Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Linguistic minorities report

The Government of India's Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities submitted its 48th report (PDF) in July 2012. The Commissioner circulated a questionnaire on the implementation of "safeguards" for linguistic minorities. All but five states replied to the questionnaire. Another query was also sent to states and government departments asking what action had been taken on the recommendations of the previous report. Thirteen replies were received; 26 did not reply.

Chapter 37 of this report (p. 275 onwards) gives "Findings & Observations at a Glance". It takes each "safeguard" in turn and lists where it has been fully or partially implemented; where it needs to be implemented; and where "no specific information" has been provided.

The first safeguard, for instance, is "Facility for Instruction in Mother Language at Primary Stage of Education". The report tells us that it has been implemented in Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Delhi; "implemented in parts" in 13 other states; needs to be implemented in 10 more; while nine have not given any information.

While most states have returned the questionnaire, they seem to have answered only some of the questions about the safeguards that they are actually implementing. Thus, there are many gaps in information.

A previous commissioner has recommended (DOC) that the Indian census should record the names of all languages -- not just those with more than 10 000 speakers. Indeed, he recommended the abolition of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution altogether. One result of the way the census currently counts is that under the rubric Hindi, for example, the 2001 census lists 49 "mother tongues". It then has a category called "Others" with as many as 14.8 million speakers. They all speak variants of Hindi, but each variant has less than 10 000 speakers. So their mother tongues are not mentioned.

The recommendations of this report (chapter 38) do not address the census issue. However, this report acknowledges the increasing mobility of urban populations and the increasing multilingualism of our cities. Clearly we need to know more reliably who speaks what, and design our policies accordingly.

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