3-Language Formula

Justice for Linguistic Minorities

Sudip Bhattacharyya

Activists, intellectuals, politicians and media, both print and electronic, are hailed and commended for championing the cause of minorities and these are always with regard to religion and caste. Surprisingly they are all silent when discrimination and denial is meted out to linguistic minorities in India on an unprecedented scale. The following analysis is submitted for their kind attention and response.

As of now, English and Hindi are the official languages for the Central government, and state governments can function in English and their regional languages. India does not have a single "national language". India has 22 scheduled languages. This freedom to choose your language nurtures India's linguistic pluralism, and enriches age-old traditions. Most politicians at the time of struggle for independence wanted to eliminate English; they viewed it as a vile colonial implant and wanted to replace it with Hindi. Further, there have been periodic attempts to impose Hindi on India's other languages.

The perspective of language is the subtext of everything that surrounds people. The story of English and its politics in India, the story of English as the language of power, aspiration and necessity is complex and reflects the reality of postcolonial India. Now the leadership in Hindi speaking states wants Hindi to replace English as the language of their aspiration, necessity and domination over other Indians. It can really be said that the decision to use Hindi as official language does not take into full consideration all the concerns including this one, of the non-Hindi speaking states.

Equality of opportunities assumes a level playing field where the odds are also shared equally by everybody. Instead, Hindi as an official language offers bigger options and better employment choices especially in government service for Hindi-speaking people. Three-language formula has not been implemented in Hindi speaking states; whereas non-Hindi people unless they neglect to learn their mother tongue, are required to bear a load of three languages. Kids in most European countries learn multiple languages at school, while their medium of instruction remains their mother tongue, and one of those additional languages tends to be English.

60% of India's population are non-Hindi-speaking. Yet, on 10 March, the Hindi cell of the ministry of home affairs (MHA) brought out a circular that directed various Union ministries and Union government enterprises such as banks and public sector undertakings to give priority to the use of Hindi on their official accounts on various social media such as Twitter, Facebook etc. The circular, which was passed on 27 May, after the new BJP government was sworn in, made it amply clear that both Hindi and English may be used but Hindi should be used above/first. The circular was also directed at Union (not state) government employees of eight category A states—Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan (states in which Hindi is the major language).

It ordered all bureaucrats and government officials to write their official correspondence in Hindi, take notes in Hindi and stick to Hindi on official ac-counts for social media like Twitter and Face-book. The home ministry announced cash prizes for those who do most of their official work in Hindi. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister himself was speaking to all foreign dignitaries in Hindi, through an interpreter. He even addressed the joint session of Bhutan's Parliament in Hindi.

The home ministry, which had issued these switch-to-Hindi orders to government officials, had subsequently backed off. And Union home minister Rajnath Singh, tweeted: "The home ministry is of the view that all Indian languages are important. The ministry is committed to promote all languages of the country."

More than half of India's population does not speak Hindi. They are not ready to let the dignity of their languages be undermined by a Govt. promoted Hindi from north India and will not become "second class citizens" in their own country just because a huge number of north Indians speak it.

This sentiment is so strong in Tamil Nadu that shortly after Mr Karunanidhi's protest, his arch rival J Jayalalitha wrote a strong letter of protest to PM Narendra Modi. And even the BJP's allies from the state were quick to object. This was unacceptable, said PMK chief Ramadoss firmly, suggesting that the government should instead declare as official languages all the 22 languages recognized by the Indian Constitution.

Like Tamil Nadu and the southern states, the states in the east and north-east, and Jammu and Kashmir, would all have serious problems with the imposition of Hindi. Instead of arbitrary language imperialism, Indians need to preserve their unique linguistic heritage. There is no need to impose one language over the rest in the name of national unity. The best glue for the nation is the one people choose on their own. The forced delivery of strenuous Hindi through AIR, Doordarshan, Bollywood films and cable television has already almost trampled other languages in India.

India has always been a land of diversity. It has been held together by a set of values and traditions and most importantly, a sense of solidarity. Each State is a unit of culture and language and has a strong identity. They do not need to be the same, they just need to be together. They don't need majoritarian muscle flexing to be united. When Mayawati, with her constituency entirely embedded in the Hindi heartland, protests the imposition of Hindi and speaks up for "the rich heritage of regional languages" people get a glimpse of what holds this land of diversities together. Hindi Imperialism only destroys the spirit of unity which exists among Indians, whether they are Kannadigas or Marathis or who-have-you. The leaders must be sensitive to understand this.

Yes, there must still be an all-India language of communication. English firmly entrenched in India. True, one may boast that India has a competitive advantage in outsourcing because of its English-speaking population. But the most logical point is that use of English as official language renders a level playing field to all different linguistic people. This will also remove the existing crony-favoritism among Hindi speaking people for monopolizing jobs, promotions, awards and public fund.

In this connection, it is better to recall that the Indian constitution enshrines various provisions for the protection of the rights and interest of the minorities:
l    Article 29 gives the religious and linguistic minorities right to establish and manage educational institutions of their own. The minorities have been given the unrestricted rights to promote and preserve their own culture. Indeed this is a country of diverse cultural groups and India is keen to preserve her cultural diversity.
l    Artcle 29 expressly forbids discrimination on grounds of race, religion, caste, language, in admission to educational institutions run by the state or receiving aids from the state.
l    Article 16 guarantees that in matters of public employment, no discrimination shall be made on grounds of race, religion, caste or language etc. This means that in matters of public employment, all Indians are placed on a footing of equality.
l    Part III (Art. 12-35) contains fundamental rights of Indian citizens.

It is clear from above that by promoting financing and propagating Hindi in preference to other Indian languages, GOI is violating constitutional provisions, 29 for discrimination, 16 for public employment and Part III (Art. 12-35) with reference to:

Right to equality: (Arts. 14-18): equality before law and equality in public employment.

Rights to freedom: (Arts. 19-22): freedoms of speech and expression, and freedom of profession occupation.

Cultural and Educational rights: (Arts. 29-30): right to protection of language, script and culture given to the minorities. The minorities are also given the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their own.

Hindi and all other state languages are to be accorded the status of Official language in the respective states only and equal status in all communications and documentation at Centre. The Three Language formula will have to be rigorously enforced in Hindi-speaking states. Moreover, it is necessary, as voiced in the Parliament, that the civil services examination be conducted in every regional language as against English and Hindi at present. The allocation of fund for propagation of only Hindi, under Official Languages Act, may be discontinued and there is to be one fund for promotion of all languages to be shared equitably among the states.

Vol. 47, No. 50, June 21 - 27, 2015