clarification on Amit Shah's statement. Else the DMK will prepare itself for another language protest. Is it India or Hindi-a? India stands for unity in diversity. The BJP-led government is trying to destroy this and go against it. The home minister should withdraw his statement,” said Stalin.