Madras HC to Centre: Use English for official purposes
Su Venkatesan, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Member of Parliament from Madurai, moved the court seeking the use of English in all communications between the Union and the Tamil Nadu government, its lawmakers and the people.
The Madras high court on Thursday directed the Union government to strictly follow the provisions of the Official Languages Act mandating the use of English for official purposes of the Union and Parliament months after a Tamil Nadu lawmaker filed a petition seeking adherence to the law after a Union ministry responded to his letter in Hindi. Language is a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu, where anti-Hindi agitations date back to the 1930s.
“The Union government must reply in English if you are getting a representation in English,” said Justices N Kirubakaran and M Duraiswamy of the court’s Madurai bench in their order.
Su Venkatesan, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Member of Parliament from Madurai, moved the court seeking the use of English in all communications between the Union and the Tamil Nadu government, its lawmakers and the people. This came after the Union home ministry responded in Hindi to his letter in English last year requesting the setting up of exam centres for the recruitments for paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
In protest, Venkatesan first sent another letter saying he does not belong to a Hindu-speaking state and does not know how to read, write and speak the language. He sought action against officials who sent him the reply in Hindi without an English translation, saying it violated the rights guaranteed under the Constitution as well as the Official Languages Act.
Officials from the home ministry were not available for a comment.
In 1938, protests first erupted against the alleged imposition of Hindi in now what is Tamil Nadu when then Madras Presidency premier C Rajagopalachari sought to make the language compulsory in schools. Protests erupted against Hindi again in 1965. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) rose to power first riding on this wave of protests in the 1967 assembly elections. No national political party has since emerged as an alternative to the regional parties.
The language issue has gained more importance since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power at the Centre in 2014. The ruling DMK has accused the BJP, which is known for its emphasis on Hindi, of trying to impose Hindi and Sanskrit.
The Centre informed the court the Union home ministry’s response in Hindi to Venkatesan was inadvertent and not intentional. The court said the Centre should use English along with Hindi citing Section 3 of the Official Languages Act, which says both Hindi and English should be used for the documents.
“They (union government) said that they did it unintentionally, but I wanted them to know that they are violating the law,” Venkatesan said.
Venkatesan said that he approached the court only after he and other Tamil Nadu MPs faced repeated incidents of ‘Hindi imperialism’. “We had been complaining to the ministries and the Lok Sabha speaker that we are receiving responses only in Hindi and us MPs from non-Hindi speaking states are clueless,” said Venkatesan. “Even while this case was in the court the education ministry sent a reply to me in Hindi on another representation I sent. We made all these arguments today. .”
On the question of whether the MPs can send a representation in their regional languages such as Tamil and if the union government is legally bound to reply in the same language, Venkatesan said that the Act mentions that a reply can be given in regional languages to non-Hindi speaking states. “Morally they can give a response in the regional languages but if they can’t, then it has to be in English. Why should a reply be given in Hindi to a non-Hindi speaking state and that’s what the court has stressed on today.”
DMK’s spokesperson A Saravanan said that the order stamps an authority on the usage of official languages. “Ever since the BJP came to power they have tried to impose Hindi, if not directly but indirectly. And we have been able to identify those attempts and swat them,” said Saravanan.
Tamil Nadu’s BJP unit denied the accusation. “It’s an individual from any union ministry who replies and they would have just done it unawares. No one is scheming here thinking that by replying in Hindi they can thrust the language,” said state BJP secretary Karu Nagarajan. “We have made learning mother tongue compulsory in the National Education Policy and students can write NEET in Tamil and other regional languages. Our party leaders, the Prime Minister and vice-president have repeatedly stressed on the importance of mother tongue so why would we be against it?”