The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Thaughats of Mahatma Gandhi on National Language

Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338



Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi on National Language


There are so many spoken languages in India. So it was a great question in front of leaders. Which language will be national language? Mahatma Gandhi was very worried on this question. He went every part of India. He had learnt many languages in South Africa and India. So he knew very well the importance of language. After many experiment he told that Hindustani will be the National Language of India. Mahatma Gandhi gave interview, “Q. Do you consider it necessary that the business of the Congress should be conducted in Hindi, our national language?

A. I do. So long as public business is not conducted in Hindi, the country cannot make progress. So long as the Congress does not use Hindi for all its work, swaraj is not possible.

Q. But how can it be possible for people of all the provinces all of a sudden to learn Hindi and start speaking it?

A. I do not say that the provinces should all give up their own languages and start speaking, and writing Hindi. In provincial matters, the provincial languages may be used. But national questions ought to be deliberated in the national language only. It is not a very difficult mater. It can be easily done. We should use Hindi for the work that we are today doing in English.”1

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Can English become our national language? Some of our learned men, good patriots, contend that even to argue that English should become the national language betrays ignorance, that it is already so. His Excellency the Viceroy in his recent speech merely expressed the hope that it would occupy this place.”2 Mahatma Gandhi said “that it had already become our national language and that there could be no question about it. He believes, however, that English will spread in the country day by day, enter our homes, and finally attain the exalted status of a national language. On a superficial consideration, this view appears correct. Looking at the educated section of our population, one is likely to gain the impression that, in the absence of English, all our work would come to a stop. But deeper reflection will show that English cannot, and ought not to, become our national language.”3

Mahatma Gandhi spoke, “It would be a great advantage if Lokamanya Tilak would speak in Hindi. He should, like Lord Dufferin and Lady Chelmsford, try to learn Hindi. Even Queen Victoria learned Hindi. It is my submission to Malaviyaji that he should see to it that, at the Congress next year, no speeches are made in any language except Hindi. My complaint is that, at the Congress yesterday, he did not speak in Hindi.” Mahatma wrote the resolution, “That, in view of the fact that the Hindi language is very widely used by the people of the different provinces and is easily understood by the majority of them, it seems practicable to take advantage of this language as a common language for India.”5

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Hindustani, i.e., a blend of Hindi and Urdu, should be accepted as the national language for future use. So, the future members of the councils will take a pledge that till the use of English is stopped in correspondence, etc., at the national level, Hindustani should be used in the Imperial Council and regional languages should be used in the Provincial Councils. They should resolve that Hindustani would be implemented as the compulsory co-language in middle schools with freedom to choose either the Devanagari or the Urdu script. English language will be accepted in the field of administrative matters,
diplomacy, and international trade.”6 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “While on the subject of language, some experiences about Hindustani come to my mind. My use of this language is full of errors of grammar. Even so people listen to my Hindustani with love. At some places I tell students that I am ready to speak in English, but they prefer Hindustani. There were in particular three such occasions, in Allahabad, in Patna and in Nagpur, and on each one the students wanted me to speak in Hindustani. Everyone had believed that in Dacca I would have no option but to speak in English, but the people asked for Hindustani and listened to my speech with attention. I see that those public workers, like me, who speak Hindustani with facility, find their path clear wherever they go in India. There is some difficulty only in the Bengal and Madras presidencies. Experience shows every day that, with growing awakening among the ordinary people, public speakers have no choice but to speak in Hindustani once they leave their province. It is very necessary that such speakers in Gujarat, if they wish to work on the all-India plane, should learn Hindustani.”7

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have always endeavored to make Hindustani the national language of India. That no language except 1 For Gandhiji’s experiences in Assam, Hindustani can be the national language is beyond doubt. Only a language spoken by tens of millions of Hindus and Muslims can be a language common to the whole country.”8 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Moreover, in his zeal to make English the official language of the Congress, the correspondent has forgotten the agitation that has been going on in the Congress ever since its inception for a wider recognition of Hindustani as the common medium and that there is now already a resolution of the Congress making Hindustani the common medium. The correspondent seems to think that I decry the use of even learning English, which I have never done. That the English-speaking Indians have rendered immense service to the country nobody can deny, but unfortunately it is equally undeniable that further progress is being blocked by us English-speaking Indians refusing to learn the language of the masses and to work amongst them in accordance with methods best suited to them. The instance given by the correspondent of Mr. Chen is beside the point. I do not know what he is doing, but I do know that he is not speaking to the Chinese masses through English. And all I have claimed is that at our mixed mass meetings where the language of the province will not be understood by all, if any other language is to be adopted, it must be Hindustani. Surely, it is a proposition which does not admit of any challenge.”9

