What census data reveals about use of Indian languages

Hindi has seen the most progress in speaking population over the last three decades.
Last Updated 06 June 2019, 12:50 IST

Of the 121 languages recorded in the 2011 language census, Hindi is the only scheduled language that has shown progress in general speaking population, with an almost 6% increase, census data shows.

Southern languages such as Telugu (-0.49%), Tamil (-0.21%), Kannada (-0.08%) and Malayalam (-0.33%) are decreasing gradually, over the last decade, according to the data.

Kashmiri is the second with 22.97% speaking population. Gujarat (20.4%) and Manipuri (20.07%) are the third, and Bengali (16.63%), the fourth fastest growing language, according to the 2011 census

The 2011 Language census:

The census is split into ‘primary speakers’, those whose first language is Hindi, and ‘general speakers’ which includes both primary speakers and those whose subsidiary language is Hindi.

The number of Scheduled languages was 22 and the Non Scheduled languages, 99 in 2011 as against 100 in 2001. The decrease in number is due to the exclusion of Simte and Persian (which were not returned in sufficient number as 2011) and the inclusion of Mao (who has returned more than 10,000 speakers at the all India level at 2011 Census).

Between 2001-2011, speakers of the scheduled languages increased from 96.52% to 96.77% of India’s population, while non-scheduled language speakers increased by 13%.

The Hindi Wave:

The 2011 Language Census of India points out that Hindi is the only scheduled language with the most progress since 1971.

Only 12 out of the 35 States (AP and Telangana figure together in the 2011 data) and Union Territories (UTs) had as a majority chosen Hindi as their first choice for communication.

Although, according to the census data, there has been a dynamic increase in the Hindi-speaking-population from 1971 to 2011.

As the above data indicates, Hindi and Kashmiri are the only languages which have seen progress. Hindi has become the fastest growing language in India at 25.19%, summing up approximately to 10 crore speakers between 2001-2011.

Hindi, as per the data, accommodates about 56 mother tongues (apart from the "others" section), including "Hindi" as a dialect as well as Bhojpuri, Chhattisgarhi, Rajasthani and Haryanvi, all these three are among several who have requested to become separate scheduled languages.

The "Hindi" dialect under the scheduled language was spoken by about 32 crores i.e around 26% of the Indian population in 2011.

The graph also points out that the southern States (AP and Telangana figure together in the 2011 data), and northeastern States, apart from Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, have the lowest proportion of the general speaking population. The share of Hindi-speaking people in Gujarat is significantly lower than most States, according to the data.

Kerala has the lowest native Hindi speakers of only 0.6% of the State population, the least in India, and Tamil Nadu has the smallest percentage of 2.11% of general speakers.

The Southern States:

The Tamil (-5%) and Malayalam (-10%)-speaking population is falling across most States in north India even as Tamil Nadu and Kerala saw over 33% increase in the number of Hindi, Bengali, Assamese and Odia speakers, indicating a reverse migration trend from earlier decades when people from the two southern States migrated in large numbers to the north, The Times of India reported.

Kannada is constant at the eighth place with the number of speakers increasing from approximately about 3.7 crores to 4.3 crores.

As mentioned, since only one option is provided to the citizens, Konkani speakers in Karnataka and Kerala might put Kannada/Malayalam as their mother tongue as opposed to Konkani, which could explain the drop in the number of Konkani speakers.

The falling curve of tribal languages:

Bodo, spoken primarily by the Bodo people of Northeast India, Nepal and Bengal, was the lowest, at 0.12%, among the scheduled languages.

Manipuri, with an overall 0.14%, has about 41% of the State's own population speaks in non-schedules languages. Meanwhile, there has been a slight growth since 2001, which indicate immigration of neighbouring country citizens, who learn the language in hope of acquiring an Indian passport.

Even so, Manipuri dialects, such as Gangte and Kom are among the lowest spoken languages.

This might also be because people living at the border are given only a single native language option, even when there have more than one.

Only 24,821 people cited Sanskrit as their mother tongue.

“Given the global backdrop against terrorism, Urdu speakers might be reluctant to declare it to be their mother tongue. Therefore, the number of native Urdu speakers has fallen despite the Muslim population increasing by around 30 million between 2001 and 2011,” Ganesh Devy, founder-director of the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, told IndiaSpend.

Non-scheduled Languages:

According to the former MoS Home Affairs, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, "As the evolution of dialects and languages is dynamic, influenced by socio-eco-political developments, it is difficult to fix any criterion for languages, whether to distinguish them from dialects, or for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India. Thus, both the earlier attempts, through the Pahwa (1996) and Sitakant Mohapatra (2003) Committees to evolve such fixed criteria have not borne fruit."

Presently, 38 of the unscheduled languages demand to be included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. This set includes languages such as Bhil, which has almost one crore of speaking-population in 2011, in the languages.

Gondi, spoken by the Gonds who primarily inhabit Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Bihar and Karnataka, retained its second position with 29 million speakers, up from 27 million in 2001.

Lahauli, spoken in the Lahaul and Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh, has the lowest speaking population of 11,574 in the non-scheduled languages, followed by Ladakhi, with 14,952.

The Tulu-speaking population is around 60 lakh and has also appealed to be considered as a scheduled language.


As the data denotes, 260,000 people consider English as their mother tongue. This number is up from 226,000 in 2001, an increase of 14.67%.

Maharashtra has the most English speakers followed by Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

India centric:

The Centre had released a draft of the National Education Policy, on May 31, including a clause which made the teaching of Hindi mandatory in schools in non-Hindi speaking States.

The New Education Policy (NEP) of the Union government suggested learning the Hindi language be made compulsory till 8th standard across the country while maintaining a three-language formula.

However, after the clause drew many controversial reactions, especially from southern States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the new Cabinet ministers S. Jaishankar and Nirmala Sitharaman said the draft would be approved only after a public hearing. The clause was omitted in the modified new draft issued on Monday, June 03.

(Published 05 June 2019, 16:06 IST)

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