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Constitutional Linguistic Justice against Hindi/Sanskrit Supremacy


Vivek Babu

Union of India’s Lingua-Franca Debate: An Introduction to Linguistic Justice Regime



 In recent decades, the European Union that emulated “Unity in Diversity” motto similar to Union of India1, had motivated and facilitated Francqui Prize laureate Philippe Van Parijs —a Belgian Political Philosopher & Economist and a key proponent of Basic Income Concept in European Union— to author a book titled “Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World”, which is for sure a gift to the world comprising philosophical and normative support globally with practical consequences towards institutionalising linguistic rights. The book is acclaimed for its strikingly first ever review and systematic treatment of justice principles for a linguistic social fabric, one that potentially presents itself as an important & innovative tool at hand for various ailing state-nations, nation-states, and unions globally.

 The key difference between the imperialism of English Vs Sanskrit/Hindi is that the latter gets imposed on the unwilling masses with the constitutional validity that gives a high pedestal to these latter two languages (Sanskrit/ Sanskritised Hindi) thereby undermining the spirit of equality, whereas the former is a global phenomenon, that happens under the competitive notion of achieving social justice around employment opportunity. While Hindi imperialism is obvious to many, the constitutional prominence given to Sanskrit too remains to be importantly noted. In the article 351 of the constitution, the very mention of “borrowing vocabulary PRIMARILY from Sanskrit”, places Sanskrit on a high pedestal than other languages or classical languages of the eighth schedule. This also becomes an excuse for imposing Sanskrit language education & Sanskritisation of cross-family languages across Indian union. Since the day this republic was established, there is very less evidence of Hindi (as official language) sourcing (borrowing) vocabulary from secondary enrichment source Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman and Dravidian eighth schedule languages, with the spirit of expressing composite culture of Union of India.


Directive for development of the Hindi language


Article 351. It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.


Official language of the Union

343. (1) The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.


(2) Notwithstanding anything in clause (1), for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement: Provided that the President may, during the said period, by order authorise the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union.


(3) Notwithstanding anything in this article, Parliament may by law provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years, of— (a) the English language, or (b) the Devanagari form of numerals, for such purposes as may be specified in the law.


The current struggle is more a battle of constitutional linguistic

justice, through the provision of equal constitutional value for all Indian Union language families and Languages, with a universal spirit of equality and justice.  


 Context-Dependent Application of Linguistic Justice Regime


 Philippe Van Parijs’s linguistic justice paradigm’s approach towards institutionalising linguistic diversity could be categorised into two complementary groups, first is instruments of linguistic justice and second is about contexts or dimensions of linguistic justice. After listing the types of contexts & instruments of linguistic justice, this article focuses in detail about the linguistic justice regime’s primary/inevitable instrument namely lingua-franca, that is being threatened increasingly by the present union government.


Dimensions and contexts of Linguistic Justice


 Namely “fair cooperation”, “equal opportunity”, “parity of esteem” and “linguistic territoriality” are four different dimensions/contexts/objectives of linguistic justice that are philosophically presented by the author with practical relevance for illustrative scenarios from Belgium and European Union. Whereas, the four contexts of Linguistic justice/injustice listed above could occur between competing languages or linguistic communities, whose if any negative externalities would be moderated using the instruments of linguistic justice appropriate to the specific contexts.


Instruments of Linguistic Justice


 The “Lingua Franca”, “Personality Principle”, “Territoriality Principle” and “Subsidiarity Principle” which are reviewed in this book could be said as instruments of linguistic justice. The personality and territoriality principle are instruments of rights devolution at the scale of individuals and territory respectively. That is, the personality principle defends an individual’s linguistic rights and the territoriality principle addresses respective territorial linguistic rights pertaining to official language status, medium of instruction or learning of territorial language as a compulsory subject. Whereas, subsidiarity principle addresses the right to use local language only excluding global language in everything that can be done through local language but allows the usage of global lingua franca only in the spheres where communication is between multilingual entities (groups or individuals).


Lingua-Franca Mechanisms


 a) Probability-driven learning mechanism 


 Probability-driven learning and maximin criterion is said to be the two mechanisms that are behind the spread of lingua-franca. Van Parijs explains that the “Probability-Driven Learning” of English (or any lingua franca for that matter) happens as the result of two different sub-mechanisms, namely competence acquisition and competence retainability. Therefore, the greater the probability of interactions in English, there would be a greater chance of learning English as well as retaining the learned/acquired competence. Also, he notes that probability driven learning is partly a matter of expected benefit, which also means users through motivation for potential prospects choose the English language as lingua-franca for benefits and opportunities, under the present globalised scenario. 


