Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the inaugural session of the webinar on occasion of ‘International Mother Language Day’ in New Delhi on 21 February, 2021.

New Delhi | February 21, 2021

“Sisters and brothers,

I am indeed very pleased to be here with you on this occasion of ‘Matribhasha Diwas’ - International Mother Language Day, 2021 to inaugurate this webinar on “Fostering Multilingualism for Inclusion in Education and Society”.

This is a special day for me because it celebrates a theme that is closest to my heart. In fact, a few days ago, I have also written letters to each one of our parliamentarians impressing upon them the need to preserve India’s rich linguistic heritage through a wider use of mother languages.

As you all are aware, International Mother Language Day was initially proposed by Bangladesh, inspired by its years of struggle for recognition of Bengali language before its liberation in 1971. UNESCO General Conference finally approved the proposal in 1999 and it has since been observed throughout the world since 2000.

I am happy that the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture have been organizing events that mark this occasion. Today’s webinar is one such significant effort to create heightened awareness about the need to preserve and promote mother languages.

Sisters and brothers, 
India is home to hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects. Our linguistic diversity is one of the cornerstones of our ancient civilization. According to the recent Language Census, we have 19,500 languages or dialects. In fact, there are 121 languages spoken by 10,000 or more people in our country.

No wonder then, this treasure of our living heritage still contains the imprints of our rich and ancient past. Language is the vital, unseen thread that links the past with the present. Our languages are thus a repository of our collective knowledge and wisdom which we have amassed over the course of the long journey of our vibrant civilization.

Sisters and brothers,
Amongst this multitude of languages in India, one language- our mother tongue- holds a special place in our hearts. A word, or even a syllable, in our mother tongue can evoke an emotional response in all of us.

It thus goes without saying that such an important link to our socio-cultural identity needs to be protected, preserved and promoted.

Sisters and brothers,
Due to globalization and homogenization, the United Nations warn us that “Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered.”

They say, once a language is lost, humanity loses a part of its heritage. India has the highest number of endangered languages in the world- with 196 Indian languages under this category and many more under immediate risk.

Against the backdrop of 196 Indian languages categorized as “endangered”, I am happy that the Ministry of Education has instituted the Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages (SPPEL).

Another pertinent issue that we must urgently address is the use of mother language in education.
I would like to quote Gandhiji in this context: “The foreign medium has caused brain fag, put an undue strain upon nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses. The foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own land. It is the greatest tragedy of the existing system”

It is unfortunate that not much has changed in our attitudes since Gandhiji wrote this 1921. We must realise that educating a child in a language that is not spoken at home can be a big impediment to learning especially at the primary stage.

Multiple studies conducted around the world have established the fact that teaching through the mother tongue in the initial stages of education boosts a child’s self-esteem and enhances his or her creativity. 
Educators and parents must take cognizance of this fact. The New Education Policy is a visionary and progressive document in this regard that encourages schools and states to adopt mother tongue as the primary medium of instruction at least until Grade 5. We must adopt this directive in letter and spirit.

As Gandhiji had said, “The sooner therefore educated India shakes itself free from the hypnotic spell of the foreign medium, the better it would be for them and the people.” That is a reminder that rings true even today.

Sisters and brothers,
Focusing on our mother tongue is not to suggest that one need not learn other languages like English. In fact, I often say that one should learn as many languages as possible but what is required is a strong foundation in the mother language.

Along with their mother tongue, parents and educators must encourage children to learn a national and an international language. This will not only help the child in his or her individual career, but this will also strengthen our national unity. 

Studies have shown that multilingualism can lead to better cognitive development in children. Exposure to other languages, in addition to one’s mother tongue, helps build cultural bridges and opens windows to new worlds of experience.

We can unveil Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat through a healthy respect and interest in each other’s languages.

Sisters and brothers,
I have always believed that the language of administration should be the language of the people. To this end, we need to rely increasingly on our mother tongues in governance- especially at the state and local levels. Only by communicating with the common person in a language he or sheunderstands can we include him or her in the process of governance and development.

This change should come at the top too. In the Rajya Sabha, a provision has been made for its members to express themselves in any of the 22 scheduled languages. A step towards inclusive multilingualism was also taken when the Supreme Court decided to make available translations of its judgments in six of the 22 official languages in the initial phase.

I must appreciate various new initiatives planned by the government to achieve a truly multilingual society in India such as the National Translation Mission, the Bharatavani project, schemes for protection and the promotion of endangered languages through the Central Institute of Indian Languages. In addition, there are new initiatives this year like the setting up of a Bharatiya Bhasha Vishwavidyalaya (BBV) and a proposed Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITT) that would promote inter-lingual translation. All these efforts will go a long way in promoting and protecting our languages and with them, the cultural and literary treasures. 

Sisters and brothers,
Languages, and particularly our mother languages, are clearly important to our identity, our education, our national integration and our development. Despite this, due to various factors, these ‘rivers’ of knowledge are under the risk of drying up. We must commit all efforts to reclaim our mother tongues- to cherish them and nourish them. 

We must remember that language only gets nourished by constant use. If you do not use a language, you lose a language. We must feel proud to speak freely and confidently in our mother tongue. Everyday must be a ‘Matribhasha Diwas’. I hope that more and more people will start using their native languages at home, in the community, in meetings and in administration. 

Once again, I am very happy to have inaugurated this webinar. My best wishes to the participants and I hope that through the webinar, we come up with innovative and implementable ideas to strengthen our languages. Let us combine our energies to preserve and propagate all our Indian languages. Let each one of us commit ourselves to learn, use and enrich our mother tongues. 

Jai Hind!”