October 3, 2023


The draft National Education Policy sparked outrage in the southern states which initially proposed introducing three languages including Hindi into the national curriculum. And while the centre quickly retreated to diffuse the situation, many South Indians still believe that the Centre is trying to impose Hindi on the South. A contributing factor to this perception of Hindi imposition could be the steady spread of Hindi across India and including the South. Even though Hindi is entering the South due to migration but it doesn’t affect South Indian languages.

Culture is the major channel for the spread of Hindi and among that Bollywood plays a big role. Social scientists have long suggested that for the spread of Hindi Bollywood is the critical vehicle. As far back as 1987, linguist S.N Sridhar had said that “cinema was the most effective and pervasive tool in spreading Hindi across India.”

The best way to measure the role of Bollywood in spreading Hindi is by checking the Google search results. As India is one of the largest Internet users in the world, the matters they search on Google serve as useful evidence of their interests. So the Google search data has been analysed to understand how popular Hindi films were in the South – and especially compared to regional films.

We can say that Hindi is entering South India as the results show that frequency of Hindi films-related searches in the South has increased and Bollywood is becoming more popular But certain results also show that the regional film industries are not so behind from Bollywood. Let’s say, in Tamil Nadu, during the past decade, there have been around seven times more searches for Kollywood-related (the Tamil cinema industry) stuff than Bollywood. Likewise, in Andhra Pradesh, there were around four-times more Tollywood-related searches than Bollywood. Here, in both states, over time the search interest in both regional industry films has actually increased. But in Kerala, the situation is very different. There was a huge search interest in Bollywood than in Mollywood.

Over the last decade, regional cinema has dominated search interest in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh


Search interest on Google is measured on a scale of 0 to 100 with 100 indicating the most number of searches in that period of time. Regional cinema refers to Malayalam cinema in Kerala, Telugu cinema in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil cinema in Tamil Nadu. Until 2016, Andhra Pradesh refers to erstwhile unified Andhra Pradesh which includes Telangana.

Preference for regional cinema in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu has strengthened over the last decade


Another common thought with South Indians is that people from the South are far more interested to speak Hindi than a Hindi-speaker speaking any South Indian language – a point raised by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in the recent time. The 2011 Census further added fuel to this. Compared to more than 25% of South Indians only 11% of Hindi-speakers speak a second language. However, the interesting fact is that more multilingual South Indians speak English as a second language compared to Hindi and this further shows the reluctance of South Indians to accept Hindi dominance.


Hindi speakers are less multilingual than South Indians


Multilingual South Indians speak more English than Hindi


Due to population dynamics and migration, Hindi is still being spoken by more people in the South increasingly, despite the dominance of regional entertainment and preference for English. All over India, the increase in the number of Hindi speakers has been steady(defined as those with Hindi as their mother tongue) over the past few decades. In 1971, 36.9% of Indians spoke Hindi as a first language and when we come across after 40 years in 2011 this had increased to 46.6%. In contrast, the percentage of Southern language speakers has actually decreased. For instance, the proportion of Indians speaking Tamil has been decreased by 1.2 % between 1971 and 2011 (from 6.9% to 5.7%) whilst Telugu speakers have been decreased by 1.46 % (from 8.2% to 6.7%).

Number of Hindi speakers have been growing faster than the number of South Indian language speakers

The relative rise of Hindi in the South is due to population dynamics and not because of any sort of imposition of Hindi. And one of the alarming facts is that populations in Hindi-speaking states like Uttar Pradesh have grown far more than populations in the Southern states. Many from the North are now also bringing Hindi into the South through migration.


South India saw around 40% increase in Hindi speakers between 2001 and 2011

Increase in the population who reported Hindi as their mother tongue between 2001 and 2011 (in %)

Let’s say in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, between 2001-2011 the number of Hindi speakers who spoke Hindi as their mother-tongue has doubled. This shows that there is increased migration into these states from poorer northern states.  Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have emerged as the preferred destinations for labour migration because of higher per capita income; according to the 2016-2017 Economic Survey. As per the survey it is stated that language has not been a barrier to the migration of people across states.

All this suggests that economics and demographics, rather than any education policy, could be the factors that could make Hindi more popular in southern India.


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