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Indian Official-National Language Policy

A Comprehensive Programme to Protect Indian Languages

(A Bill of Rights for Indian Languages)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, August 2011 (ID. 2011-08-01); An update added on 2014-02-01
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OUTLINE

Fundamental Language Rights of States

1. Introduction

2. State Government

3. Local-Body Governments

4. Businesses

5. Educational Institutions

6. Indian Government and Indian Government Enterprises

Appendix-I: A Proposed Course of Action
Appendix-II: Other Language Speakers in the State
Appendix-III: Place of English in India

ABBREVIATIONS

CBSE - Central Board of Secondary Education

IAS - Indian Administrative Service

IPS - Indian Police Service

LBOR - Language Bill of Rights

SOL - State Official Language

DEFINITION

For the purposes of this article, we call a language as Indian language if it is the mother tongue of a sizable population of India. A language like Bengali is actually a South Asian language and not specifically an Indian language because it is the "language of the soil" in both the Indian state of West Bengal and also the country of Bangladesh. For the purposes of this article we refer to Bengali and other such languages as an Indian languages.


Fundamental Language Rights of States

"People of every state have the right to conduct all transactions with businesses and government offices within the state in the state official language."

1. Introduction

People of the Indian Union speak over two dozen major languages. Thirteen of these languages are the mother tongue of over 10 million people each, according to the 2001 census report. Also, people of each of these languages are concentrated in specific geographical regions larger than many countries. There is great fear among scholars that these languages, except for Hindi, are less and less utilized in business and government communications. Unless this trend is reversed, there is danger that these languages would become useless and "semi-dead, zombie languages" in a century or two. The only exception is Hindi because of the Indian government power and patronage. In recent years parents are sending their children to English-medium schools because of their perception, rightly so, that knowledge of their mother tongue is not necessary for securing jobs, except in the case of Hindi.

Linguistic states were promised before independence and created after independence reluctantly for the very purpose of protecting Indian languages. So the primary responsibility of protecting Indian languages rests with state governments with some responsibility from local-body governments as well as the Indian central government.

We present here some specific actions the central, state and local-body governments have to take in order to protect Indian languages. People of some states may want to go beyond this minimum programme and that is their choice and right.

2. State Government

The very purpose of forming linguistic states was to protect and nourish Indian languages. Usually this responsibility lies with the national government but since India was created as a multi-lingual country, linguistic states were formed and the responsibility falls on state governments. Most state governments, however, get a failing grade in this respect. Many states have passed laws declaring the state language as official language but have not enforced it. Some states have even created ministries or departments for developing the state language but they have not done much to enforce government work be done in the state language. Having thus succinctly reviewed the current sorry state, we provide here specific actions that state governments must do to give state languages their due place in state/local-body offices, educational institutions and businesses.

2-1

All state government communications within and among its offices and to residents and businesses of the state shall be in the state official language (SOL). English translations may be attached to multi-national corporations operating in the state.

2-2

All state government employees must be proficient in the state official language (SOL). Those who cannot provide school certificates to prove that they studied the SOL at school shall be required to pass a language examination before appointment. Level of the examination shall be commensurate with job duties. State government must set up, may be, three or four levels of examinations for different job categories. In general, if the job requires high school education or higher then the employee must be proficient at least at the high school level. There shall be no exceptions.

Only those who have studied the language at school or pass the required language proficiency examination shall be hired. We do not hire someone and ask him/her to pass high school or get a college degree; we hire only those who have the required educational qualifications. Same should be the criterion for language proficiency also. This applies to all new hires.

Those who are already on the job, but do not have sufficient proficiency in SOL, shall be given one year of language training and required to pass the examination or lose the job. This is the only way state official languages can take their place in government offices.

2-3

Only IAS/IPS officers who can do their job in the state official language (SOL) should be appointed to state government jobs. [We discuss this point in some detail because IAS/IPS officers who do not know the state language is the biggest roadblock to state languages becoming state official languages--not just in paper but in reality.]

