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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Should English remain the language of India's administration?

It's an old argument and now it's back again. What should India do with the English language?

More than half a century since independence, English is still largely the language of government and a requirement for many other top jobs. Also with ever increasing opportunities abroad, it's now seen as being more important than ever.

But when a bill was thrown out by the Delhi Assembly earlier this year because it was presented in Hindi, it resurrected calls for an Indian national language.

So is the growing emphasis on English stifling local languages and being used as a class divide? Why does a mature democracy need to use the language of a former colonial ruler?

And how can more than a billion people communicate in a country of so many national languages? Tell us what you think.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


Hindi should be made the national language

Sridhar Pichumani, UK
Hindi should be made the national language. But unfortunately the politicians in South India are reluctant to accept this because it is "an election issue" and they will lose their vote bank. Hence in that case the common language can be nothing but English.
Sridhar Pichumani, UK

English has evolved into the business language of the world. Regardless of which country you are from and what language you speak, the common medium for most persons is the English language. The same is true in India, where despite the popularity of regional languages, the language of business is English. I believe that the teaching of English should not only be continued but strengthened in Indian education so that future generations of can play a greater role in world business while at the same time it will serve to bond Indians who speak different regional languages.
Kiran Ketkar, USA

Sanskrit should definitely be made the national language. If Israel can resurrect Hebrew, why can't we? The best part is that all Indian languages draw their roots from it, so the North-South divide will die and it can be written in any of the regional scripts.
Murli Mohanty, India


I learned English and Tamil at school

Pandyan, San Jose, California, USA
I learned English and Tamil at school. English has definitely helped me in my career and Tamil has helped me in understanding our culture and the great achievements of our ancestors.
Pandyan, San Jose, California, USA

India has a multitude of languages. Clearly no single language can serve as a lingua franca for the country. The solution is to use both languages simultaneously and to educate the population both in the regional language and English as well.
Malolan Cadambi, India

It doesn't matter what people say. English is now a global commercial and cultural language, and people find themselves having to speak it everywhere. To think that Hindi can supplant English is to stick your head in the sand, hoping that the English language will go away. It won't. People are speaking it. So wake up.
Bilal Patel, London, UK


English will always be the best choice.

Boby Antony, Atlanta, USA
In a country with fourteen official languages and a large number of dialects of these languages, something common like English is a must. Learning the national language Hindi might help you out in the north. In southern India people always prefer English over Hindi. In this global economy English will always be the best choice. The "global" language!
Boby Antony, Atlanta, USA

English should be only used for business communications and not as a national language. India is land of many languages and making English as the national language will hurt lot of people. It is better that English is taught is school/colleges etc so that all the Indians are well equipped to handle foreign jobs, but in India Hindi should be used as the national language. This tradition is continuing from past and should be continued in future too.
Syed Ahmer, India/US

The entire argument of making English as a national language is not going to serve any purpose. Whether the govt declares English as a national language or not, Indians will continue to learn, speak and cherish their English. English is the most important uniting factor in a country like India with many local languages. Indians are well ahead of others all over the world just because of English.
Madhan Masilamani, Germany


Whatever the past, English belongs to Indians as much as to anyone else

C. J. Fynn, Bhutan
If only five percent of Indians speak English it still means there are more English speakers in India than there are in England. Whatever the past, English belongs to Indians as much as to anyone else - so let it be recognised as one of the official languages of India.
C. J. Fynn, Bhutan

I do not agree with the people who say English is the de facto national language. But for all practical purposes it is the mostly accepted official language. India is a land of diversities. People's culture is closely related to the language they speak. Let that be like that. English is the natural option for the official language. Let us not impose anything. Let the people choose it automatically.
Sushanta Sinha, USA (From Calcutta, India)

Instead of improving the quality of English taught in schools the Govt has done a lot to undermine it. Probably because the politicians who run the country cannot read, write or speak good English. English is the language that will give the millions a chance to better their standards of living by competing in the international job arena.
Srini Raghavan, NJ, USA


Learning more than one language is never going to be that hard

Sutha, Australia
English speaking Indians will keep India united, as it would break down all the communication barriers between the people of India, enabling them to understand each other better. Good communication between people can solve a lot of problems. In the mean time other Indian languages should be preserved as well. Learning more than one language is never going to be that hard.
Sutha, Australia

I think this is the only good thing remaining to happen for India besides having good friendly and encouraging neighbours.
True Indian, India

We have to ask a basic question as to when and how does a language gain the status of a national or official language. At the present time, though English is the de facto official language of India, it is a lot of political hot air for anyone to remotely consider making it an official language. A few countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have shown the lead in adopting the Roman script for their native languages. Perhaps India - as it often does in many areas - could take a cue from this precedent, adapt the language and call it "INGLISH". Mix English with a generous amount of Hindi and some words from the 17 other official languages and you get pucca "INGLISH" - yar-eh accha hai no?
Sundar Raj, Canada

