Five decades ago, Jawaharlal Nehru cautioned members of Parliament against being too obsessed with local languages and start thinking of the country as a nation.
This has been brought out in a compilation of Pandit Nehru’s speeches from his collected works. The compilation has been placed in an international seminar on linguistic reorganisation of states in New Delhi on Friday, according to Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) director Mridula Mukherjee.
In fact, Nehru’s caution against dividing the country on linguistic lines finds relevance today with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena attracting censure from various quarters — including Bombay High Court — for its tirade against linguistic minorities.
In recent months, Hindi speakers have come under attack from Raj Thackerey’s men in Maharashtra. The anti-migrant prejudice is based on linguistic differences and regional pride.
In a speech to the Lok Sabha in December 1955, Nehru expressed concern for linguistic minorities and reminded the members that they represented not just their constituencies, but also India as a nation.
While accepting that local language was necessary for the development of an area, Nehru said, “But it does not follow that in order to make them and their language grow, you must put a barrier between them and others, that you must put a wall around and call that this is this language area or that…”
He said, “There are invariably bilingual areas, and if they are not today bilingual areas, are you going to prevent people from going from one state to another? Are you going to stop, contrary to the dictates of our Constitution, the movement of population, the movement of workers or of other people from one state to another?”
Nehru then gave an example from his life — “This is in relation to my daughter... When she was a little girl I sent her to school, not in UP — as I wanted her to pick up India’s languages — but in Poona. I sent her to a Gujarati school in Poona because I wanted her to know the Marathi language and the Gujarati language. I sent her subsequently to Shantiniketan because I wanted her to understand the Bengali background — not only the language but the cultural background.”
Linguistic minorities constitute over 16 per cent of India’s population. Article 30 of the Constitution gives both religious and linguistic minorities the fundamental right to establish and run their educational institutions anywhere in the country.
What’s more, a constitutional amendment in 1956 provided for instruction in mother tongue for children from linguistic minorities at primary and secondary levels. A throttled National Commission for Linguistic Minorities looks after the interests of minorities with an annual budget of Rs 1 crore.