Top state government administrative and police posts are held by IAS and IPS officers. These posts include secretaries in state government ministries, district collectors, director-generals of police and commissioners of police. Some of these officers are from out-of-state and do not know the state official language. They may attend some rudimentary crash course but it is nowhere near sufficient to do their work in the SOL; the only exception is Hindi because all IAS and IPS officers must be sufficiently proficient in Hindi. These out-of-state officers, thus not proficient in the SOL, write letters and memoranda, make phone calls and hold meetings in English or Hindi. How can the "state official language" really become the state official language under this circumstance? The use of English or Hindi by top state government officials percolates downwards. Only way to stop this is by appointing only those who know the state language all the way from top to bottom.

The argument against forcing these out-of-state officers to learn the necessary level of SOL is that they are transferred often from state to state or transferred to central government jobs and they cannot be expected to learn the state language. This undermines the very purpose of creating linguistic states. Linguistic states were formed for the sole purpose of the state language becoming the communication media in state government and businesses. If the shoe does not fit the feet, you do not cut the feet, you wear a bigger shoe! If transferring IAS/IPS officers from state to state is an impediment to the sate official language policy, you stop the practice of transferring IAS/IPS officers. We do not see a need to transfer IAS/IPS officers from state to state. Let them serve their career in a single state. Use of the language of the people in state governance is more important than transferring officers from state to state. Here are some practical suggestions.

2.3.1

Appoint IAS/IPS officers in their home states. Indian government can always increase the IAS/IPS quota for the state to match vacant positions. We do not say that there are not sufficient IAS officers in India and we need to appoint people from neighboring countries; we select each year as many IAS officers as required for that year. Do the same for each state. Another alternative: Currently two-thirds of all senior police officers are filled by IPS cadres and the remaining is promoted from respective state cadre officers. Amend this procedure to promote more officers from state cadres if sufficient IPS cadres who know the state language are not available.

2.3.2 

If an IAS/IPS officer who does not know the state language wants to work in the state, they must first pass an appropriate level  language examination set by the state. Adequate knowledge of the state language should be a requirement for state government jobs. We do not appoint someone as an accountant unless he/she has passed the necessary accounting courses. Why should we appoint someone as district collector in Karnataka if he/she does not know the language of the people--Kannada? Or, why should we appoint someone who does not know Malayalam as Director General of Police in Kerala? It does not make sense. Yet this is done frequently. This must change immediately. State governments must insist on it.

2.3.3

Those out-of-state IAS/IPS officers who are already in state government positions should be given the option to transfer to their own states or go through a one year intensive language training. State government should give them a one-year paid absence from job and pay for the language training if they agree to work in the state until their retirement and pass the final examination. This money is well spent if it would help making the state language the official language.

2.3.4

A few years ago a state government minister announced in the Tamil Nadu state assembly that the state government would take action against those government employees who do not sign their names in the state language. There was applause from the assembly members. Why the applause? Why are we setting our goals so low? Applaud when the minister announces that anyone who does not do all work in the state language would be fired.

A Maharashtra minister told that ministers talk to IAS officers in Marathi even if they are from out-of-state. I commend the minister for his love of Marathi but we should not rest until all work is done in Marathi.

2-4

All court proceedings in the state including high court proceedings must be in the state official language (SOL). This, of course, requires that all judges and lawyers working in the state be proficient in the state language.

A major roadblock to this is the appointment of high court judges who are from other states and do not know the SOL. Even after repeated state government requests to the Indian central government to allow state language in high courts nothing has happened (Hindi states are not affected because Hindi is allowed in those states; only in non-Hindi states have the state languages become outcasts in high courts.) Indian government points the finger to the Supreme Court saying that it is the Supreme Court that is against using state languages in high courts, except in the case of Hindi states. Supreme Court cannot come in the way of the very purpose of creating linguistic states. It must immediately explain why it allows Hindi in the high courts of Hindi states but disallows other state languages in other states. Supreme court must state reasons for its stand and what should state governments do to use the state language in high courts? Translate the Indian constitution in the state language? Some states have already done that. Translate state laws in the state language? Some states have already done that too. If the Supreme Court does not come up with rational reasons and what reasonable measures states should take, Indian parliament should direct the high courts to allow state languages. If necessary, parliament should amend the constitution. Supreme court is not beyond the constitution. State governments should press for immediate action.

