Let Us Talk about a Forgotten Private Member Bill – the Official Languages Bill 2012

- by Vasant Shetty

For the first time in 45 years, the Indian Parliament witnessed the approval of a Private Member Bill. The bill protecting and providing rights of transgenders was moved by Mr Tiruchi Siva, a DMK Rajyasabha MP and was passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 24th of April, 2015. It is that photo-op moment for Indian democracy that Indian polity cared so much for and passed a private member bill after 45 long years. The Hindu reports: 

Mr Siva’s Bill has 58 clauses in 10 chapters dealing with different aspects ranging from social inclusion, rights and entitlements, financial and legal aid, education, skill development to prevention of abuse, violence and exploitation.  

Congratulations to Mr Tiruchi Siva for standing up for the rights of a thin margin of people, who otherwise did not exist in the imagination of India’s politics. The media was equally jubilant. After all, who doesn’t want to be seen standing on the side of justice, especially on an issue dealing with transgenders!   

Now, let us turn to another Private Member Bill moved by the same Tiruchi Siva. Unlike the one on transgenders, this bill was about an issue that affects the lives of millions and millions of Indians on a daily basis. So, what is that issue? – It is the issue of language inequality. It is the issue of unabated Hindi Imposition that is rapidly leading to Hindification of India. It is the issue concerning crores of Indians who are denied government services in their own languages and are rather treated as second class citizens for not knowing a language of a higher god - Hindi.  Yes, I am talking about the Official Language Act, which gives absolute primacy to Hindi in all aspects of governance delivered by the Union government of India. This undemocratic, anti-diversity act has forcefully imposed Hindi on all non-Hindi states leading to a steady decline of all non-Hindi languages in their respective states. 

Troubled by the dismal state of non-Hindi languages in India, Mr Siva had moved a private member bill called ”The Official Languages Bill 2012” on the 7th of December 2012, demanding official language status to all languages included in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution. In a fair and just democracy, an issue bothering a majority of the people would have become a policy issue instantly, but in the world’s largest democracy, it is not the case. Mr Siva’s bill came up for a discussion on 23rd February 2013 and after an inconclusive debate in which several non-Hindi speaking MPs came in support of Siva’s bill, nothing much happened and the bill died a natural death with the end of tenure of the 15th Lokasabha. 

Some questions arise in my mind after seeing the successful approval of private member bill related to transgenders.
  • If for 45 years, not a single Private Member bill was accepted, then is there a point in having a provision to move a Private Member bill at all?
  • When the rights of a few transgenders are taken seriously (rightly so), why is that language rights of non-Hindi speakers, who form the majority of India, are considered fit to be ignored?
  • Can India call itself a democracy, when the Union government so openly and brazenly discriminates between Hindi and non-Hindi languages?
  • Success of any democracy lies in bridging the gap between the system and the people, and the biggest tool to achieve this goal is to use people’s languages in administration. Can India’s democracy succeed by simply ignoring the presence of all non-Hindi languages?
These questions concern the entire country, especially the different linguistic groups that are part of India. So, all the different linguistic groups of India must join hands and demand for linguistic equality. In a time when technology can solve all sorts of communication challenges, India cannot harp behind “One Nation – One Language” theory and subjugate the rights of non-Hindi speakers. 

Of late, there is a noticeable awakening among the various linguistic groups of India. As this awakening spreads, it is only a matter of time before linguistic equality becomes a reality in India, and thereby India transforming into a true multilingual federal democracy.  All non-Hindi speakers have their task cut out clearly - join hands, work together and achieve linguistic equality.


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