Is there a case regarding Gorkhas seeking linguist minorities’ status?
The framers of the constitution of India decided on linguist states and not geographical states, yet linguist minorities in India are not given the same status and rights as religious minorities, which are vote banks. On the other hand there is reservation on caste based criteria which adds a whole new dimension to the social fabric of society. Currently English has emerged as the language of power and economics, while Hindi has become a popular language with nearly 51% of the population of the country studying the same as first, or second, language. All this has been at the cost of a large number of other languages. Around 20 years ago there were more than 148 languages yet today 94 main stream languages are left. Each time a language dies, so does it art, literature, culture, dance, drama, poetry, dress sense and clothes, cooking, in short its way of life. There is a growing need to learn English which provides jobs and is the language of power, left out are the regional languages. There are essentially adequate provisions in the constitution of India to provide protection to linguist minorities, yet the social milieu demands more emphasis on economic language and the other languages are dying out. There is thus a need to preserve various languages; on the other hand there is the urgency to economically progress, which all sections of society demand as their right.
There is thus a need to holistically examine the entire gambit of linguist minorities that may affect social process? Is this possible, or will it be a retrograde step? Will it lead to problems regarding dilution for the demand of Gorkhaland is an important question? On the other hand will it polarize society, or will it act as a unifier for the Gorkha society which is spread out in different states. Some may state that it will retard the progress of society which has gained its own momentum and is breaking various social barriers, or will we as civil society hand over a tool to our political class as leverage, are some unanswered questions? Why are we as civil society discussing the issue nearly twenty years after the recognition of Nepali language in the eighth schedule of the constitution, what will be the view point of other communities, as Gorkhas will want both OBC status and now linguist minorities status, coupled with the demand of Gorkhaland. Will we be seen as a community in demand mode only is some issues that need to be discussed and sorted out?
The importance of mother tongue is that it unifies the family and society as a whole. It is the language that a child speaks and hears at home in his or hers formative years. The child therefore, as per research on the subject is able to pick up more than one language up to the age of ten. Most of us speak hesitatingly when compared to children of say a leading school in Doon valley called Woodstock School, whose children are generally of foreign descendant and mother tongue is English. The problem is that we first think in our vernacular language and than quickly translate the same in English. All this happens in a split second subconsciously we are even not aware of it, but the fact remains as children we think the way we are trained and are stressing out with out realizing the same. It therefore, summarizes that knowledge imparted to a child in his mother tongue is quickly assimilated and not only that the child is capable of learning more than one language say English and Hindi by the age of ten, therefore, the criteria of first and second language is also met. In the case of Nepali the script being the same Devnagri, the problem of learning Hindi is simplified.
The Indian constitution has a large number of provisions regarding linguist minorities. There is article 29 which gives protection to minorities. Article 30 gives rights to minorities to establish, administer and run educational institutes. Article 350A facilitates instruction in mother tongue, while article 350B empowers the state to appoint a special officer to oversee the running of the establishment. All these provisions clearly favour the linguist minorities, but what gives a political handle is vote bank politics, and the same is best demonstrated the recent setting up of a commission for religious minorities here in Uttarakhand.
The current social milieu demands that English be taught and the case of Gorkha Military College in Garhi cantonment is a live example. A few decades back it was the pride of the Gorkha society in Doon. A couple of reasons for its decline besides the shifting of the centers from here, was the lack of English being the medium of instruction, therefore, today the school is in shambles. Thus society today wants to educate its children in the language of power, and are we as citizens setting the clock back by insisting on linguist minorities. Today currently there is reservation for the community, but on the other hand large sections of Gorkha community are outside the reservation policy. The prestigious civil services exams can be given in Nepali only by the Gorkha citizens of Sikkim, West Bengal and Assam? With the language being recognized in the eight schedule and adequate safe guards existing in the constitution, will the larger Gorkha settlements elsewhere in the country be working at cross purposes with the core area of West Bengal, Assam and Sikkim? More ever, the Gorkha community where ever it has settled in India has lived in peace full harmony with others, are we opening a Pandora’s box and inviting polarization of society, within our selves as a community and with other communities with whom we peacefully coexisted now for nearly 200 years?
As per informal information available there is adequate stress on the language in certain areas and other areas have done what suits them the best. The case of linguist minorities therefore, needs more debate within the society. With a state of Gorkhaland on the anvil the language, customs, and identity are all preserved. Thus all communities which are outside their respective states are minorities in other states, there can be no end to such a debate? Agreed if other communities in such states agitate the situation than is purely local and the local civil society should decide to take the matter on a purely local level.
Preserving the language is desirable. Language will become a unifier for the entire community, which is thin on the ground and spread out all over the hill states. The community for social progress will require a lot of effort. This will have to come from within the community. A Gorkha can never be seen as asking for alms, we are a hard working service class community. Over dependence on government does not lead to progress. Even if we get reservations the number of government jobs has not increased, wealth generation is done by the private sector where generally merit counts. It is therefore, desirable to study in your mother tongue, master a second language around class six or so, progress on merit and reservation based on ones circumstances and ability, not give the political class as civil society another handle, to take back the progress with out polarizing society. An article written by me earlier on political identity brings progress which is what is required is reinforced by maintaining our language as a unifier and not as a political tool. The aim is Gorkhaland and this may well distract the community, once the same is achieved other issues will fall in place.
(The author retired as a brigadier from the Army and is settled in Doon)