2-5

State government shall issue all notices, licenses, bills, receipts, etc. in the state official language (SOL).

2-6

State government shall make knowledge of the SOL a requirement for professional licenses if the profession requires communication with state residents. For example, taxi driver licenses shall be issued only to those who pass a language examination proving the ability to read traffic signs and instruction in the SOL and communicate with passengers in the SOL. It is up to the taxicab driver to know the state language, not up to the passenger to know the driver's mother tongue.

3. Local-Body Governments

Local-body governments include city corporations, municipalities and village councils (panchayats).

3-1

All local-body government communications shall be in the state official language (SOL).

3-2

All employees of local-body governments must be proficient in the state official language (SOL). Those who cannot provide school certificates to prove that they studied the SOL at school shall be required to pass a language examination before appointment. Level of the examination shall be commensurate with job duties. Language examinations set up by the state government for its employees shall be used (See 2-2).

3-3

Local-body governments shall issue all notices, licenses, bills, receipts, etc. in the SOL.

4. Businesses

This section applies to businesses with offices/stores in the state. If the business has offices in other states/countries also, provisions of this section apply to only the offices/stores in the state.

4-1

All business communications to state/local-body governments and state residents and businesses shall be in the state official language (SOL). This does not preclude science and medical reports to other professionals in English.

4-2

All employees who have to communicate with state residents, businesses and government must be proficient in the state official language (SOL). Those who cannot provide school certificates to prove that they studied the SOL at school shall be required to pass a language examination before appointment. Level of the examination shall be commensurate with job duties. Language examinations set up by the state government for its employees shall be used (See 2-2).

For example, a sales person or cashier of a store, hotel, restaurant, movie theater or other such businesses  must be able to talk,  read and write in the SOL. A bus or taxi driver must be able to talk to passengers in the SOL.

A construction worker must be able to talk to fellow workers and supervisors in the SOL. Failure to communicate with fellow workers and supervisors could affect safety at the construction site. It is up to the out-of-state worker to know the state language and not up to the local workers to learn the out-of-state language.

Doctors and nurses must have sufficient proficiency in the SOL for communication with patients. A scientist who works in a research laboratory need not have knowledge of SOL. An engineer who works exclusively in a design office need not have to know SOL but an engineer who works at a construction site must. 

4-3

All product labels, bills, receipts, etc. shall be printed/written in the SOL; this does not preclude other languages also in those documents as long as the SOL is the primary language.

4-4

All name boards and signs shall be in the SOL; this does not preclude other languages also in them as long as the SOL is the primary language.

5. Educational Institutions

5-1

All schools in the sate must teach the state official language (SOL) as the first language up to high school according to a syllabus set by the state government.  Also, SOL shall be an optional medium of education in all schools up to high school.  State governments may require that the SOL shall be the medium up to a certain grade (say, for example, fifth grade or eighth grade). English must be taught as second language in all schools. These requirements shall be applicable to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools also. 

5-2

SOL shall be an optional medium of education for undergraduate studies in all colleges, including those under the Indian central government. Those who study in SOL medium shall not be discriminated in the selection for post-graduate studies or employment. If necessary, state governments may set up a quota for SOL medium graduates in post-graduate studies and jobs.

Those who study science, medicine and technology in the SOL medium must study English every year of the undergraduate years. SOL medium students in science, medicine and technology must be tested for their ability to understand books on their selective subject in English. This is necessary because we can translate only a small fraction of scientific books and papers, and so students must be capable of understanding English books and papers.

6. Indian Government and Indian Government Enterprises

This section applies to all Indian government offices in the state as well as offices of the "Indian government enterprises" in the state. Indian government enterprises include Indian Railways, Air India, airports, government owned banks, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and other Indian government owned or operated corporations such as the Neyveli Lignite Corporation. From hence forth, when we say Indian government offices or Indian government employees, it includes offices and employees of Indian government enterprises also.

6-1

All communications from an Indian government office in the state to state residents, businesses and governments shall be in the state official language (SOL). 

6-2

All employees of Indian government offices located in a state who would have to communicate with state residents, businesses and governments must have sufficient proficiency in the sate official language (SOL). A few jobs such as scientists in research laboratories or professors in Indian Institutes of Technology would be exempted from this requirement. State government must approve such exemptions in order that this exemption is not misused to circumvent language requirements.

