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Complaint about Tamil Signs at Voting Booths in Tamil Nadu

T. Murali

TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2012 (ID. 2012-01-01)
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ABBREVIATIONS

CBSE - Central Board of Secondary Education

DEFINITIONS

Hindian: People whose mother tongue is Hindi (similar to Tamil speakers are sometimes referred as Tamilans or Tamilians).


Times of India (October 18, 2011) carried a news item that signs at voting booths for the local body election in Tamilnadu were only in Tamil and those who do not know Tamil found it difficult to vote. The newspapers gave three examples. One was a 63-year old man; we do not know how long he was living in Tamil Nadu.

The second case was a 23 year old student who was living in Tamil Nadu for 10 years. Let us examine this case. He obviously came to Tamil Nadu at age 13 with his parents (or a parent), went to school and college in Tamil Nadu and yet he chose not to learn to read Tamil. And he is complaining that signs at voting booths for local body elections are in Tamil. We have to fault our school systems for allowing students to complete schooling without having to learn even to read Tamil. Though Tamilnadu state government has enacted laws to make Tamil a compulsory subject, Indian government has made a mockery of these laws by opening CBSE schools where a student can complete primary to high school education without learning a single word in Tamil. We should strive to close down these CBSE schools or make Tamil a compulsory subject in them.

The third was a 23 year old law college student who cannot read Tamil. He must learn Tamil if he plans to work and live in Tamil Nadu. If he is just here for studies and keeps himself within the college campus and do not want to integrate with local population, why should he be able to vote in local elections? Let him vote by absentee-mail in his own home state. Can you even think of someone going to Germany for studies and refusing not to read German? Yet some north Indians coming to Tamil Nadu and other non-Hindi states want to live and work without learning the local language, even at the very basic level.

We can look at this situation that Times of India highlighted from many angles. Why is not Times of India telling that signs at local body election voting booths in Hindi states are in Hindi and Hindi alone? Having pointed out Times of India newspaper's one-sidedness, I support Hindi states putting only Hindi signs at election booths.

This is my position on the use of Tamil language. All road/street signs and bus name boards should be in Tamil and English (except, may be, in rural areas). Why? Non-Tamil visitors do come to Tamil Nadu as tourists and for business transactions. I am open minded enough to say that, as short duration visitors, we do not impose them to know Tamil or bring a traveler's dictionary with them. Although you will not find English signs in many countries, except in a few major cities, if at all.

There is nothing wrong in putting signs in Tamil only at voting booths; in fact I commend whoever made that decision. That is the right way to go. Why? Tourists, visitors and short-term residents (say, for short-term work assignments) should not be allowed to vote in Tamil Nadu; they should vote by mail in the place of their permanent residence as absentee voters. Why should a Gujarati who is on a one-month work assignment in Tamilnadu vote here and decide who heads the city corporation, village council or state, or who represents Tamil Nadu in the Indian parliament? As for permanent residents or long-term residents, they should learn the local language. Can you even think of someone settling in China or having a long-term employment in China and refusing to learn Chinese? This is true for many other countries also. There are many foreign nurses, especially from Southeast Asian countries, going to Japan for work. Japan requires that they learn Japanese if they want long-term employment there. Recently a court in United Kingdom (UK) upheld that a government rule that foreign spouses married to UK citizens must learn English before they are allowed to come and live in UK. The judge said that the rule was aimed at promoting integration and protecting public services. UK Immigration Minister Damian Green said that it was “entirely reasonable that someone intending to live in the UK should understand English, so that they can integrate and participate fully in our society.”

Anyone who settles permanently in a region must learn the local language. Those who are not permanent residents should not have the  right to vote in the state of non-permanent residence. Let them vote by mail in their hometowns or villages.

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