If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in the language he speaks, that goes to his heart, said Nelson Mandela.
Everybody loves mother tongue and wants to see the language given by the mother flourish. Once you know the language, it is easier for you to make good relationship with people, and establish contact through effective communication. With this spirit, in the quest of winning the heart and minds of the people and publicize state policies, governments and parliaments often publish their documents in many languages. And, in a bid to share a bonding of oneness with fellow citizens, competent parliaments pay regards to every language spoken in the country.
It was with this purpose that Nepal’s new constitution has adopted a progressive language policy. To look into the truth of a section of media and propagandists, a comparative study between the language policies of Nepalese and Indian Constitution has been presented here.
The result may surprise many in India, who seem to be under an illusion that Nepal’s new constitution is discriminatory. But here is a fact: Nepal is set to leave India far behind with the progressive provisions to protect and use Nepal’s hugely diverse languages.
The Constitution of India (COI) is lengthiest constitution in world. Under part XVII of the COI, it has been envisaged that Hindi and English shall be the official languages of the Union. However, the constitution has given power to the state legislature to officially recognize any language if it is satisfied that a substantial proportion of the population of a state desires the use of any language spoken by them to be recognized by that state. The consent of the President is required to enforce such provision.
Nonetheless, the President of India always works in the advice of Union Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister. So, in reality, without the consent of Union Cabinet, an Indian state cannot pass laws on language. The largest democratic country is often criticized as being quasi-federal state due to the extensive powers vested on Union against the province.
Despite the Constitution of India, in both letter and spirit, engraining that a language could get official status in a state provided it has to pass the test of whether it is being spoken by a “substantial proportion of population”, it is ultimately left at the Union’s mercy for a decision.
Indian machineries in Nepal- be it through Madheshi parties or India’s own secret instruments- have, of late, intensified efforts to enlist Hindi as one of the national languages in Nepal. It is not only derogatory but also against the spirit of India’s own constitution. Hindi is spoken not even by one per cent of Nepalis as the mother language, let alone by a “substantial portion of population”.
According to People’s Linguistic Survey of India-2013 Report, currently as many as 780 different languages are spoken in India and 86 different scripts are used. However, only 22 of the 780 languages are scheduled as Indian languages under Schedule-VIII of COI. Nepali is also among those enlisted as one of the scheduled languages.
In contrast, adopting a soft corner, the Constitution of Nepal (CON) envisages that in addition to Nepali language, a province can select one or more national languages to be used in the state if that is spoken by a majority of the people there.
Despite the 22 scheduled languages, COI is basically translated in Hindi and English. The speakers of other dialects have to have command over these two languages to understand the constitutional provisions.
The move of the Nepali parliament to translate the Constitution of Nepal (CON) in different vernaculars would certainly broaden Nepal’s constitution among different linguistic communities. It has always been a tough task to make the people aware about the constitutional provisions in the same manner as it has been envisaged. The approach of disseminating information about constitutional provisions in different languages, therefore, must be welcomed. Moreover, it is advisable for the Government of Nepal to develop short educative materials, one-side colorful flyers for example, on constitution to educate the young people in the school level.
Most importantly, the CON under Article 6 provides that all languages spoken in Nepal shall be the national languages. Further, the CON, U/A-7 provides that Nepali language written in Devnagari script shall be the official language of Nepal. Unlike India, Nepal’s constitution gives exclusive powers to provincial legislature to make laws on language provisions, leaving no room for the intervention of the center.
Because the COI has vested extensive powers to the Union parliament to make laws and exercise control, the Indian federation has always been criticized of being a “quasi-federal” state. Even regarding the language provisions, the COI provides overruling powers to the Union. Comparatively, the constitution of Nepal has adopted more liberal approach regarding the language policy-making.
Had Nepali parliament translated the newly enforced constitution in different vernaculars few months ago, it would have already educated the people of all walks of life regarding the constitutional provisions easily.
Further, Indian constitution is often called as lawyers’ paradise in India. It is argued that the language of the constitution is so typical that an ordinary person—except lawyers—cannot understand it. However, it is not the case with Nepal’s constitution. It is written with clarity, in non-technical legal diction, leaving no space for interpretation in many cases.
The official translation of Nepali constitution would be available in more than 5 languages. Besides, several educative booklets on constitution have come into use in multiple languages.
The Nepali Constitution contains 308 Articles against India’s 395. In COI, since 1950, more than 100amendments have been made, and it is through this way the Indian democracy has matured.
The most important point to be made is that Nepal has adopted a secular, democratic constitution, with many progressive provisions. We may find some of the provisions ambiguous, but this constitution, like India’s, will mature and evolve with the passage of time. There is no need to be pessimistic. Only need is to work for the cause of the nation and work to realize the dream of the preamble of our constitution.