6.2.1

Those who cannot provide school certificates to prove that they studied the SOL at school shall be required to pass a language examination before appointment in the state. Level of the examination shall be commensurate with job duties. State government must set up, may be, three or four levels of examinations for different job categories. In general, if the job requires high school education or higher then the employee must be proficient at least at the high school level. It is the state government that sets up and conducts the examinations, not the Indian government

6.2.2

Those who are currently employed in an Indian government office and do not have the required proficiency must take a one year course and pass the language examination or transfer out to a state where they know the language. They cannot be an excuse not to use SOL in Indian government offices.

6.2.3

Argument that Indian government employees are transferred from one state to another and so they cannot be expected to learn the state language is not acceptable. Use of state language is more important than transferring employees. Stop the transfer of employees from state to state. We do not see any paramount need for such transfers. Hire as many employees as possible from the state itself. Most, if not all states, have more than enough qualified candidates to fill the jobs. If someone wants to work in another state as a career-advancing move, it is up to that employee to learn the language and pass the necessary language examination. State government employees find job fulfillment and career advancements working in the same state their entire career. Indian government employees can also do the same.

6-3

Indian government offices in the state shall issue all applications, notices, licenses, bills, receipts, etc. in the state official language (SOL).

6-4

All name boards and signs shall be in the SOL. If the name of a department or enterprise or product is in another language, the equivalent name in SOL shall be used in the name boards and signs, so state residents may understand it. This requirement does not preclude other languages also included in name boards and signs as long as the SOL is the primary language.

 

Appendix-I
A Proposed Course of Action

Here are a few suggestions on how we may encourage politicians to enact and enforce the various provisions of the proposed Language Bill of Rights (LBOR) at the local-body, state and central government level.

Each state may form a Language Bill of Rights Movement (LBORM) to spearhead the activities to encourage politicians to enact and enforce the various provisions of the Language Bill of Rights. We do not recommend a single All-India movement because each state has different ground realities and different needs/goals. There would also be jockeying for power at the All-India level among leaders from different states. An All-India movement with around two dozen state organizations would be difficult to manage and would move at a  slow pace. So the best option is to form independent, state-level movements to act at their own pace.

The Language Bill of Rights Movements (LBORM) should be independent of political parties. No officeholder of political parties at any level should be allowed to hold office in the LBORM or allowed to address public meetings arranged by it. Also office holders in LBORM should be prohibited from addressing public meetings arranged by political parties. There is a real danger of some political party hijacking the LBORM to advance its own political fortunes.

Just before each election, the Language Bill of Rights Movements shall send a questionnaire to all candidates for their response.

Local-Body Elections:

Sample Question: Will you support a bill or ordinance requiring the local-body government to issue all notices, licenses, bills, receipts, etc. in the state official language? If no one proposes such a bill, will you propose one at the local body council?

More questions of this nature covering Sections 3 and 4, as applicable.

State Assembly Elections:

Sample Question: Will you support a bill requiring that all state government employees (including IAS/IPS officers) must be proficient in the state official language (SOL) and that those who cannot provide school certificates to prove that they studied the SOL at school be required to pass a language examination before appointment? If no one proposes such a bill, will you propose one at the state legislative assembly?

More questions of this nature covering Sections 2, 4 and 5, as applicable.

Indian Parliamentary Elections:

Sample Question: Will you support a bill requiring that all communications from Indian government offices in the state, to state residents, businesses and state/local-body governments shall be in the state official language? If no one proposes such a bill, will you propose one at the Indian parliament?

More questions of this nature covering Sections 2, 4, 5 and 6, as applicable.

Tabulate the response of each candidate and publish it in local newspapers at least one week before the election campaign ends (if necessary through paid advertisements). If a candidate did not respond to a question the answer shall be marked as "no". Voters may consider a candidate's replies as one factor in their voting decision.

We do know that a candidate's position on language may not be the controlling factor in voters' choice of candidates. But it could be a factor and could affect election results. When one candidate promises free television and another does not, some people may vote for the former irrespective of the candidates' position on language. But if both candidates promise "goodies", language may become a factor and may even tilt election results.

