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Elite interests, popular passions, and social power in the language politics of India

Abstract

Movements for the recognition and official establishment of particular languages in India, among the many hundreds that have been identified and classified by linguists, grammarians, and census takers, have been prominent and recurring features of politics in the subcontinent for a century-and-a-half. These movements have invariably been competitive in character, demanding preference for one, and displacement of other, actual or potential rivals. Further, they have sometimes been associated with hostile and venomous characterizations of both a rival language and its speakers, leading to intercommunal/interethnic violence. Despite the turbulent history of such movements in modern India, viable compromises have been reached concerning the status of the multiplicity of Indian languages and their hierarchical ordering for various purposes. These compromises, however, have profound consequences for the life chances, including the empowerment and disempowerment of all India’s citizens. These consequences have only recently begun to attract scholarly attention.