Mahatma Gandhi spoke, “I do not object to your learning English for the sake of acquiring knowledge or for the sake of earning your livelihood but I object to your giving so much importance to English and giving a low place to your national language, Hindi. I do not think it is right on your part to use in your conversation with your friends and relatives any other language than your national language or your mother tongue. Have love for your own language. I have to make request to my student friends. In the measure in which you learn English learn the national language and leave the glamour of the foreign tongue. I am grateful to you for this address presented to me in Hindi printed in Devanagari script.”10 Mahatma Gandhi spoke, “From the addresses I am receiving in the United Provinces I have come to know many things. In this article I wish to consider them only from the point of view of language. I have with me three examples from which I choose the following sentences2: These three are examples of Hindi or Hindustani, that is, the national language. One is stuffed with only Persian-Arabic words which an average Hindu will not be able to follow. Another is replete with Sanskrit words which an average Muslim can never understand. The third is such that it can be grasped by any average Hindu or Muslim. Here, Sanskrit or Arabic-Persian words do not appear to be deliberately avoided or chosen. If we wish to make Hindi the national language, if Hindus and Muslims both wish to build up unity, we cannot deliberately banish Sanskrit or Arabic-Persian words. That is to say, while writing or speaking the language, we should not harbour hatred in our minds towards each other or towards each other’s speech. On the other hand, there should be love for each other. When a Muslim finds a Hindu using Persian-Arabic words, he feels pleased. In the same manner, the Hindu’s regard for the Muslim grows when he aptly uses Sanskrit words also on occasion.

By adopting suitable words from all the three languages Hindi is enriched and gains in prestige; the language becomes sweeter. The fact is, if we do not harbour hatred for a particular language, we shall not feel embarrassed in borrowing from it to enrich and develop our language.

The numbers of words most used in the essays and books that are written

in Hindi nowadays will not exceed three hundred according to my estimate. Within so few words is all Hindi learning circumscribed. We think, write essays or books and give speeches within this narrow compass. How many things used every day in our homes, fields and factories have no Hindi names and how many ideas have no appropriate Hindi words? If this is true, it is very sad and shameful; it is a sign of poverty of thought. It is said that Shakespeare used 20,000 words in his works, and Milton 10,000 words. What a wealth of words in their language and what poverty in ours! In spite of this state of affairs, if we wish to make our national language glorious, then, at least for its own sake we must increase our knowledge. It is not a matter of shame to borrow words from another language and make them our own. It is shameful only when we do not know the words current in our language and therefore use those of another; for example, when we forget the word ghar and say house, or employ mother for mata, father for pita, husband for pati and wife for patni.”11

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Although all people theoretically admit that Hindi alone can be the national language, yet the requisite love for the Hindi language is not apparent among young men of the provinces where the mother tongue is Hindi. Whatever literature is being published in Hindi is mostly translation. If, however, some original piece does come out it is found to be insignificant. It might be argued that Rabindranath is not born every day and Tulsidas is one among millions. Nevertheless, all of us can at least create a climate for the advent of poets like Tulsidas and Rabindranath, namely, a sincere zeal among young men. As their devotion to Hindi grows so would Hindi pervade the environment, leading to a flowering of a few genuine poets as well? Today neither the fervour nor the endeavour is manifest in the language of the young men having Hindi as their mother tongue. The grammatical errors occurring in the Hindi of the young men of U.P. and Bihar are not at all to be seen among the Bengalis and Maharashtrians. No doubt the national language is being propagated in provinces like Madras, etc.; but I have seen that Hindi teachers are not easily available. They are not energetic and their capacity for self-sacrifice is very limited. There ought to be innumerable young men ready to dedicate themselves exclusively to the propagation of Hindi; but I have not come across such persons, if any. Undoubtedly young men are available who are eager to serve at subsistence wages, but they are not equipped to teach Hindi.

