India, Linguistic Diversity, and the Linguistic Minorities
By Dr. Nandlal Jotwani
Listen to my calls. Listen to my whimpers. Listen to my warnings. Our Sindhi language is a language of linguistic minority in India. Sindhi language is gasping for its breath for want of adequate ventilation, that is, for want of its use and usage by its enterprising, ebullient community, in intra-family conversation and intra-community communication. For the last couple of years, I have been sounding this wake up, clarion call to my esteemed Sindhi society about the increasingly disturbing trend of declining use of the Sindhi language among the Sindhis in India.
While we are the proud inheritors of the ancient civilization dating back to 3250 B.C., we have since come to such a sad pass where the very existence of our language seems to be at stake unless we wake up and revive the waning passion for speaking and learning our mother language. Today, the Sindhi linguistic minority faces major challenges in preserving its language and constructing or retaining its cultural identity.
With a view to emphasizing the importance of mother language, with special reference to minority languages, including Sindhi language, I had the privilege of convening a national conference in celebration of the mother language, linguistic diversity and multilingualism, coinciding with the International Mother Language Day, on 21st February, 2011, a few photographs of which are juxtaposed in this article.
In my keynote address, I had highlighted the fact that many minority languages in India face major challenges in preserving their languages and constructing or retaining their cultural identity. I had, inter alia, suggested to carry out a scientific study of the experiences of the youth of the linguistic minorities vis-à-vis their native cultural perspective in the context of diverse environment they live in and interact with, in modern times of greater mobility in quest of careers and livelihood. The intergenerational gap may probably emerge out more visibly, indicative of undercurrents of emerging hybrid identities. Another such scientific study could be carried out by narrowing the canvas to the linguistic minorities, which have no linguistic State or territory to fall back on for socio-cultural development. The perspectives gained from these studies may lead to further exploration of the young people's desire to be open to plural worlds and to interact in our ever-changing, ever-evolving societies with a constructive vision of cultural globalization.
The economic and political domination of the British in India has left behind a legacy where English is looked upon as a language of prestige and opportunity. The new generation, informed as it is, generally goes by the 'language utility value' and 'language vitality score', encompassing multiple factors and variables like the 'language availability' in the knowledge society marked by multimedia and mass media - cinema, newspapers, television, radio, etc., - monopolized by commercially and culturally dominant mainstream languages. There has been a paradigm shift in the linguistic landscape due to large scale migration to urban areas, that is, to the ever expanding Metropolises and big cities of India. Most of the youth of the linguistic minorities, striving to earn their livelihood, may lack motivation to learn their native language or assert their cultural roots. Hence, we need to integrate our higher level support to the grassroots level activity in the society to ensure the sustained promotion and propagation of all languages in India.
In India, the linguistic minorities have been provided with various safeguards. For example, any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same. No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of the State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them. The minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of the proposed property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause. The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language. Every person shall be entitled to submit a representation for the redressal of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a State in any of the languages used in the Union or in the State, as the case may be. It shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother language at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups. Besides, there are additional safeguards, which have been agreed to by the Central and the State Governments, for example, instruction through minority languages at the Secondary stage of education; translation and publication of important rules, regulations, notices, etc., into all languages, which are spoken by at least 15% of the total population at district or sub-district level; declaration of minority languages as second official language in districts where persons speaking such languages constitute 60% or more of the population; receipt of, and reply to, representations in minority languages; advance registration of linguistic preference of linguistic minority pupils and inter-school adjustments; provision for text books and teachers in minority languages; implementation of Three-language Formula; no insistence upon knowledge of State's Official Language at the time of recruitment (the test of proficiency in the State's official language to be held before completion of probation); issue of pamphlets in minority languages detailing safeguards available to linguistic minorities; setting up of proper machinery at the State and district levels.
We, in India, recognise the rights and privileges of the linguistic minorities to enable their attaining easy access to national economic resources and to social mainstream to offset their apparent disadvantages in a liberal democratic multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural environment. The dynamic linguistic minorities would do well to avail themselves of various safeguards enshrined in the Constitution of India, and the other allied schemes for the welfare of the linguistic minorities. Just as bio-diversity enriches the life of a forest, linguistic diversity enhances the intellectual well-being of individuals and groups, both small and large. Language is basically related to culture and to everyday communication in a society. Language is a powerful instrument of cultural identity since it is the medium through which the individuals interact and communicate with the world and it is a vital means of expression. Thus the linguistic identities are basic as they construct a greater part of our identities. In the spirit of helping the linguistic minorities in their endeavour to preserve and promote their socio-cultural identity, I have recently written to C.E.O., Prasar Bharati, and Director General, Doordarshan, to kindly consider starting of “Doordarshan Sindhi Channel” on the analogy of “Doordarshan Urdu” as Sindhi is the one of the languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India.
Nandlal Jotwani, M.A., Ph.D., worked as the Senior Research Fellow of the University Grants Commission, Government of India, on a Lexicological Project “Sindhi-English Dictionary – with phonetic transcriptions” (1964-65); Wing Commander in Indian Air Force ( till June 1993); 'Visiting Fellow', ARC, Stanford University, U.S.A. (2003-04); Member of the Governing Body and the Chairperson-cum-Chief Minister's Special Invitee to the Executive Committee of the Sindhi Academy, Delhi, Member of the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, MHRD, Government of India, et al. He has been honoured with various national and international awards, including the coveted national award of 'Sindhu Ratna' by the Federation of the Sindhi Panchayats, New Delhi (2011). Presently, he is holding the constitutional post of the National Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com