 b) Maximin mechanism 


 Van Parijs’s second mechanism of lingua franca is multilingual context-dependent language use selection i.e. Among an audience with multilingual skills which language would be used for communication? For example, if one chooses a language that is elegant and comfortable at one’s own personal skill level, without giving any consideration about the audience ability to understand then that is an ego-centric criterion, Sanskrit and Hindi both falls under this category. Whereas, when one chooses the language of the majority then it’s democratic criterion and this too would be inefficient because that excludes some of the audience, again Hindi comes under this criterion. Next, if a speaker chooses the language that is on average best known by the audience, then it is called maximin criterion, again this too disregards exclusion of some audience in communication, so author classifies all these three-language use criteria as Winner-take-all type of language use category. There is also fair division criterion which means, attempting to speak various languages according to the proportion of the respective language speakers in the audience, which is practically not possible and the least used criterion, when the intention is efficient communication. The final type of language use criterion is maximin, which means the language that could be understood at least minimally by a maximum number of people, which author defines it as maximal minimal competence criterion. The following excerpt about the language used by philosopher Van Parijs illustrates how the “efficient and inclusive communication” happens as the result of this maximin criterion.


“When having to address a multilingual audiencefrom a single person to a crowdyou will spontaneously ask yourself whether there is any language that is known to some extent by yourself and everyone else involved. If, to the best of your knowledge, there is one and only one such language, you will choose it as the single medium of communication. If there is none, you will tend to choose the language known to some extent by the greatest number. And if there is more than one, you will make a guess for each of them about the level of competence achieved by the person least competent in it, and you will choose the language for which this level of competence is highest. Choosing the maxi-min language amounts to minimizing exclusion, in the sense of achieving, as far as possible, effective communication with all addresses. It can also be viewed as minimizing effort, not in the sense that it allows speakers to express themselves in the language in which it is most comfortable for them to communicatewhich will tend to be their native languagebut in the sense that it makes communication between the people involved least laborious”.

So, having universalised the English language (not medium of instruction, not relevant under lingua-franca discussion) education in Indian union is the obvious choice of the language that makes communication least laborious for all. Choosing Hindi as lingua-franca would add additional burden with English. So, Hindi is clearly at losing trend when it comes to maximin criterion, that is globally spreading autonomous (non-state) fair language use criterion when it comes to multilingual environments. 

 Irreversible Maximin Dynamics 

 Further philosopher Van Parijs extends these language use mechanisms into language use dynamics by combining both probability driven learning mechanism and maximin criterion as  maximin dynamics to emphasize that, the feedback between these two mechanisms create the irreversible establishment of English as lingua franca. It’s also vital to note that as discussed earlier the probably expected benefit, causes probability-sensitive language learning aimed at opportunities and other incentives from social and economic systems.

 Network Power

 Finally, this maximin dynamics is prone to get accelerated in favour of the language that has high network power, i.e., as the number of people who use a language increases, that in return increases the expected utility from that language for the new and old subscribers of that language, thereby increasing overall network power of that language exponentially, in Union of India it is obviously English. And by the author, it is said that this exponential growth for English is bound to happen irrespective of its intrinsic qualities. So, the popular meme that “English is not Knowledge” is true, but it’s certainly a language of huge network power, that has the increased potential for exchanging information globally.

 However, here it’s also important to mention that languages evolved throughout the evolutionary period not for achieving the cross-territorial network power, but to pass on the inter-generational wisdom about native social-ecological systems from one generation to another for ecologically sustainable habitation, in a bounded intra-territorial information sharing while migrating & subsisting intra-territorially. Among the long evolutionary period of humans, only in recent few thousand years since Neolithic agriculture and later since trade and shipping increased, the network power is necessitated socially and economically for inter-territorial wisdom sharing. Ironically, there was a period when liturgical language Sanskrit expanded majorly for state formation as well as exclusionary oppressive power-sharing, rather than universal wisdom sharing, resulting in its stumped network power, in short intentions of capturing state power defeated network power expansion of Sanskrit.

So, globalized world’s network power rich lingua-franca English, is needed not only for wisdom sharing but also for inclusive power sharing at the scale of intraunional as well as interunional (Inter+nation = International, similarly Inter+Union =Interunional Let’s make the word international obsolete because, there are not many pure homogenous State-nations or nation-states in this world, majority are only unional, subunional and microunional, and there are so many masked identities under each so-called homogeneity boasting state systems. Most citizens around the globe are residing in one or the other form of Unions. The need of the hour is complementing diverse nationalisms with unionalism), through the process of democratising lingua-franca (English) education beyond the bounds of elite savarna.