If young men will it, this shortcoming can be overcome. With the initiative of a single young man this work can make progress. If one loses heart and rests on one’s oars in face of a distressing situation in a certain field, the situation deteriorates further. It is the duty of a devoted person to try to relieve the distress without delay and not sit with folded hands fearing obstacles on the way. Every school should have an association for the promotion of Hindi. It would be the duty of such associations to make progressive use of Hindi in all fields, to evolve new technical words, never to use a foreign language in politics, etc., to make a sound study of abstruse books, to provide Hindi teachers wherever necessary and to organize volunteer Hindi teachers for honorary work, etc. Even if a single young man in every school is fired with this zeal he will not stay inert but will sprout into an association and will induce his fellow-students to join it. The only way to keep up the awakening among the young men today is for them to utilize every moment of their lives for some sort of social service. It is to be noted that in this article Hindi also means Hindustani.”12

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “English would still be retained as a cultural language. It would be as useful to us as French to Europe. Hindustani would become the national language used in courts and universities. Native vernaculars, many of which possess rich literatures, and are spoken by 2, 00,00,000 to 4,00,00,000 are to be encouraged.”13 Mahatma Gandhi replied, “I am glad that you recognize the importance of Hindi as a national language. I have no doubt in my mind that as English is the language highly important for the international and commercial purposes, so is Hindi important for the interprovincial purposes. Yet I wish that it was possible for you to have enabled wanderers like me to speak to you in the national language.”14 Mahatma Gandhi told; “Unfortunately, however, this national aim is not precisely understood. Many, who possess wrong notions of purity of language or literary elegance, persist in using too many classical expressions, the Hindus from Sanskrit and the Muslims from Persian and Arabic. Sometimes this tendency is deliberately fostered by communalists, whence has arisen the Hindi-Urdu controversy. Babu Rajendra Prasad much deplored this spirit of exclusiveness both because it hindered the growth of national language and because it widened the gulf between the authors and the common readers. He rightly commended the use of a simple language and at the same time urged the absorption of foreign words wherever necessary. He would have brought out his point more clearly if he had definitely suggested that the language which should be specially cultivated should be Hindustani. That is, we believe, the suggestion made by Gandhi himself at the Nagpur Conference. The most effective way to end once for all the Hindi-Urdu controversy and to develop a national language is not only to propagate a simple or popular form of Hindi and Urdu but also to call that language Hindustani, which in fact is its most appropriate name. In order that much confusion and needless controversy regarding the respective claims of Hindi and Urdu may be avoided, may we suggest to the Congress President to issue definite instructions to all Congress organizations that the only national language to be recognized by them should be Hindustani and that Congressmen should not carry on propaganda in favour of either Urdu or Hindi being the national language?”15

Mahatma Gandhi told, “a language which the largest number of people already know and understand and which the others can easily pick up. This language is indisputably Hindi. It is spoken and understood by both Hindus and Muslims of the North. It is called Urdu when it is written in the Urdu character. The Congress, in its famous resolution passed at the Cawnpore session in 1925, called this all-India speech Hindustani. And since that time, in theory at least, Hindustani has been the Rashtra-bhasha. I say “in theory” because even Congressmen have not practiced it as they should have.2 In 1920 a deliberate attempt was begun to recognize the importance of Indian languages for the political education of the masses, as also of an all-India common speech which politically-minded India could easily speak and which Congressmen from the different provinces could understand at all- India gatherings of the Congress. Such national language should enable one to understand and speak both forms of speech and write in both the scripts.” 16

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Muslims were the first to create literature in Hindustani. Their fakirs and saints used this language for their religious teachings and explained the principles of the Sufi religion in it also. Later, poets adopted it, and because Muslims used the language there came about a mixture of Persian and Hindi words. The sounds of Persian and Arabic letters also crept in which are not found in Brij but which have remained in Hindi up to date. The colloquial language which the Muslims employed is the language spoken even today round about Meerut and Delhi. It is termed Khari Boli or Hindustani. Modern Hindustani, Hindi and Urdu are three forms of this language. Hindi and Urdu are its literary forms, into which many Sanskrit and Persian and Arabic words have freely crept. Hindustani is that form of the language which includes both Sanskrit and Persian words. Writers of Hindustani lean towards one or the other according to their taste. But they try to avoid both as much as possible. In my opinion neither Hindi nor Urdu should be the lingua franca of India. Either we must agree to call Hindi the language of the Hindus and Urdu that of the Muslims, or we must try to make Hindustani the common language. So long as we call either Hindi or Urdu the national language we are certain to raise a controversy.”17

Mahatma Gandhi answered, “Q. 1. The Persian script did not originate in India. It came during the Mogul period just as the Roman script has with the advent of the British. But you do not advocate the Roman script for the national language. Why then the Persian?

