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Hindi Extremism and Violation of Constitution in Indian Parliament

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2010 (ID. 2010-12-01)
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OUTLINE

1. Technical Difficulties in English Translation

2. Extra-Constitutional Hindi Chauvinist Demand

3. Analysis and Commentary

3.1 Hindi Chauvinism at its Extreme

3.2 Speaker Violated the Constitution

ABBREVIATIONS

BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

MDMK - Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

MP - Member of Parliament

1. Technical Difficulties in English Translation

Indian parliament, New Delhi: On August 13, 2010, a member of parliament, Hansraj Ahir, asked a question in Hindi. Bharatsinh Solanki, Minister of State for Power, replied in Hindi. It is customary that all Hindi speeches are translated to English and English speeches to Hindi. But the Hindi-to-English translation was not available at that time due to "technical difficulties". So members who did not know Hindi were at a loss as to what was going on. Two MPs from Tamilnadu, A. Ganesamurthy (MDMK) and T. R. Baalu (DMK), said that they could not understand the proceedings. Speaker of the parliament Meira Kumar said that the technical difficulties would be fixed soon, but she did not ask the minister to reply in English so everyone can understand his reply (Only the Hindi-to-English translation was not available; the English-to-Hindi translation was on). She could also have stopped (adjourned) the proceedings until the English translation problem was corrected, but she did not. T. R. Baalu responded by saying that he could not sit there like a deaf person and started to walk out of the parliament. His fellow DMK MPs also started to do so. Even at this point the speaker did not ask the minister to respond in English or adjourn the parliament. It seems it was alright with her if these MPs walked out because they could not understand Hindi.

2. Extra-Constitutional Hindi Chauvinist Demand

At this point, Minister of Power Sushilkumar Shinde asked Bharatsinh Solanki to reply in English and the latter started to answer in English. Some Hindi MPs belonging to BJP stood up and shouted unitedly that the reply should be in Hindi because Hansraj Ahir asked the question in Hindi. Speaker Meira Kumar could have ruled that the minister may reply in Hindi or English as stipulated in the constitution. She did not. At this point Bharatsinh Solanki said that he would answer in both Hindi in English. But a member of parliament from Bihar, Hukm Deo Narayan Yadav, said, "The minister must answer in Hindi. We should respect our national language Hindi." Only at this point did speaker Meira Kumar interfere. She adjourned the parliament for 15 minutes to fix the Hindi-to-English translation problem. The problem was fixed and parliament reconvened after 15 minutes.

Since fixing the Hindi-to-English translation problem seems to be so simple and she knew it (after all she had known that it would take just 15 minutes), why did she not adjourn the parliament when the Tamil MPs, T. R. Baalu and A. Ganesamurthy told her of the problem? When Baalu and a number of Tamil MPs started walking out of the parliament for the valid reason of not understanding the proceedings, why did she not adjourn the parliament for 15 minutes? She chose not to be bothered with the Tamil MPs' valid complaint. Constitution says that parliamentary proceedings should be in Hindi and English.

When the parliament reconvened, Speaker Meira Kumar apologized for the inconvenience to some members. She asked all members not to insult the national language Hindi. Can she show us where the constitution says that Hindi is India's national language? She cannot, because the constitution does not say so. Also who insulted Hindi? A member of parliament asking for English translation or a minister replying in English is not an insult to Hindi. They are approved by the constitution.

3. Analysis and Commentary

3.1 Hindi Chauvinism at its Extreme

We need to look carefully into the extra-constitutional demands made by some Hindi MPs and Speaker Meira Kumar's virtual surrender to those demands. First of all, these Hindi MPs insisted that the minister answer the Hindi question in Hindi (although the English answer would be simultaneously translated to Hindi); there is no constitutional basis for it. When the minister acquiesces them and tried to answer the question in both Hindi and English (in view of the fact the English translation was not working), those Hindi MPs again protested that he should answer only in Hindi. This is like a dominant dog getting its flesh and not allowing other dogs have even a bone. What these MPs really want is to get rid of English totally and have everything done in Hindi only. They are trying to do this one step at a time. Will this not inconvenience those MPs who do not know Hindi? As for as these MPs are concerned, anyone who does not know Hindi is not Indian and should not be a member of parliament. Actually this view was expressed explicitly as early as 1946.

On December 10, 1946, R.V. Dhulekar moved an amendment in the Indian Constitutional Assembly. When he began speaking in Hindustani, the Chairman reminded him that many members did not know the language. Dhulekar replied, 

"People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in this House to fashion a Constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this Assembly. They had better leave." [Constitution Assembly Debates-Official Report, Volume 1 (p 26-27), Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1988]  

This is Hindi chauvinism at its extreme.

3.2 Speaker Violated the Constitution

Speaker Meira Kumar violated the Indian constitution in this single incident in 4 ways: (1) She allowed parliament proceedings to go on without English translation which is required under the constitution. (2) She did not stop some Hindi MPs demanding that the minister reply Hindi questions in Hindi. Constitution allows ministers to reply in English irrespective of the language of the question. (3) She called Hindi the national language of India. Constitution does not say so. There is no law that made Hindi India's national language. (4) She termed asking for English translation or a minister replying to a Hindi question in English as insult to the "national language". Both asking for English translation or a minister replying to a Hindi question in English are allowed by constitutional provisions. Speaker is supposed to be impartial across party lines. She should also be impartial across language divides and regional boundaries. Speaker Meira Kumar failed in this respect.

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