The UN has six official languages and the Centre is taking efforts to ensure that Hindi is adopted as an official language. But what do experts think?

Hindi as official UN language Experts divided on Centres move and spending Rs 5 cr
news Language Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 10:48

Efforts to make Hindi as an official language of the United Nations (UN) and its propagation worldwide is being continued, General VK Singh, the Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs told the Rajya Sabha recently. This despite MPs like Shashi Tharoor raising his opposition to the move.

“In Financial Year 2017-18, Rs 5 cores was allocated for efforts to propagate Hindi worldwide through our Diplomatic Missions and Posts abroad. Allocations for this purpose over the last three years were: Rs 3 cr. (2014-15); Rs 3 cr. (2015-16) and Rs 4.99 cr. (2016-17),” Gen VK Singh, the Minister of State, told the Rajya Sabha on March 8, in reply to a query raised by Congress MP from UP, PL Punia.

Presently, there are six official languages in the UN and they are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

At the UN, a delegate may speak in any official UN language. The speech is interpreted simultaneously into the other official languages of the UN.

At times, if a delegate chooses to make a statement using a non-official language, in such cases, the delegation must provide either an interpretation or a written text of the statement in one of the official languages.

To make a language official at the UN, there are certain procedures to be completed.

According to the procedure, getting Hindi accepted as an official language of the UN involves adoption of a Resolution by the UN General Assembly with a minimum of two-thirds majority, and the additional expenditure, according to UN rules, have to be contributed by all member states.

MoS Gen VK Singh stated that on many occasions, Indian leaders have delivered statements at the UN in Hindi, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the 69th UNGA in September 2014, the PM’s address to the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, and the addresses to the UNGA by External Affairs Minister during the 70th, 71st and 72nd sessions of the UNGA in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

He added that a World Hindi Secretariat had been set up in Mauritius in February 2008 to promote Hindi as an international language and efforts to propagate Hindi worldwide are also being made by Indian Diplomatic Missions abroad in coordination with Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) through several activities.

“By establishment of Chairs of Hindi language in several universities abroad, scholarship and fellowships to foreign students to study Hindi, internationally distributed publication such as ‘Gagnanchal’, and holding of various types of international conferences pertaining to Hindi,” the Minister stated in the reply.

In January, Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram had opposed the Centre’s bid to make Hindi an official language at the United Nations.

"If tomorrow, someone from Tamil Nadu or from West Bengal becomes the Prime Minister, why should we force him to speak in Hindi at the UN?” argued Shashi Tharoor in the Lok Sabha, while pointing out that Hindi enjoyed the status of an official language in India but was not a national language.  

Shashi Tharoor’s vocal opposition was in response to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha.  who was replying to two BJP MPs on the steps taken to make Hindi an official language at the UN.

Backing the Centre’s move, Dr Jayachandran R, Head of the Hindi Department at the University of Kerala, told TNM that 422 million people speak Hindi as a first language and around 120 million as a second language.

“However, only 420 million people around the world speak Arabic. If Arabic can be made an official language, then why not Hindi,” the professor asked.

According to Dr Jayachandran, more than 200 universities across the world are providing opportunities to do research in Hindi.

“Making Hindi as an official language of the UN will also help bring in more business from the global front,” he added.

In 1949, Hindi was adopted as the Official Language of the Union of India and in 1950, the Constitution of India declared Hindi in the Devanagari script as the Official language of India.

However, apart from Hindi, English was also recognized as an Official Language of India.

But in 1950 it was declared that the use of English was to be put to an end, 15 years after the formation of the Constitution (by 26th January 1965).

However, the decision was not well accepted by non-Hindi speaking areas of India, especially in the south.

Keeping this in mind, the Indian Parliament brought into force the Official Languages Act, 1963 which allowed the continuation of the use of English along with Hindi for official purposes after 1965.

Speaking to TNM Dr A Boologarambai, Assistant Professor in Dravidian University, said that south Indians, especially, people from Tamil Nadu, are emotionally attached to Tamil language and Tamil culture. “However, I support the move to make Hindi as an official language at UN. I respect Tamil sentiments. But at the same time if our country’s official language gets an official status at UN, it is a matter of honour,” the professor added.

However, not academics welcome the steps taken by the BJP-led Central government. Terming it as ‘cultural homogenisation’ and ‘anti-democratic’, social scientist, historian and writer Rajan Gurukkal said, “In one sense, it’s cultural homogenisation imposed from above and in other sense it will add to the globally subordinate position of the country at the level of communication of the latest knowledge. It’s an anti-democratic move, in a sub-continent like India centralised imposition will affect cultural freedom.”

He argued, “A language is not merely a language, it has many cultural articulations. Also, Hindi is not productive in a global context - like any other Indian language, it is not a knowledge-based language. A knowledge-based language should be able to communicate globally. It should be able to communicate advanced knowledge, should be representative of any field. Languages like Korean and Japanese are global languages because of the efforts, the theoretical studies done on them. But by making Hindi the official language there will not be any change in the current situation.”

Calling it a waste of public money, Dr Ekambaram, Associate Professor, Tamil Department, Madras University, said, “This is completely unnecessary. India is a multilingual country, it is diverse. By promoting and focusing on just Hindi, other languages are being crushed. There are languages in India that are older than Hindi. Tamil is the oldest. Should we not take into consideration these other languages? In today’s economic situation, we need to think if it is necessary to spend Rs 5 crores on elevating the status of this language. The money can be put to better use. I think it is absolutely unnecessary. Let’s not forget that India is a democracy.”

According to the 2001 Census, 422 million people speak Hindi or one of its dialects, accounting for 41.03% of India’s population. The majority, however, nearly 60% of Indians do not speak Hindi.  

Read: ‘What if we have a Tamil PM?’ Tharoor opposes bid to make Hindi an official UN language

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