Linguistic Minorities

If you are living in India there is a very high probability that you have been hearing about  minorities constantly over the last few years. Most of the times we take it for granted that minority means religious minority. There are times when we also speak about other minorities like LGBT and differently abled but there is one minority in particular that has been really neglected. It is the linguistic minorities. In a country that has more than 720 dialects spoken it is difficult to identify a national language. Take any language for that matter and there would be little more than 58% of the population who cannot understand that language. In such a case how would you identify a single National language that could that could make sense for everybody. That's the precise reason that India doesn't have a national language in spite of the common myth that Hindi is the national language. It is in this scenario that Indian constitution  has declared 22 scheduled/official languages and doesn't have a single National language.

 

Recently I had been to a bank to make a cash deposit for my startup Aziteez. While I was filling the form I observed a man standing beside me. He stood there turning his head from side to side. I assumed that he was looking for a pen. I continued filling the form thinking that I could handover my pen to him once I am done. When I was done I handed over my pen to him. He thanked me and requested me to fill the form for him. He seemed educated and I was surprised that he couldn't fill the form. I started filling the form and started the conversation with him simultaneously. He mentioned that he was from a Village close to Bangalore and that he had completed MA in Kannada. That's when the reality stuck me. He was a  well educated man and he could speak Kannada so fluently but he couldn't fill the form because it was only in English and Hindi. I feel sorry for him because the bank made him feel like an un-educated though he had a Masters in Kannada. I kept pondering about this while I drove back to home.

 

While we are sensitive to religious minorities and physically handicapped we are rarely sensitive to linguistic minorities. To put things in perspective only around 10 to 15% of Indian population can speak English and a max of 42% can speak or understand Hindi. And amongst these 42 % who can speak Hindi most of them of are either from Central India or North India. For most of the people from South India who had their education in their native languages Hindi is as foreign to them as English. The Hindi that they would have listened would either be from from the Bollywood movies or listening to the immigrants from the Northern states who would have settled in the southern states. If you have travelled to Chennai any time you would realise how hard it is to transact or do your normal chores in the city without knowing the local language Tamil. While personally we have every right to be irritated in chennai about our plight, what we don't realise  that we are subjecting many people to a similar flight there own native states. If you could not withstand such a situation for a day in your life just imagine what this people would be going through all their lives.

 

It is high time we are sensitive to needs of people like this and address them. There is no pain more horrible than feeling foreign in your own Homeland. Today with the advent of Technology these issues can be addressed with much lesser efforts and funds than it was required a few years ago. What is lacking is sensitivity of the people and will of the government. Government should realise that while there is need to create a conducive environment for the immigrants who come in search of opportunities the far more basic requirement is to address the address the problems of the locals. This is not only a moral obligation but also is a requirement for the harmony in the long term.

 

Hindi is the official languages in 10 states. Which leaves us with 19 states that either have their local language/English as the official language. Governments of these states should come together to address this issue. While their languages might change it is is the same problem all these states are trying to address. There are so many synergies that can be utilised by states fighting this issue together.  

 

A few of those could be like

  1. Generalisation of the language problem that would make the solutions more robust.

  2. Invest together to enhance the technology support for using local languages in all possible corners of administration. For example http://www.karnataka.gov.in/pages/kn.aspx which states that it is the official website of karnataka, has the option to read in kannada but only on the home page. Today has technology has grown by leaps and bounds.

  3. All the states could come together to adopt only technology that has multilingual support. Drupal for example has a very good support for building multilingual websites. Why not consider adopting Drupal(or any other open-source platform) with multilingual support as the default requirement while calling out tenders for building websites.

  4. Once you have a strong backend that supports multilingual set-up, it is not rocket science to create fronts ends like apps, kiosks and other front end interfaces that can make the lives of locals much easier.

  5. Come out with general standards that would help the software vendors to assess the risks easily. This would also enable the vendors from other parts of the country also to bid as the standards are general and not language specific.

  6. Make it mandatory or give tax benefits to corporates who provide multilingual support in all their offerings.

  7. While recruiting for government jobs in states give preference to candidates who can speak the local tongue.

 

Let us do our bit by being sensitive to the plight of our neighbours and hope that corporates listen to the needs of the customers and Government support and enables these Corporates to make this transition.