Home Minister Amit Shah might well have kicked up a storm by calling for wider adoption of Hindi, but the fact remains that demographic and linguistic changes unfolding in India would soon catapult Hindi as the dominant language in the country. At present 44 per cent of India’s population call themselves Hindi speakers. Since 1971, no other language has grown faster than Hindi. Infact the average growth rate of Hindi speakers from 1971 to 2011 has been faster than the growth rate of India’s population. Projections show that if these demographic trends continue more than half of India’s population would call themselves Hindi speakers by 2031. By 2041, they would comprise 60 per cent of India’s population – with all other languages declining in the face of Hindi’s growth.
The census and the erstwhile Planning Commission projected India’s population at 1.4 billion in 2031. The growth rate of Hindi speakers from 1971 to 1981 increased from 27 per cent to 28 per cent – an increase of a percentage point. From 1991 to 2001, this increase was more moderate at 28.09 per cent – an increase of 0.25 percentage points. From 2001 to 2011, the growth rate of Hindi speakers started falling – from almost 28 per cent in the previous decade to 25 per cent. So the growth rate from 2001 to 2011 fell almost three percentage points. Now assuming that the growth rate of Hindi speakers continues to decline at the same pace – neither faster nor slower every decade, Hindi speakers would swell to 646 million in 2021. By 2031, their numbers would grow to 771 million – comprising 53 per cent of India’s population. For the first time since linguistic census began in India, would the number of Hindi speakers constitute more than half the population. By 2041, the number of Hindi speakers would touch 899 million – 60 per cent of India’s 1.5 billion population. This, ofcourse, assumes pure demographic changes. With government directives and aggressive policy pushes to spread Hindi, these changes could unfold faster than projected. The Modi government’s idea of one nation-one language could fructify faster than any statistical projections can foretell.
With Hindi growing at an astounding pace in the country, there should be an obvious decline in the importance of some other languages. But a look at official data shows that the proportion of Hindi speakers has grown so exponentially that the share of all scheduled languages in India has either declined or stagnated. India has 22 scheduled languages specified in the Constitution. While the proportion of Hindi speakers has grown from just about a third of the population in 1971 to 44 per cent in 2011, there has been a decline in 17 other languages. Four others – Punjabi, Maithili, Kashmiri and Bodo – have literally stagnated during this period. Some of the biggest decline has been witnessed in South Indian languages and certain Sanskritic languages like Bengali. In 1971, Tamil speakers accounted for almost seven per cent of the population. In 2011 they were down to six per cent of the population. No other language exemplifies the aggressive growth of Hindi better than Bengali. Bengali speakers – despite their numbers propped up by migration from Bangladesh post the 1971 war with Pakistan - have marginally declined from 8.1 per cent of the population to eight per cent. Bengali is the most widely spoken language in India after Hindi. Kannada speakers have declined from four per cent to 3.6 per cent. Marathi speakers have shrunk from eight per cent to almost seven per cent. Telugu speakers too have declined by a percentage point during this four decade period. With the Modi government proactively pushing for wider Hindi adoption across the country, the growth of the language in the future looks likely to come at the expense of other languages.
Even as regional language speakers have grown slower than those who speak the national language, the growth of Hindi speakers in non-Hindi speaking states has been faster than so-called Hindi speaking states. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa, the number of Hindi speakers have doubled from 2001 to 2011. In Karnataka, a state which has witnessed sporadic anti-Hindi protests in recent years, the number of Hindi speakers has grown 50 per cent. In states like Tamil Nadu where Hindi speakers have more than doubled, Tamil speakers have only grown by 14 per cent during this period – slower than the state’s population growth rate. While much of the growth of Hindi has been in South India, the growth of the language in so called Hindi speaking states hasn’t been relatively timid. The number of Hindi speakers in Bihar grew by just a third during this period while they grew 23 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana on an average. A possible reason for the growth of Hindi speakers and declining proportion of regional language speakers in Southern states is migration triggered by better economic prospects down south. From 1993-94 to 2009-10, the number of poor people in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan increased as their populations grew. Meanwhile states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala halved their poverty rates during the period. Clearly, people and their languages have migrated for a better life to South India and in the process have radically altered their linguistic composition.