A. If the Roman script had made a home for itself in India in the same way as the Persian, I would agree with you. But the knowledge of the former is confined to a mere handful of English-knowing persons, while crores of Hindus and Muslims are conversant with the latter. You should try to find out the exact number of persons knowing the Roman and Persian scripts respectively.

Q. 2. If you advocate the learning of Urdu for the sake of Hindu-Muslim unity, then please remembers that a large number of Mussalmans in India do not know Urdu. They are conversant only with their own provincial languages. These people would far more easily understand a national language comprising words familiar to their provincial languages. The North Indian languages are all derived from Sanskrit and therefore resemble each other a good deal. Sanskrit words have even crept to a large extent into the Southern languages. Then why advocate for these people the learning of an unfamiliar Urdu tongue full of Arabic and Persian words?

A. There is force in your argument. But I would like you to delve a little deeper into the question. I admit that in asking people to learn the Persian script I have at the back of my mind a contribution to Hindu-Muslim unity. There has been a long-standing conflict between the Hindi and Urdu tongues as between the two scripts. Today it has assumed a virulent form. In 1935 in Indore the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, while defining Hindi, gave a definite place to the Persian script. In 1925 the Congress gave the national language the name of Hindustani.3 Both scripts were made permissible. Thus Hindi plus Urdu was recognized as the national language. The question of Hindu-Muslim unity was definitely in the forefront in all these decisions. I have not raised this issue today. I have only given it a concrete form. It is a logical outcome of events. If we want to develop the national language to the fullest extent, it behooves us to give the two scripts an equal status. In the end whichever is appreciated more by the people will be the more widespread.

The provincial languages are closely allied to Sanskrit, and it is true that lacs of Muslims are conversant only with their provincial languages, and that Hindi and the Devanagari script will, therefore, be easier for them to learn than Urdu and the Persian characters. My scheme will not interfere with this. In fact the people will benefit more than ever by learning the Persian script. Your trouble arises because you look upon this as a burden. Whether it is a gain or a burden depends on the outlook of the learner. He who is filled with a love of country will never consider such learning a burden. There will be no compulsion by my scheme. Only those who consider it a gain will learn the Persian script or the Devanagari as the case may be.

Q. 3. A very large proportion of persons in India know the Devanagari script. Surely Punjabis, Sindhis and the Frontier folk can easily learn it too.

A. The reply to this is really embodied in the preceding answer. Frontier people and others will have to learn the Devanagari script.

Q. 4. A national language is really more for speech than literary purposes. Its script is, therefore, not so essential or is, at any rate, of secondary importance. Moreover is it not easier to learn the national language through the script of the mother tongue? And where would be the harm in so doing?

A. You are right. It is easier to learn the national language through the script of the mother tongue. As far as I know this is being done in Southern India though perhaps not systematically. Unlike you I do not look upon the learning of two scripts as a burden. It is not so hard as you fear. I can never be opposed to the learning of the national language through the script of the mother tongue. Given the keenness to learn it, all systems will be employed.

Q. 5. If it is not possible to make real contacts with the non-Hindi-knowing provinces until some of us have learnt the national language, why not limit the acquiring of this knowledge to workers only? Why make it obligatory for the whole of India?

A. The question of everyone learning Hindustani does not arise. Indeed everyone will never do so. The necessity is for those who have to travel and those who want to serve. The latter’s ability for service will be greatly increased by knowledge of both languages and scripts. If you agree, your opposition and suspicion should subside.

Q. 6. Today the national language is written in both scripts. Whoever wants to learn can choose the one he prefers. Why the insistence on both?

A. In spite of my so-called insistence, only those will learn it who finds real gain in so doing. In my eyes he who knows only one of the languages and one script will be half-equipped. If he desires a full certificate from me, he must be conversant with both. I am sure you will have no objection to the desirability of there being many such persons in the country. And unless this number goes on increasing there will never be a proper blending of Hindi and Urdu. The Congress ideal of Hindustani will never be fulfilled. That Hindus and Mussalmans in the Hindi-knowing provinces should have a common speech is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Many of us cling to this hope, and some day it will certainly come to pass.

