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Why the Khattar government’s Hindi-only rule is exclusionary and undemocratic

Language is about political power and control, and so language chauvinism often becomes a handy tool to further political agendas.

editorials Updated: Feb 05, 2018 10:43 IST
Hindustan Times
Khattar government,Official Language Act,1969
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar address a press conference, Gurgaon, India, January 31, 2018(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

The Haryana government has asked its departments, boards and corporations to conduct all official correspondence in Hindi and use English only in legal matters related to the Supreme Court and other courts. From a legal-administrative point of view, the BJP government under Manohar Lal Khattar has not done anything unique: It is only implementing the Official Language Act, 1969, which provided for the adoption of Hindi as the language to be used for official purposes in Haryana, in letter and spirit. Haryana is also not the only state to be doing this: Punjab has also implemented its version of the language Act. That the Khattar government would bring in this Act at some point of its tenure was clear when the chief minister announced last year, a lifetime monthly pension of Rs 10,000 for satyagrahis imprisoned during the Hindi satyagraha launched by the Punjab Arya Pratinidhi Sabha in 1957. The government had identified 194 satyagrahis for pension and other benefits.

Language is about political power and control. So language chauvinism often becomes a handy tool to further political agendas. At the national level too, the BJP has been trying to expand Hindi’s footprint. But it has been unsuccessful, thanks to protests by regional parties. This resistance towards Hindi chauvinism is natural since India’s states and Union Territories have been organised on linguistic lines.

But just because states were organised on linguistic lines and a particular language is widely spoken in a particular geographical area, the Haryana government cannot suddenly make it the only official language. The step is not just regressive but also exclusionary because every state has a major chunk of people who speak other languages. How will they communicate with the state? And will they be denied their rights --- social, legal and economic --- just because they can’t speak Hindi? For example, if say, a person from a non-Hindi speaking state goes to a police station and there is no one there to translate her complaint into Hindi, will the person be denied the right to file a timely criminal complaint? That would be an assault on the constitutional and democratic right of citizens. Mr Khattar must realise that he is the chief minister of Haryana, and not the chief minister of Hindi-speaking Haryana.

First Published: Feb 05, 2018 10:43 IST