Article 343 of the Indian Constitution provides Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the Union government and Article 351 makes it the duty of the Union Government to promote the spread of the Hindi and develop it to serve as a medium of expression for all elements of the composite culture of India and enrich it by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages specified in the 8th Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.

But Hindi adoption, imposition, and promotion in the post-independent India have also courted a lot of controversies. There have been fierce oppositions from many southern states over any attempt of Hindi imposition therein. It has also been argued that the kind of highly Sanskritised Hindi that the government imposes or promotes is entirely different from the Hindi as is spoken by the so-called Hindi speakers in the Hindi speaking areas. Does this mean Hindi has been misappropriated or taken over by something that is not the Hindi?

This Article shall deal with these issues in some detail from a subaltern, Bahujan and Islamic perspective. In Chapter 1, the Article shall talk about the origin and evolution of different forms and variations of Hindi over centuries; that how in the Nastaliq (Arbo-Persian) script it became the semi-official language of India in the latter Mughal and British eras; and how it came under the communal onslaught of Hindu Upper castes who aggressively began Sanskritising and Brahmanising it in the Devanagri script from the late 19th century onwards that resulted in the division of Hindi.

In Chapter 2, the Article discusses the opinions and reactions of mainstream Congress leaders on the dispute over different forms of Hindi such as Persianised Urdu, Sanskritised Hindi, and mixed Hindustani; and the debates and deliberations in the Indian constituent assembly over Hindi and its analysis from a subaltern and Islamic perspectives.

Finally, in Chapter 3, the Article deals with post-independent issues with Hindi such as over Sanskritisation, clandestine imposition and promotion over non-Hindi speaking areas, dialect problems, and economic viability, etc. It also looks into the judicial interpretations and whether the supporters of Hindi are relying on the original intent of the constitution-makers for excessive Sanskritisation and why there is a great disconnect between the colloquial Hindia and the official Hindi.


The terms ‘Hind’ Hindi’ Hindu’Hindustani’ are said to have been coined by those who came to India from the West and include Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Turks, etc. As opposed to ‘Bharat’ or ‘Aryavarta’ which have racial/caste connotations, these terms have geographic orientations and are based on the phonetic variations of the River Sindhu (Indus). Over a period of time during the Muslim rule, the India subcontinent came to be known as ‘al-Hind’ (the Hind) or ‘Hindustan’ (the place of Hindis/Hindus) and the residents regardless of their religion came to be known as ‘Hindi’ and ‘Hindu’. For instance, a phrase in the official title of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb refers to him as ‘Shahanshah-e-Sultanat-al-Hind’ which means the King of Kings of the Hind Empire. The terms were used interchangeably and got entrenched in scores of books and travelogues written since then such as Tarikh al-Hind (the history of India); Kitab-al-Hind (The book of India); and Tahqiq-al-Hind (Inquiry/Discovery of India), etc.

Evolution of Hindi as a language

In the early 11th century newly Islamicised nomadic tribes of central Asia defeated the fringe Hindu upper castes as the rulers of Northern India and established the powerful Delhi Sultanate. At that time, various Indo-Aryan dialects were spoken by the residents therein including Khariboli, Brajboli, Awadhi, Prakrit, etc. Though the official court language of the Delhi Sultanate remained Arabic or Persian but over a period of time due to incessant interaction between the administrators, bureaucrats, armies and the residents, the local tongues especially the dialects in and around Delhi came to be heavily supplemented with Arabic, Persian and Turkic words and their variants. Notwithstanding the court language and disciplines therein, this beautifully hybridized language became the preferred language of interaction for rulers, officials and subjects alike. Poets and scholars began writing excellent pieces of literature and masterpieces in this language and started referring it in various terms such as Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta, Khariboli, Ordu, and Dehalvi, etc. Since the language got evolved and enriched due to the interactions of soldiers of mixed races and nationalities in Muslim army camps of India, it also became famous as Jabaan-e-Urdu-e-Mualla (the language of the exalted camps) and Lashkari Jabaan (Army tongue). Note that the term ‘Urdu’ for this language was first used by Ghulam Hamdani in the later 18th century.