India is still not all that 'mature' as a democracy. Until there is more give and take, especially between north and south, English is the best bet as official language. We all lose or gain in self-respect, together.
Parvathi Krishnan, USA


Leave English as the de facto official language

Amit Tonse, USA
Leave English as the de facto official language. When I grew up in Southern India, the language of instruction at school was English and we were also required to study the so-called national language Hindi, and the state language, Kannada. Leave things are they are and re-emphasize the importance of the English language to the younger generation.
Amit Tonse, USA

Rather than making it the national language, why not introduce a tri-lingual school curriculum? The average Indian as it is speaks three languages, so why not make Hindi, English, and the respective regional languages all compulsory subjects of the schooling system?
Hely Chavan, Indian in the USA

On the train from Delhi to Bangalore, I befriended a middle-class family whose children blushed at first but spoke English to their first "furriner". The parents were very proud of their English literacy. It seems to me that the language is everywhere, especially amongst people who want to be part of the so-called global economy.
Wendy T, USA

By not having English as the official business language, it will continue to fragment the country by ethnic lines. This was the Nehru legacy. I also think it is churlish for Indians not to make English on par with other languages, when Sindhi and Nepali (both foreign languages, and spoken by a fraction of the population) are also official languages on par with Hindi and Tamil!!!!
David James, Singapore

The South of India has always resented the use of Hindi as a national language as it is seen as being a northern influence. English, on the other hand, is spoken and accepted in the South.
Mahesh, UK (originally from Bangalore, S. India)


English is the de facto national language

Vishnu, India, US Resident
As a native of Tamilnadu, I think that English is the de facto national language though it has not been legally pronounced so. The only other alternative that some people might suggest is Hindi. I have no qualms about learning Hindi on my volition, but I think that forcing the language on every citizen of India would be wrong.
Vishnu, India, US Resident

First of all, there are fourteen official languages in India (check out any Indian currency note) and English. All government communication is in English and the national language Hindi. Supporters of English should note that the language is spoken well only by an elite minority (about five percent) and is not the language of the common man, yet.
Rajesh R, India

Those critics who say English should not be spoken, may I ask them what language they are using to write to this forum?
Ramlal Patel, UK

Hindi should be the official language. There should be a uniform language for the country, but if this was English it would erode Indian sovereign culture.
SSK, USA

The British Empire replaced Persian by English as a language of power. South Asians should take advantage of this powerful new language of world commerce that gives them an edge over most other Asian nations.
Adam Nayyar, Pakistan/ USA

English is a universal language. In India, it would unite the many states rather than divide them as Hindi would, particularly in the South. It is time that we recognise English as being THE language.
Shoilen Ghose, USA


Let's leave things the way they are

NA, UK
I remember Rajiv Gandhi ironically made a speech in English in South India as to why Hindi should be the national language. This sums up the Indian problem. Any one Indian language imposed over the whole of the country will be seen as trouble. Perhaps, let's leave things the way they are. We can credit the IT economic boom in India to the fact that we had to learn English!!
NA, UK

This will definitely facilitate easy communications between the diverse parts of India, each with its own language. But care should be taken that one doesn't neglect one's mother tongue. So children should be taught 2 languages: their mother tongue and English. If people have problems about making English the official language of India, then don't announce the decision formally, but at least make efforts to teach it to everyone, so that people can get around not only in India, but in most of the developed countries as well.
Amol, USA

From a nationalistic point of view, the idea of making English the official language of India seems quite outrageous, even insulting. On the other hand, having spoken English all my life, and having realised the advantages I have over others who don't, the concept of cementing the language's position in India seems quite an intelligent thing to do. As a pragmatic and a very open-minded nationalist, I believe India's command of the English language will give it an edge of other non-English speaking countries, in today's open global economy. More importantly though, in a country fragmented by issues of language, a common lingua franca might actually serve to unite us.
Vik Seshadri, Los Angeles, CA


English is a good compromise

Vincent Barreto, UK
In a country with a myriad of local languages, English is a good compromise. Most people I have met in India find the language the best medium of expression outside their own homogenous linguistic areas.
Vincent Barreto, UK

Each State has its own mother tongue as the official language. The federal government uses both Hindi and English as the official languages. Usage and utility have made English the de facto lingua franca and the language of business and science. Leave things as they are.
Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, USA

Using the English language is advantageous to communicate in areas like travelling, education, art and business but it shouldn't be a national language. Let it be the foreign language that every Indian should know and should be offered in school.
Vikram Jani, India

NO! English is the language to do business in. It should never be the official language. It would cause uproar in India where many languages exist! Let the status quo remain.
Amit, India

Using one language would breakdown barriers between the people and increase unity in India. Using English as the one language would help in making ties with the developed nations and other nations that use the language.
Nilesh Patel, Dallas, TX, USA

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See also:

10 May 01 | South Asia
India's language divide
17 May 00 | South Asia
Teaching English the Indian way
01 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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