Q. 7. Will it not be a terrible burden and a futile endeavour for people of the non-Hindi-speaking provinces to learn the national language through both scripts at the same time? To learn first one and then the other would surely be simple.

A. The answer to this will best come from experience. He who does not know either script will not learn both at the same time. He will master one before commencing on the other. So far as the vocabulary is concerned the words used in the text books in the early stages will more or less be the same. I look upon my scheme as a most important and useful experiment. If it is properly worked, it will be found to have energized the nation and made a big contribution towards giving practical shape to the Congress resolution. I hope lacs of patriotic men and women will take to it.

Q. 8. Certain changes must inevitably take place in any language, as for example, the ingress of foreign words which become part of the language and cannot be evicted. But Devanagari has been the traditional script all through the ages. During the period of the Mogul dynasty the Persian script came in. But Gujarati, Marathi, etc., while assimilating Persian, Arabic and English words, have not abandoned the script. Why should the Devanagari script then not be maintained?

A. There is no question of giving up anything that is ours by tradition. It is a question of adding to or improving what already exists. If I know Sanskrit, what harm if I learn Arabic too, or vice versa? The result will probably be an enrichment of my knowledge of either language. And my contacts with the Arabs or Hindus, as the case may be, will increase. Surely there can be no opposition to the acquiring or right knowledge in any sphere.

Q. 9. From the point of view of easy mastery over the pronunciation of the national language, is not the Devanagari script the best? The Persian script is surely defective for the purpose.

A. You are right, but your opposition to the Persian script has no place here. Devanagari is not to be displaced. It is a question of adding to the existing knowledge.

Q. 10. Where is the need for a national language? Will not the mother tongue and an international language suffice? And then why not the Roman script for both?

A. Your question surprises me. English no doubt is the international language. But can it ever be our national language? The latter must be the common property of millions of our people. How can they sustain the burden of learning the English tongue? Hindustani is the natural national language, for it is already understood by 21 crores. The remainder of the population can also easily understand it. But English may be said to be the mother tongue of a mere handful say, a lac at the most. If India is a nation, it must have a national language. English will appropriately remain the international language with the Roman script. But the latter can never be the script of the national language.”18

Mahatma Gandhi wrote foreword, “Bhai Jivanji has brought out at the right moment a collection of my writings and speeches on the subject of our national language. I have not found it possible to go through all the writings collected here but I have read the first twenty pages. I made the first speech3 on this subject in 1917. And I hold the same views today as those expressed in the speech or thereafter from time to time. The only difference is that they are now stronger, clearer and more definite than before. Hindi and Urdu have always been inseparable to me. I have also quite freely used the word Hindustani. I am saying the same thing today that I did in the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan session at Indore in 1918. Hindustani is not Urdu but a happy amalgam of Hindi and Urdu which people in Northern India may easily understand and which may be written either in the Nagari or Urdu script. That alone is the perfect national language; all others are imperfect. For the present those who desire to learn the national language fully and not partially must learn both the scripts and know both the forms. It is a duty demanded of us by our love for the nation. Those who learn it will gain, those who do not will lose.”19

Mahatma Gandhi wrote a note, “Why should Rameshwaribehn write in English? To the extent possible all business should be transacted in the national language. Rameshwaribehn should write about father only in the national language. The entire biography should be written in the national language it may well be translated into English later.”20 Mahatma Gandhi replied: “It is not a question of liking or disliking. If you do not like the Urdu script, then I conclude that you do not like Hindustani. The Urdu script must be learnt. Without effort and sacrifice we cannot dream of winning freedom. So far as the provinces of Bombay, Gujarat and Maharashtra are concerned, the question of learning the Nagari script does not arise at all as everybody knows it already. Then, where does Hindustani Prachar come in? In learning the other script, do not think you are conferring a favour on anyone. It should be considered as your duty. It is a national work and everyone should do it. By learning both the scripts you can better understand both the Hindi and the Urdu developments of the language. I can understand Sanskritized Hindi, but what about the masses? It is our duty to learn both the scripts. Then alone can we honestly serve the country in a humble way. According to me one who does not have a liking for the Urdu script has no liking for swaraj also. The masses do not understand pure Hindi or pure Urdu, so Hindustani should be evolved in such a way that even the illiterate masses can understand it. Mere slogans would not help in achieving the goal of freedom. Taking as little trouble as possible and looking to your worldly advancement will leave your swaraj just a dream. Nagari and Urdu are both equally dear to me. So when I say learn the Urdu script I have no enmity towards the other script. Our swaraj cannot be given to us as a gift, but we shall have to win it through our untiring efforts. To understand our people and win swaraj for our country, do not be deterred from this small effort of learning the two important scripts of our land. To keep faith, one must be cent per cent faithful. It is not a bit of bread which you can break up in pieces. The language of a people cannot be divided, it is one and indivisible like Truth. Therefore, whether you like it or not you will have to learn and love Urdu.

