Millennium Post

Federal India must be more tolerant

Upon close observation of some of the most glaring examples of injustices to humanity, Hindi imposition in India stands out as a peculiar one. In fact the Constitution of India itself records some articles that make this imposition of Hindi official and thereby legal.

As per the Constitution of India, Hindi and English are the lone official languages of the government of independent India- a nation with at least 22 widely spoken languages. This means, ever since India became a sovereign democratic republic nation, promising to protect the interests of all its citizens, millions of non-Hindi people find that their union government does not deal in their language(s), but is more than ready to deal in Hindi.

Hindi imposition is rampant in India, thanks to the sponsoring central government itself. With this kind of bias and support Government of India (GoI) has shown towards Hindi and even institutionalised in its favor, the central government has explicitly taken sides with one of the many languages spoken in India and exposed a rather ugly cleavage between Hindi speakers and all speakers of other Indian languages. This kind of a recognition of one Indian language in neglect of many others clearly makes speakers of the former superior than the rest by virtue of the language they speak; clearly against the primary safeguards of equality offered by the Constitution. While Hindi speakers have both their state govt and the central govt to safeguard their rights, non-Hindi peoples have nothing but their own state for that, with a centre lopsided towards Hindi alone.

Owing to this skewed protection by the polity, people living in non-Hindi States experience insecurity in their own country – insecurity in employment, food provision, primary health and even identification services (eg: Passport) catered to by the GoI- all rolled out in Hindi and English only. These services remain inaccessible to a majority of Indians unless they equip themselves with the Hindi language. Such compulsion by citizens to compromise on one’s cultural and linguistic heritage in order to benefit from a democratically elected government is not just a violation of UNESCO‘s universal declaration of linguistic rights (at Barcelona) but also a gross human rights violation. A true federal democracy should not make an arbitrary section of the society as beneficiary at the cost of all the rest of the society precisely what Hindi imposition in India is leading to.

It may be right to observe that certain statute laws such as the Official Language Act, 1963 grossly favor Hindi over other Indian languages. The various elements of the Constitution (Article 368 coupled with Article 3) vest such strong powers with the centre that they create an adverse climate to making amendments to annul such biased policies. For instance, Article 3 empowers the centre to fragment the nation and create tinier States, whereas Article 368 precludes any amendment to Schedule 7 and to itself without a simple majority of State assemblies concurring with the amendment. 

An arrangement of tiny States makes it increasingly difficult to generate a unified opinion against oppressive acts such as Hindi imposition. Not only does this Constitutional fortress makes Hindi imposition easier but also sets the clock back on the path to making the Indian union more federal.
A pragmatic approach to the Hindi Imposition problem will call for amendments to Schedule 7 (the Union, State and the Concurrent lists) and the Official Language Act. It will call for a more federal India where the rights of people are paramount for the running of the nation. 

Demands for linguistic equality have been heard since a long time across India; sadly not heard by the central government! Successive governments need to be reminded of the importance of linguistic diversity and equality in the Indian federation. People need to remind governments of their responsibility to amend laws that currently support and encourage such arbitrary methods as Hindi Imposition. This way Central government’s Hindi Divas and Hindi Saptaahs are glaring violations of human rights and they must be dropped with immediate effect. 
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