NEW DELHI, June 28 - At a time when the indigenous people of Assam are waging a desperate struggle to retain their identity, comes a gloomy news that the number of people speaking Assamese has reached an all-time low of 1.26 per cent of the country�s population.
A total of 1,53,11,351 people returned Assamese language as their mother tongue in the 2011 census and the language is ranked 12 among the 22 scheduled languages spoken in India.
According to 1971 census, Assamese was spoken by 1.63 per cent of the total population of India; in 1981 there was no census in Assam; as per 1991 census, Assamese was spoken by 1.56 per cent; in 2001 it was 1.28 per cent and the latest 2011 census recorded that it is spoken by only 1.26 per cent, thus recording a declining trend since 1971.
A small consolation though is that Assamese language has steadfastly maintained its rank at 12th among the scheduled languages spoken in India, since 1971. The Assamese language also marked a marginal decadal growth of 0.68 per cent in 1991-2001.
These were findings of a census survey of languages released by the Census of India on Wednesday. There are a total of 121 languages and 270 mother tongues in India, while 22 languages are specified in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
A total of 1,48,16,414 people returned Assamese as their mother tongue, besides 4,94,937 others, taking the total Assamese-speaking population to 1,53,11,351.
The Bodo language is spoken by 0.12 per cent of the population and is ranked at 21.
Hindi was the fastest growing language in India at 25.19 per cent, adding close to a 100 million speakers between 2001-2011.
The Bengali-speaking population was calculated at 9,61,77,835, besides 2.28 lakh Chakmas, 71,798 Hajongs, 4.75 lakh Rajbongshis and 2.83 lakh others, who returned Bengali as their mother tongue, taking the total Bengali-speaking population to 9,72,37,669.
Bengali is the second largest language spoken in India and is number two in the overall ranking.
The Bodo language is spoken by 14,54,547 people, followed by Kachari (15,984), Mech (11,546) and 852 others, taking the total of those who returned Bodo as their mother tongue to 14,82,929.
Meanwhile, Bengali (8.03 per cent), Gujarati (4.58 per cent), Manipuri (0.15 per cent) are among growing languages, according to new census data.
India�s slowest growing languages over 2001-2011 are Nepali (1.98 per cent), Malayalam (5.36 per cent), Sindhi (9.34 per cent) and Telugu (9.63 per cent).
According to Census of India, mother tongue is defined as the language spoken in childhood by the person�s mother to the person or, where the mother has died in the person�s infancy, the language mainly spoken in the person�s household during childhood.
While 96.71 per cent of the country�s population returned one of the 22 scheduled languages as their mother tongue in the 2011 census, 3.29 per cent returned other languages as their mother tongue.