Asked whether script should be given as much importance as language, Gandhi replied: Language and script are both necessary in practice. How are we, after all, to solve the question of writing to our own Muslim brethren who know only the other script? If we argue, ‘What have we to do with them?’, then I say why bother about swaraj? I want to learn all the thirteen scripts and want to know them equally well. Had you given one-seventh of the time to the learning of these scripts which you have given to English, you would have learnt all the thirteen scripts by now. It is not difficult to learn the Urdu script. It can be done with great ease and facility.

A pracharak asked why the Urdu script should not be taught to the student after the Nagari is learnt. Mahatma said: If I had been a teacher, I would have taught four or five scripts at the same time. I did not take even eight days to learn the Urdu script. There should at least be four or five such teachers who may know the two scripts perfectly and may be able to teach them. It could be left to the option of the teacher whether he taught the two scripts together or one after the other. But he should examine them in both before giving them a certificate.”21

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I have no doubt in my mind that Hindustani, i. e., a correct mixture of Hindi and Urdu, is the national language. But I have not yet been able to prove this in my own writings or speech. Let not readers of Harijan Sevak, however, be irritated. Perhaps it is as well that the attempt to create a national language has come into the hands of an in adept. After all the general mass of people come in this category. It will be through the efforts of all such that linguistic pundits will be enabled to create the proper mixture, easily understood by all. If readers of Harijan Sevak will keep on pointing out mistakes in language, it will help the journal to create and maintain a proper style. It will be the aim of Harijan Sevak to make its language sweet to the ear and easily understandable to every Indian. A language which is not generally understood is useless. It is unreal, if it cannot serve its purpose. All attempts at having a forced language have proved futile.”22 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The above article1 is not in praise of me. What is there to praise if a person performs some service deeming it his duty. Maulana Saheb is a scholar. He knows Persian and Arabic. He, therefore, knows Urdu very well. But he knows that neither Arabic-Persianized Urdu nor Sanskritized Hindi can be the language of the masses. Therefore, he wants a blend of Urdu and Hindi and speaks a mixture of both. I have requested him to contribute every week a brief article in Hindustani which can serve the readers of Harijan Sevak as a specimen of Hindustani.”23

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am glad the weather having cleared, it was possible to worship God in the open air. I hope you will cultivate the habit of collective prayers. I would like to impress upon you the need for learning Hindustani, our national language. Without a national language we could not call ourselves as of India.”24 Mahatma Gandhi distinguished, “What English-knowing Indian has not felt the shame and sorrow at his failure to discover an equivalent for an English word in either his mother tongue or the national language? A Gujarati lad has an English-Gujarati dictionary in such a case to help him; similarly a Urdu or Hindi knowing lad has his dictionary to fall back upon. But for Hindustani, which is neither Persianized Urdu nor Sanskritized Hindi and which is the tongue of the common folk of the North, whether Hindu or Mussalman, a writer has no dictionary to fall back upon. An attempt will be made through a column at least of the Harijan each week to furnish for English a Hindustani word or two, spelt in both Nagari and Urdu script. An endeavour will be made to give the names of those who will contribute their labour to this fascinating task. This is pioneer work and therefore will, like all pioneer work, have defects. Those who detect them will confer a favour by drawing the attention to them of the Editor. I would suggest to students that they copy out these words week by week in a notebook and add to or amend the attempt. They will find that the labour will combine recreation with instruction. Only those English words which are in common use have been selected from a Standard English dictionary. In reading the following, the reader should also know that no claim is made that the equivalents are the best possible or that they are exhaustive. They are a help to the searcher. The plan for this week is that those who are helping me to conduct the Harijan have prepared the first list.”25

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Urdu cannot become the national language, nor can Hindi. It matters little that Hindi may have the approval of the Union. Our national language will be that language which both the communities can speak and write.”26 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If the Muslims of the Indian Union affirm their loyalty to the Union, will they accept Hindustani as the national language and learn the Urdu and Nagari scripts? Unless you give your clear opinion on this, the work of the Hindustani Prachar Sabha will become very difficult. Cannot Maulana Azad give his clear opinion on the subject?

