At a time when the NDA and the PM have shown their preference for Hindi, and when the UPSC aptitude test CSAT has seen protests over the perceived advantages it grants English-medium students over those of Hindi medium, the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities in its 50th report has made a case for safeguarding linguistic minorities in various states. It has, in 27 recommendations, reaffirmed the status of the mother tongue, even if spoken by a minority in a state, and called for its inclusion in education up to the primary level, recruitment and state-level exams.
The Constitution accords as much primacy to linguistic minorities as it does to religious minorities. Articles 29 and 30 speak of safeguarding that diversity. The Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, set up in 1957, has in its latest report made a recommendation that could have far-reaching implications if followed — a call to states for “identification and declaration of Linguistic Minority Concentrated Areas”. The commission says states and UTs should declare/notify areas populated with linguistic minorities who constitute more than 15 per cent of the local population at the local level (district, municipal, taluk).
Taking note of erosion across states of languages spoken by a minority, the commission has observed that in almost all states, learning the state official language has been made compulsory in the curriculum. It argues that instead, representation for redress of grievances in states should be allowed and encouraged in languages that may not be the main language of the state, but are spoken.
The commission says it has been told by states that state services recruitment examinations do not allow the use of languages other than the regional language for answering questions. This, it has recommended, must change and “knowledge of state official language need not be insisted upon as a prerequisite at the time of entry into state services”.
During enrolment of children in school, the commission has said, it is of the view that registering the child’s mother tongue should be made compulsory, along with asking the parents their preferences for first language and optional language. This, writes the commission, would be well within the three-language formula. It has emphasised a meaningful application for the three-language formula in schools and called for providing a “level playing field for linguistic minorities” and “facilities for instruction in their mother tongue at the primary stage of education within their territory.”
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The report has also called for encouraging the teaching of minority languages in schools by filling in teacher vacancies, improving the teacher-student ratio for languages in a minority, and enabling the availability of textbooks in those languages at the start of the academic session.
“Our centuries-old multilingual, multicultural ethos has held the country together like the thread in a rosary of beads and this diversity is more emphatically presented in the multiplicity of languages spoken by people in different parts of the country,” said commissioner for linguistic minorities Prof Akhtar ul Wasey. “The point of zabaans is to foster samvaad, not vivaad.”