The Gandhian Approach to the Language Problem

Jawaharlal Nehru's speech on laying the foundation stone of Central Institute of Education, Delhi University, 18 April 1949. 

Although I have to make preparations for my journey to London, I felt it necessary to be present here on this occasion in view of the importance of the work for which this Institute is meant. Sometimes, doubts assail me whether the type of education or the products of education one sees are really good. In fact sometimes it is definitely bad. That, of course, does not mean that education is bad but it does mean that something has gone wrong in the process of education and that has to be put right. The deterioration in the educational standards amongst teachers and students is because of the recent events in the country. This can be arrested but it is only possible when the seriousness of the situation is fully realized. In India, unfortunately, an amazing importance is attached to passing examinations and getting degrees, probably because in the past the avenues open to young men in India were very limited and the passport to government service was a degree.

Thus university degrees become more and more important here than anywhere else in the world. The object was not to train one’s mind or to make one more capable or efficient but just to get a degree somehow by hook or by crook. The other day when a very distinguished person, a member of the government, visited a university, a request was made on behalf of the students of that university that to celebrate the visit, more people should be made to pass the examination than usual. This is a very extraordinary state of affairs. A holiday being declared in favour of such a visit is natural but to pass students who have failed will be very extraordinary.

This is a most dangerous attitude because the progress of any country depends on the maintenance of high standards. Unless there are a sufficient number of firstrate people the nation would rapidly become a second-rate country. Education is not intended for passing examinations and holding degrees as a passport for entry into government service, but for character building and development of personality.

There is excitement here and excited speeches are delivered occasionally as to whether the national language should be Hindi or Hindustani. Urdu is hardly referred to and has dropped out of the race. This language question is eminently a question which people, wise in languages and wise in other things should determine. There is no essential difference in this matter. It is a question of content, name, some emphasis this way or that way. I do not myself understand how a language can be made by a statute or legislation. It may be encouraged, of course, by an educational process but living languages grow from the people, not from small literary coteries but from the common people as well as from the educated people at the top.

I would personally hate to confine a language in a strait jacket. Apart from that, much can be said on both sides in this argument that is taking place, but what distresses me is the way the argument is carried on, the narrow-minded way in which people talk and discuss and try to force their views down the throats of others who do not agree with them.

Everybody knows that obviously Hindi is the most powerful language of India. Nobody can challenge its place in India but it is the misfortune of Hindi that it has collected round it some advocates who continually do tremendous injury to its cause by advocating it in a wrong way. It is extraordinary how some of the advocates of Hindi have succeeded often enough in prejudicing Hindi in the eyes of others, some people because they have proceeded in the wrong way and some people because they have shown how narrow-minded they are, how it is not that they love Hindi so much, but they hate other things. Hatred is not a constructive force or a force that should come into play in such a question.

Their approach is a negative approach. Hindi is bound to grow and take a dominant place in India. Let us build it, but they go further and deny this language or that language or deny a certain content to that language, Hindustani or Hindi whatever you call it. That is not the right approach. It is a bad approach and it seems to me somehow to reflect that narrow-minded mentality out of which communalism has grown in this country. If we bring in that narrow-minded or communal approach, it does harm to our mental outlook.

Even in this question of language, very wisely Gandhiji showed us a way which was deeply rooted in the minds of the people, as all his things were. He was a man of the people. He could not think in terms of a few erudite people sitting at the top of some literary academies.

Some of us in the last 30 years or more grew up under the Gandhian tradition. I do not suppose we lived up to it. We were rather feeble and we often strayed from the right path. Nevertheless, we were powerfully influenced by it and it is rather painful and distressing to see how people are shouting out the name of Gandhiji quite casually and without any serious thought of things which Gandhiji certainly opposed all his life and which are contrary to all that he said.


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