Kakasaheb says nothing new in his letter. But the subject has acquired added importance at the present juncture. If the Muslims in India owe loyalty to India and have chosen to make it their home of their own free will, it is their duty to learn the two scripts. It is said that the Hindus have no place in Pakistan. So they migrate to the Indian Union. In the event of a war between the Union and Pakistan, the Muslims of the Indian Union should be prepared to fight against Pakistan.

It is true that there should be no war between the two dominions. They have to live as friends or die as such. The two will have to work in close co-operation. In spite of being independent of each other, they will have many things in common. If they are enemies, they can have nothing in common. If there is genuine friendship, the people of both the States can be loyal to both. They are both members of the same Commonwealth of Nations. How can they become enemies of each other? But that discussion is unnecessary here.

The Union must have a common inter-provincial speech. I will go a step further and say that if the two States are friends, Hindustani should be the common speech between the two. This does not mean that Urdu and Hindi will cease to exist as distinct forms of speech. They must continue to live and progress. But if the Hindus and the Muslims or rather people of all religions in India are friends, they must accept a common language evolved from Hindi and Urdu. They should learn the two scripts. This will be a test for the Muslims and the Hindus in the Indian Union.

It would be wrong to say that if the Muslims of the Union refuse to learn the Nagari script, Hindustani cannot become the national language. Whether the Muslims learn the Nagari script or not, the Hindus and the people of all other religions ought to learn the two scripts. It is possible that in view of the poisoned atmosphere of the day, people may not appreciate this simple proposition. If the Hindus wish to, they can boycott the Urdu script and Urdu words, but they will be the losers thereby. Therefore those engaged in Hindustani Prachar should not weaken in their faith or efforts. I agree that people like Maulana Azad and other prominent Muslims of the Indian Union should be the first to adopt Hindustani and the two scripts. Who will take the lead if not they? Difficult times lie ahead of us. May God guide us aright?”27

Mahatma Gandhi clarified, “When what is really true is stated, it is an improper use of the word to call it anger. In anger a man does a strange thing. If I have to close down the Urdu Harijan it becomes necessary for me to do the same with the Nagari Harijan. There is no question of anger in doing the right thing. What I consider proper, others such as the above correspondent may not. How am I concerned with that? It is good if what we think right is considered so by the whole world but that does not happen. Everything has at least two aspects. Now it remains for me to tell you whether I should stop one or both. It is true that when I started the Navajivan and Harijan in Devanagari there was no idea of both the scripts being used. If there was any such idea I did not know about it. there within a week. Voluntary evacuation by non-Muslims of all the mosques in the city which were being used for residential purposes or which had been converted into temples. Free movement of Muslims in areas where they used to stay before the disturbances.

In the meantime the Hindustani Prachar Sabha was set up as desired by the late Jamnalal. It made the publication of the Urdu edition necessary. In my opinion it will be very unjust if the Nagari edition continues and the Urdu is stopped. Because according to the Hindustani Prachar Sabha Hindustani can be written in the Urdu script as well as in the Nagari. Therefore the journal should be continued to be published in both the scripts. And that too at a time when people all over India say that Hindi alone should be their national language and it should be written only in the Nagari script. It is my duty to tell them that this view is not right. If my argument is correct it becomes my duty to retain the Urdu script along with the Nagari script, and if I don’t then I have to sacrifice the Nagari Harijan Sevak along with the Urdu Harijan.

Among all the scripts I consider Nagari as the best. I make no secret of it. So much so that I had started writing Gujarati letters in the Nagari script even while in South Africa. I have not been able to continue it because of lack of time. There is scope for improvement in the Nagari script as there is in almost all the scripts. However, that is a different question. I have mentioned it only to show that I am not at all opposed to the Nagari script. But when the protagonists of the Nagari script oppose the Urdu script, I smell malice and intolerance in their attitude. The opponents of the Urdu script do not even have the confidence that ultimately the Nagari script will have sway if it is more perfect than the other scripts. Looked at thus, my decision must appear flawless as well as necessary.