Sufi-Bhakti movements and Hindi

Sufis gave a further boost to this language through their literary geniuses and got it engrained in common people’s minds and hearts in forms of various couplets, nazms, and poems. Rulers and subjects both were impressed by its simplicity and elegance and incorporated it in their daily conversations in varying forms and degrees. Many Mughal Emperors including Aurangzeb were fluent in Hindi and Brajboli. During the reign of later Mughals, it acquired great linguistic prestige so much so that even emperors and their official poets started writing in this language. In this regard, the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and poet Mirza Ghalib’s writings are quite famous even today in both India and Pakistan.

Hindi (Nastaliq Script) as the semi-official language of the British Raj

In 1835, after studying and surveying that it had become the lingua-franca or the common connecting tongue in North India (including the area under Pakistan), the English East India Company replaced Persian with Hindi in Nastaliq (Arab-Persian script) as the semi-official and English as the official language in their territories across India. They referred to it as ‘Hindustani’ and it also became the sole official language in many of the provinces such as Punjab, Delhi, UP, Bihar, etc. Britishers commissioned various researches and programs for its standardization, promotion, and entrenchment. At the same, famous orientalists like John Gilchrist and SW Fallon, authored a massive and comprehensive English-Hindi dictionary in Nastaliq, Nagari, and Roman scripts and can be easily accessed from the archive site.

Hindu Upper Castes & the communalisation of Hindi

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, many Hindu Upper Caste intellectuals began their diatribe against Hindi (in Nastaliq script known as Urdu, Hindustani, etc) and started demanding Hindi in Devanagari script be made the official language in several provinces. Even though they were well-versed in Nastaliq Hindi, yet they abhorred it and associated it with Muslims. A section of Hindu Upper castes began propagating anti-Muslim sentiments amongst Hindus. In northern provinces, they gave it a communal twist, by declaring that Hindi in Nastaliq script (Urdu) was the language of Muslims and therefore all Hindus must abandon it.

They started steering Hindi in Sanskrit’s direction in Nagri/Devanagri script. Their relative economic prosperity during the British rule helped them in coming up with the massive amounts of newspapers, journals, and books in heavily Sanskritised Hindi (in Nagri script). They were also successful in otherizing Hindi Nastaliq as a Muslim tongue. Over a period of time, they were successful in pressurizing the British Indian government in recognizing this Sanskritised Hindi in Nagri script as the official language in many northern provinces such as UP and Bihar.

In 1881, Sanskritised Hindi in Nagri script completely replaced Nastaliq Hindi (Urdu) as the sole official language of the Bihar province. This fuelled massive fear, suspicion, and anger amongst Muslims intelligentsia against the Hindu upper castes. Hindu upper-caste nationalists also tried their level best to impose Nagri Hindi in Punjab. All these events are believed by many to be the real genesis behind the Pakistan movement. This period also saw the emergence of great Hindi (Nastaliq) scholars such as Allama Iqbal, Abul Ala Maududi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, etc who drew heavily from Persian and Arabic.

The Hindi-Hindustani-Urdu Divide

Aggressive Sanskritisation of Hindi by Brahmanical forces and counter-reaction by Muslim scholars in the form of increased Persianisation led to the visible trifurcation of Hindi. In common parlance, Sanskritised Hindi in Nagri script retained or misappropriated the name ‘Hindi’ while Hindi in Nastaliq script drawing heavily from Arabic and Persian became Urdu and the amalgamation of both became famous as ‘Hindustani’. Notwithstanding this hostile onslaught, the Hindi drawing heavily from Hindustani remained the lingua-franca of greater North India and still remains so even after the imposition of Nagri script over a period of time.

To read parts II and III, go over here and here.


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