 Sheer Power Trumps Irreversibility

 Now, so everything sounds impressive about lingua-franca’s ability to spread irreversibly, but would it remain irreversible if some state system tries to hamper (in favour of one or the other nationalistic lingua-franca like Hindi/Sanskrit) this maxi-min dynamics? No, maxi-min dynamics can’t withstand the sheer power of state systems. Unfortunately, Union of India marches ahead towards exercising sheer power, for realising full official language status for Deva-Bashaized Hindi in Devanagari script with Devanagari-numeral, which is evident from the recent attempts to expand the Sanskrit promotion & Hindi official language promotion and especially inclusion of Devanagari numerals through unconstitutional means in currencies. Therefore, as the rate of sheer power increases, without giving due consideration for aspirations of recognition and representation from diverse languages and language families, the historical 1938-1965 linguistic justice struggles are bound to reoccur. Hence, as a precautionary measure, Indian Union or South Asia wide efforts for protecting the spread and persistence of universal lingua-franca Globish (Independent from English socially and culturally, importantly making it simpler) is necessary. Above all, we must strive to prevent Sanskrit and Hindi interest groups from eroding the hard-earned fruits of “Anti-Hindi Imposition” struggles since 1938-1965, which is a first of its kind huge democratic victory of Union of India, that had global spinoff until now as vouched in the words of Philosopher Philippe Van Parijs as follows

………, had Stalin lost the battle of Stalingrad, and Hitler as a result won World War II, Europe’s graph of linguistic competence would definitely look quite different from the one shown above (1.1). And had India’s Southern states not fiercely and successfully resisted the planned adoption of Hindi as the Indian Union’s sole national language, it is not unreasonable to believe that the attraction of English in today’s China would be far less than it currently is.



  1. Diversity is, for example, the angle under which language appears in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000: art. 22): ‘the Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity’. And that the European Union regards diversity as a value it cherishes is further emphasized by the fact that, in May 2004, it chose as its motto ‘Unity in Diversity’ (‘In Varietate Concordia’), as did the Indian Union before, but in sharp contrast to the United States ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (Van Parijs, 2011).


van Parijs, Philippe. 2011. Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Knowledge Commons Credits-KCC:


(These are my personal acknowledgements -but more than mere acknowledgements- of people who offer their valuable knowledge, time and energy for humanity’s common cause like protecting linguistic diversity.)  


[A] I am thankful, and I inspire. Dr. Siddaraju Boregowda’s boldness, clarity, and conviction about universalness in exercising the rights and humanism beyond all kinds of narrow bounds, pertaining to issues of recognising all identities equally, be it small tribal languages or intermediate demographic languages.


[B] I thank respected Mr. Mani M. Manivannan for his first ever attempt of making PLE knowledge Commons platform really a place of knowledge sharing, by motivating participants to be aware about the fears of founding fathers of Indian Union by assigning Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s “Thoughts on Linguistic States” as reading material in the very first few weeks of PLE platform Inception.

 [C] I thank Dr. C. R. Selvakumar for introducing to the PLE platform members about the works of Robert Phillipson’s Linguistic Imperialism concepts as well as importance of mother tongue medium of instruction.

 [D] Also, I thankfully recall Mr. Kiran Batni’s (Pyramid of Corruption author and founder of “Diversity Watch” Knowledge commons platform) insightful words like “Diversity is given”, meaning its inevitable natural phenomenon, which provided a long lasting, philosophical and indelible meaning for my endeavours around the linguistic diversity issue.

 [E] Also, I thank Dr. Garga Chatterjee for his bold imagination around Prof. G. Aloysius’sregionalising India concept for language question and for his informative educative articles about organic federalism and inspiration he renders through his dialogue with and about cross-national (Bangladesh & Pakistan) linguistic sensitivities in South-Asia, as seed for South-Asian Peace.

 [F] Importantly, I thank CLEAR’s Mr. Aazhi Senthilnathan for bringing a leap in language policy discussions of PLE by introducing the Tove Skutnabb-Kangas’s Multilingualism Concept and its policy relevance for Indian Union scenario, thereby facilitating and motivating PLE to advance the language policy dialogue further.

[G] Also, I am indebted to Writer & Political Theory expert Mr. Valarmathi for his patience, motivation and interest in engaging many personal & introductory conversations and discussion about the linguistic Justice paradigm for Indian Union.

 [H] It’s my pleasure to thank Dr. Merlin Franco an Ethnobiologist & Endangered Language Conservationist, for his insights —while discussing about Orissa’s endangered linguistic tribal communities— that sensitised about fast approaching threats for endangered languages & interconnected sustainability traps and his emphasize on the importance of their intrinsic sovereignty in deciding their eco-socio-cultural realities and their future.

[I] Finally, I thank language rights enthusiast and observer, Mr. Arun Vignesh M for his infinite number of discussions and dialogue about nuances of language rights dynamics & debates existing among various sections of societies.



Vivek Babu is a biological science graduate, who is interested in protecting linguistic diversity that is closely tied to native ecosystems. He is the Telugu Language admin and also one of the founding members of Promote Linguistic Equality: Hindi is not the national language of India, a Knowledge Commons platform for language and linguistic policy knowledge sharing.


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