India: Democracy or Hindi-crazy?
Part 1: Participatory Democracy
TAMIL TRIBUNE, Novrmber 2014 (ID. 2014-11-01); Updated October 2016
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Non-Hindi ministers cannot speak in their mother tongue in parliament but Hindi ministers can. Non-Hindi members of parliament (MPs) can speak or ask questions in mother tongue only if they ask and get permission well ahead of time; also, they cannot ask follow-up questions in their mother tongue, but Hindi MPs can speak and ask questions in their mother tongue whenever they want. Non-Hindi citizens cannot express their opinion and make suggestions to the government n their mother tongue on the newly created (2014) government web site but Hindi citizens can. In short non-Hindi ministers, MPs and ordinary citizens cannot fully participate in this "democracy" unless they know one of two alien languages Hindi or English. This reduces non-Hindi peoples to second-class citizens. ["Hindi is as much alien to South Indians as English is to Indians" - Pattom Thanu Pillai (Former Chief Minister, Kerala State formerly known as Travancore-Cochin)]
India is widely touted as the largest democracy in the world. Is it truly a democracy? The devil is in the details. We will provide some details in this article.
Democracy is not just majority rule. It may be true in a homogeneous society. However, in a heterogeneous society, whether it has two layers or multiple layers of "heterogeneity", all layers of society should be able to participate in the democratic process without roadblocks and filters. We will illustrate in this article that linguistic minorities are not given the same opportunities to participate in the democratic process in India.
Let me hasten to add that all adults have a vote irrespective of the language or region. But that is not enough, as discussed in the following sections. A few examples.
(Those who read Indian newspapers may have seen the names Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Lok Sabha is the lower house of parliament and Rajya Sabha is the upper houses of parliament)
2. Non-Hindi Ministers Tongue-Tied
2.1 The Facts
M. K. Alagiri from Tamilnadu became India's Chemicals and Fertilizers minister in mid-2009. He does not know Hindi and his English proficiency is limited.
It was reported in September 2009 that he asked the speaker of parliament Meira Kumar permission to speak in Tamil [which could be translated to English and Hindi] [The Hindu newspaper: September 15, 2009]. The speaker delayed and delayed making a decision. Alagiri mostly stayed out of parliament during this period. Finally after ten months, in July 2010, Meira Kumar made her decision. Alagiri's request to speak in Tamil was denied because the Indian constitution says that ministers reply to questions in English or Hindi She said that Alagiri could answer the primary question by reading out the reply in English and the supplementary questions could be answered by his deputy minister Srikant Jena [The Hindu newspaper: July 18, 2010]. In essence, Alagiri would play the part of a "dummy" reading a reply in English [obviously written by someone else] and secondary questions would be answered by his deputy in English or Hindi
2.2 Commentary (Minister Issue)
So non-Hindi peoples could not fully participate in Indian democracy. They have to elect only politicians who could speak in Hindi or English. We may be losing the services of brilliant non-Hindi peoples because they could not speak Hindi or English, while any Hindi politician can become a minister knowing only the mother tongue. This is discriminatory democracy.
We would accept this practice if there is a practical reason why non-Hindi ministers could speak only in Hindi or English. There is no practical reason. Hire a full-time translator to translate each of the languages listed in the constitution to English. There are many Hindi to English and English to Hindi translators working in the parliament. Why not one translator for each of the languages? (22 languages at the time this article is first published) The reason is not practicality; the reason is not money. The reason is the imperial attitude of Hindi politicians and people. India is no longer a democracy; it has gone Hindi-crazy.
3. Non-Hindi Members of Parliament (the second class representatives of second class citizens)
3.1 I cannot hear you!
We have discussed how non-Hindi ministers are tongue-tied in parliament What about members of parliament?
Members of parliament can choose to hear parliamentary procedures in Hindi or English through ear phones. If someone speaks in English, the speech is translated to Hindi by human translators; if someone speaks in Hindi, it is translated to English by human translators. What if a non-Hindi member of parliament (MP) does not know Hindi or English? Too bad. He is out of touch with what is going on. Is it fair? How can such a non-Hindi MP participate in the parliament?
