LINGUISTIC MINORITIES IN INDIA
The concept of linguistic minority in India is a relational one, and no one definition captures the essence of all kinds of linguistic minorities that the national planning and language planning has thrown up in the country. In the British India, India was perceived to have 'English' 'the Indian vernaculars', 'provincial languages', and other 'dialects'. Then, the word 'minorities' meant mainly the religious minorities. This was inevitable because, for the British, the major power to contend with in the acquisition of Indian territories was the Mughal empire, which happened to be a Muslim rule over the majority Hindu. Their world view was thus shaped by this dichotomy. The progress of the struggle for the independence of India since the partition of Bengal and even before this point in modern history, revolved around the world view that the India consisted of Hindu-Muslim societies.
The Notion of linguistic minorities is largely the contribution of independent India. The British went after their administrative convenience. Moreover, several of the Indian territories they acquired and integrated were already multilingual under some princely rule or the other. They have established themselves in their chosen settlements long before their incessant acquisition of territories began. Their central trading posts had become multilingual, and the empire began spreading out from these factory towns. The English became the language of government; there was no compulsion on them to divide the territories on the basis of the dominant Indian languages used in each of these territories. Growing linguistic identity consciousness among the people of various presidencies and provinces became a focal point for the Indian National Congress in their attempt to mobilize popular support for the struggle for independence.
The Congress in many of its resolutions recognized the popular aspirations and thus they could not avoid creating linguistically organized states. Thus, focused linguistic majority-minority concept is mainly the result of the creation of linguistic states and choice/categorization of language(s) by the language policy of the Union and the governments of States and Union Territories.
The Report of the State Reorganization Commission (1955 : 260) recommended that Constitutional recognition should be given to the right of linguistic minorities to have instruction in their mother- tongues at the primary school stage subject to a sufficient number of students being available." Hence, after the reorganization of the states in 1956 , Articles 350 A and 350 B were included into the Constitution which state that: It shall be the endeavor of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother- tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; 350(1) There shall be a special officer for linguistic minorities to be appointed by the President.
(2) It shall be the duty of the special officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under this Constitution and report to the President upon these matters at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament, and sent to the government of the states concerned.
The Indian linguistic minorities are the products of State policy. The reorganization provided space for the growth of many regional languages. Now, the states are further reorganized on the lines of issues, like underdevelopment and development of the regions within a state. The demands are on for their further division of linguistic states for social and economic reasons. These divisions are on the lines of some of the divisions that existed in pre-independence India, such as provinces. These further divisions may not create some more linguistic minorities.
Another important feature in India's linguistic scenario is the of layering of linguistic minorities unlike in most of the other countries, and also existence of different kinds of linguistic minorities. Many times, the identification of these kinds is domain-specific, or geography- specific. Speakers of one language are minority at one level, and they are majority at another level. Speakers of some of the languages remain minority at all the levels. Some of them tend to have a religious or tribal affiliation added to their feature as linguistic minority. And hence, the Constitution of India does not define as to who the linguistic minorities are. However, as we saw above, the Constitution has provided safeguards for them. Hence, the definition of linguistic minorities is generally taken for granted as a known commonsense fact than a concept to be defined or identified. The definition used to identify them is largely context- bound.