Appendix-II
Other Language Speakers in the State

What about state residents whose mother tongue is not the state official language? Most major languages have a state where they can grow and prosper. There are also some languages without a state of their own. We will discuss both situations.

II.1 Languages with State Patronage

Languages like Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam, etc. have state patronage in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, etc. However sizable numbers of Marathis, Telugus and Malayalis live in other states too. What about them? The state government shall do everything reasonable to help them preserve their language identity in the state. Give their children the opportunity to learn their mother tongue as an optional subject in schools where there are sufficient numbers of students. Provide financial grants to organizations that teach the language to children. Other than that, these other language speakers in the state would have to learn the state official language at school and use the state official language at work. 

There are large numbers of immigrants and naturalized citizens of non-French origin living in France; they have to learn French at school and use it at work. So is the case in Germany and many other countries. Gujaratis or Tamils living there would not even think of arguing that they don't want to learn the "language of the soil". Then how can Gujaratis or Tamils living in, say, West Bengal State argue that they do not want to learn the state language Bengali? 

Is not asking other language speakers living in West Bengal to learn Bengali like the Indian Government asking everyone to learn Hindi? No, totally different. Bengali is the "language of the soil". Bengalis are living in West Bengal for millennia. Gujaratis, Tamils and others settled there later; some of them decades ago, some of them centuries ago. They have to learn Bengali to be part of West Bengal. The situation with Hindi is different. Hindi is not the language of the soil in West Bengal. It is a language from hundreds of miles away. 

II.2 Special Provisions for Languages without a State

There are languages that are the mother tongues of large numbers of people concentrated in a specific geographic area that is not large enough or populous enough to be a state. The state government must enact some special provisions such language for such language minority. Depending on the size of the population and concentration in the geographical area, arrangements may also be made for the language to be used in local government offices (that is, panchayats, municipalities, etc.) Special grants may also be offered to create new literature, music and plays so that the language develops as a modern language. However the people must learn the state official language at schools.

If the number of people speaking the language is small or they are spread around the state, the state government shall do everything reasonable to help them preserve their language identity in the state. Give their children the opportunity to learn their mother tongue as an optional subject in schools where there are sufficient numbers of students. Provide financial grants to organizations that teach the language to children. Other than that, these other language speakers in the state would have to learn the state official language at school and use the state official language at work. Absolutely every effort should be made that the language remains a living language.

Appendix-III
Place of English in India

The Comprehensive Programme or The Language Bill of Rights presented in this article is not a programme to get rid of English from our lives. English has a place for international and inter-state communications and for access to advanced science, technology and medical texts and research papers. This is recognized and we do recommend English as second language in all our schools (see Section 5).


UPDATE (Added on 2014-02-01):

In Section 2-2 of the article we wrote, "All state government employees must be proficient in the state official language (SOL). Those who cannot provide school certificates to prove that they studied the SOL at school shall be required to pass a language examination before appointment. Level of the examination shall be commensurate with job duties."

On October 17, 2013, Kerala State cabinet decided that government employees who have not studied Malayalam up to Class X or at the degree level would have to pass a special language examination if they have to get promotion from the entry cadre. The candidates have to pass senior higher diploma equivalent examination conducted by the Malayalam Mission. Necessary changes would be brought in the Kerala Service Rules that govern state government employment. We applaud Kerala Chief Minister Mr. Oommen Chandy and all his cabinet ministers for this welcome decision.

We hope that others states, which have not done this yet, would do the same and pass necessary legislations and/or orders.

There is one more thing. As far as we know, this state government decision does not affect IAS and IPS officers in senior state government jobs. Many of them are from out of state and have very little knowledge of the state official language (SOL). They cannot and do not communicate with lower level officials in the SOL. Until all state government officials, including all IAS and IPS officers, know the language at least up to Class X level, state official language cannot take its due place. We have to put pressure of Government of India on this matter because IAS/IPS officers come under the Government of India. IAS/IPS officers who do not know the state language is the biggest roadblock to state languages becoming state official languages--not just in paper but in reality. Our recommendations in this regard are in Section 2-3 of the article.


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