Truth about the President calling for dignitaries to make speeches only in Hindi

Recently reports started coming out in the media which indicated that President Pranab Mukherjee had supposedly given his nod to the directive that all dignitaries including the President and the Union ministers were to give their speeches only in Hindi.

This supposed directive was reported in the media with the usual sensationalist flair in the headlines:

  • NDTV reported, “President Pranab Mukherjee Agrees That Dignitaries’ Speech in Hindi A Must”
  • Hindustan Times reported, “President, Union ministers may soon have to give speeches only in Hindi”
  • Economic Times reported, “President Pranab Mukherjee okays call for all speeches to be in Hindi”

Even op-eds started to be written about how India’s diversity was not being considered before allowing such a directive.

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The official use of Hindi has always been a bit of a touchy topic, with the Southern states like Tamil Nadu having protested against mandatory Hindi education in the past. So as the reports started to come out about various governmental dignitaries having to apparently make speeches only in Hindi, it started to ruffle a few feathers.

So what’s the deal with this directive, on whose recommendation did the President act, did the Modi government have something to do with it?

Well, this particular process began in 2011 when the ‘Committee of Parliament on Official languages’ submitted its 9th report. The chief job of this committee is to recommend [PDF] to the President, the ways which would make the use of Hindi more popular for official purposes. The recommendations would also include ways to restrict the use of English for official purposes, form of numerals which need to be used among others.

No government was responsible for forming this committee and it was commissioned in 1957 to fulfill the provisions of article 344 of the constitution which deals with the language of the Union. Since 1959 the committee has been making periodic recommendations in that regard.

In 2011 this committee submitted its 9th report and one such recommendation (no. 105) which has now been reportedly accepted by the President is causing all the hullabaloo.

The recommendation was [PDF]:

All dignitaries including Hon’ble President and all the Ministers especially who can read and speak Hindi may be requested to give their speech/statement in Hindi only.

So the recommendation clearly states that if the President and the ministers who can read and speak Hindi, should be requested to give their speeches in that language. Hence if someone doesn’t know Hindi, they can very well speak in the language of their comfort. But owing to its penchant for over the top headlines, media decided to misrepresent the headlines which to the normal reader possibly implied that all dignitaries come what may have to give speeches in Hindi.

Also the ‘may be requested’ tone of the recommendation doesn’t imply any use of force or compulsion to achieve that goal as that NDTV headline implied.

People might also be asking that this recommendation must surely have been made by a committee Chairman who belongs to the Hindi heartland and had a possible passion for the language. But actually the Chairman of the committee was P Chidambaram who hails from Tamil Nadu.

And even though the recommendation allows a leeway for non-Hindi speakers, what about those who have a passable knowledge of Hindi but are more comfortable in other languages like the dignitaries from Bengal or Maharashtra? As long as the above clause is purely recommendatory, it should not cause major discomfort to anyone, but if it is enforced strictly, then it will certainly create unnecessary issues.

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