We want simultaneous translations into all languages listed in the constitution. It is not at all difficult. This is done in the European Union parliament, with over a dozen languages. The technology exists. All that is needed is for the Indian government to hire full-time translators in all languages. There are thousands (yes, thousands) of Hindi-English-Hindi translators in the Indian government. Why is the government is so stingy when it comes to hiring one full time translator for each language. It is not the money. It is the imperial attitude of Hindi people and politicians. This is not democracy, this is Hindi-crazy.
3.2 I cannot speak to you!
Can non-Hindi MPs speak in their mother tongue? A non-Hindi member can speak in the mother tongue if he/she gives prior notice and gets permission well ahead of time. With the permission in the pocket, a non-Hindi member can speak or ask a question in mother tongue. Pre-prepared Hindi and English translations of the speech/question is read into the head phones (this is the procedure at the current time). The non-Hindi MP cannot ask a follow-up question in the mother tongue; may ask only in Hindi or English. This is unfair because follow-up questions are necessary. Also non-Hindi MPs cannot spontaneously express their views in the mother tongue on an on-going debate because prior notice must be given and permission obtained before speaking in any language other than Hindi or English. In summary, non-Hindi MPs who know neither Hindi nor English cannot fully represent their constituencies in parliament. This is unfair.
This unfair situation could be easily rectified by hiring one full time translator for each language. But only Hindi translators are available all the time in parliament and ready to translate to English. We want the same for non-Hindi languages also.
4. Electoral Search and Registration Web Site in Hindi and English Only
Indian Government set up a web site to help voters www.electoralsearch.in You can locate polling stations near your house, register to vote, etc. This site is in Hindi and English only (as of 2016). So only Hindi people can get the information and register in their mother tongue. Others have to know at least one of two alien languages, Hindi or English, if they want to get voting information or register to votes through Internet. This is outrageous in the so-called largest democracy. Another example of Indian government gone Hindi-crazy.
5. Indian Government Web Sites and People Participation
On July 26, 2014, Prime Minister Modi opened a new web site where people can make suggestions and discuss how to better govern the country ( http://mygov.nic.in/ ). Mr. Modi said that the web site "would bridge gap gulf between people and government. Democracy cannot succeed without people's participation in government and this participation should not be limited only during elections". Author of this article visited the web site on July 28, 2014; the web site is in English and Hindi only. So, only people whose mother tongue is Hindi and those non-Hindi citizens who know either Hindi or English can provide suggestions and "participate in the government" (as Mr. Modi called it). So in the same way as non-Hindi ministers and members of parliament (MPs) cannot participate in the Indian parliament fully unless they know Hindi or English, ordinary non-Hindi people cannot "participate in the government" through its web sites unless they know Hindi or English. This is not democracy, this is Hindi-crazy?
Technology to use all Indian languages in this government web site exists. Major private companies like Google and Facebook allow users to write in many dozens of languages. Why is Indian government restricting to just English and Hindi? It is the imperial attitude of Hindi people and politicians. This is not democracy, this is Hindi-crazy.
(Post-Script to Section 2: It was reported on August 8, 2014, that Minister of State for Commerce Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman was allowed to answer a Tamil question in Tamil in parliament [the Economic Times: August 8, 2014]. This is a one-time deal to assuage the mounting criticism in Tamil Nadu against some Hindi imposition actions of the new Indian government [Reference 1]. We have seen the bait and switch tactic before. There was mounting pressure in Tamil Nadu that Tamil be allowed in Madras High Court. One judge allowed Tamil in one case. Months later when another lawyer used Tamil, another judge refused it quoting rules and regulations. What we want are laws or parliamentary rules enacted guaranteeing that ministers can speak in the mother tongue without seeking permission from anybody; the same right Hindi ministers have. We are not begging for favours, we are demanding our right.)
Post your comments and/or Read other comments (Subject November 2014)
1. India, Hindi and Broken Promises (An Eight-Point Request) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 2014 (9 KB) (h)
Hindi Imperialism of Indian Government (Collection of articles)
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