I am right in my preference for Hindustani. I do believe that as between the Nagari script and the Urdu script, the former will win. In the same way if we leave out the question of the script and consider the language only, Hindustani will certainly win. That is so because Sanskritized Hindi is wholly artificial while Hindustani is entirely natural. In the same way Persianized Urdu is unnatural and artificial. There are very few Persian words in my Hindustani; even then my Muslim friends and the Hindus of Punjab and the North say that they have no difficulty in understanding my Hindustani. I can find few arguments in favour of Hindi. Strange as it seems, when I defined Hindi for the first time at the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, there was almost no opposition to it. How the opposition started is a tragic story.

I do not even want to remember it. I even said that the name Hindi Sahitya Sammelan was not, and even today is not, appropriate for propagation of the national language. But I had not become the president in order to propagate Hindi literature. The late Jamnalal and other friends told me that whatever might be the name they were interested only in the national language and not in Hindi literature. And it was for that reason alone that I started propagating Hindi in the South with great vigour. I am writing this after prayer in the morning of the sixth day of my fast. Many painful memories come to my mind but I do not like to recollect them.

I do not at all like this quarrel over the name. Whatever may be the name, its activities should do well to the entire country or the nation. We should not squabble over a name. Is there any Indian whose heart will not exult after listening to Iqbal’s Sare jahan se achchha Hindostan hamara”? If there is any, I will consider him unlucky. Should I regard these lines of Iqbal as Hindi or Hindustani or Urdu? Who can say that it is not the national language or that it is not sweet or that it does not express maturity of thought? It may well be that today I am alone in my view but it is clear that neither Sanskritized Hindi nor Persianized Urdu will win. Victory will go only to Hindustani. We shall forget this artificial quarrel and feel ashamed of it only when we forget our internal jealousies.

Now remains the English Harijan. I consider it a very small thing. I cannot discontinue the English Harijan. Englishmen and Indian scholars of English believe that there is something special in my English. My contact with the West is also widening. I was never opposed to the British or any Westerner nor am I today. Their welfare is as dear to me as that of my own country. So English will never be excluded from my small store of knowledge. I do not want to forget that language nor do I want the country to forget it or give it up. My insistence has always been on not taking English beyond its rightful place. It cannot become our national language or the medium of instruction. In making it so, we have impoverished our languages. We have put great burden on our students. As far as my knowledge goes, such a sad spectacle is seen only in India. Slavery to this language has deprived crores of our people of considerable knowledge for years. We neither realize it nor feel ashamed of it nor repent it. How strange it is! Knowing this entire pretty well, I cannot boycott English. Just as Tamil and other languages are the regional languages and Hindi is the national language, who can deny that similarly English is an international language? The rule of the British will go because it was corrupt, but the prevalence of English will never go.”28 Mahatma gave a permanent solution. But the leaders of India made it political issue.




  1. INTERVIEW AT LUCKNOW; About December 29/31, 1916
  2. VOL. 16 : 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 - 23 APRIL, 1918 84
  3. VOL. 16 : 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 - 23 APRIL, 1918 Page- 85
  6. VOL. 19 : 29 SEPTEMBER, 1919 - 24 MARCH, 1920 473
  7. VOL. 22 : 23 NOVEMBER, 1920 - 5 APRIL, 1921 Page- 136
  8. VOL. 24 : 22 JULY, 1921 - 25 OCTOBER, 1921 Page- 11
  9. Young India, 10-2-1927
  11. Hindi Navajivan, 7-11-1929
  12. Hindi Navajivan, 26-12-1929
  13. VOL. 51 : 6 JANUARY, 1931 - 28 APRIL, 1931 Page- 289
  14. REPLY TO CIVIC ADDRESS, MADURA; January 26, 1934
  15. VOL. 68 : 23 SEPTEMBER, 1935 - 15 MAY, 1936 Page- 447
  16. VOL. 81 : 18 AUGUST, 1941 - 8 FEBRUARY, 1942 Page- 365
  17. Harijan, 29-3-1942
  18. Harijan, 26-4-1942
  19. MAHABALESHWAR, May 1, 1945
  21. The Hindu, 26-11-1945
  22. Harijan, 7-4-1946
  23. Harijan Sevak, 26-5-1946
  24. The Hindu, 9-7-1946
  25. Harijan, 1-9-1946
  26. LETTER TO SHRIMAN NARAYAN; August 13, 1947
  27. Harijan, 5-10-1947
  28. Harijan Sevak, 25-1-1948





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