TCN special: Misra Commission report excerpts- Part 4

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Chapter 4: Status of Linguistic Minorities

The term ‘Linguistic Minorities” as such has not been defined in the Constitution or any other law.

According to the Supreme Court judgment in DAV College etc. v/s State of Punjab and others (SCR 688; AIR 1971 SC 1737 (5th May 1971)) “a linguistic minority for the purpose of Article 30(1) is one which must at least have a separate spoken language; it is not necessary that the language should also have distinct script.”

Though not specially defined, several provisions of the Constitution are indicative of the essential ingredients of minorities. Article 30 states “all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” The special characteristics of ‘religious and linguistic’ minorities are further elucidated by Supreme Court through various judgments. The Hon’ble Court in the matter of TA Pai Foundation and Others vs State of Karnataka held as under:

“Linguistic and religious minorities are covered by the expression “minority” under Article 30 of the Constitution. Since reorganisation of the States in India has been on linguistic lines for the purpose of determining the minority, the unit will be the State and not the whole of India. Thus, religious and linguistic minorities have been put at par in Article 30 and have to be considered State-wise”.

… the basic characteristics of minority status are: numerical inferiority; non-dominant status and stable features of distinct identity.

Linguistic Demography of India

The essence of secularism in India is the recognition and preservation of the different types of people, with diverse languages and different beliefs, and placing them together so as to form a whole and united India. Articles 29 and 30 seek to preserve the differences that exist, and at the same time, unite the people to form one strong nation.

1990-91 Census lists 216 mother tongues with a total number of speakers 10,000 or more at all India level, grouped into 114 languages of which 22 mentioned in the Constitution are called scheduled languages. The distribution of these languages is at once diverse, complex and unequal.

Since, Article 350A of the Constitution does not distinguish between the languages spoken by less than 10000 persons and more than 10000 persons, the decision of the Census to retain 10000 speakers as the benchmark is a deviation from the Constitution. For example, in Minicoy Island of Lakshdweep, almost all persons speak Mahal though the entire population of Minicoy Island is less than 10000 or so are the number of speakers. Mahal, though distinct from all other languages in the region, does not find a mention in the Census report.

Constitutional Provisions and Safeguards Promoting Linguistic Diversity

A number of provisions under the Constitution provide protection of interest of the linguistic minorities. These are:

(1) Art. 345 of the Indian Constitution states very clearly that “Subject to the provisions of Article 346 and 347, the Legislature of a State may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that state”.

(2) Article 347 is more explicit and states:
“On a demand made in that behalf, the President may, if he is satisfied that a substantial proportion of the population of the State desire the use of any language spoken by them to be recognised by that State, direct that such language shall also be officially recognised throughout that State or any part thereof for such purposes as he may specify.”

The right to conserve a minority language is also provided in the Constitution under “Cultural and Educational Rights” under Article 29 and Article 30 which read as under:

Art. 29: Protetction of interest of minorities:
(1) 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.
(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

(4) Art. 30: Rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions:
(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

Special provisions have also been made under Articles 350A and 350B to provide smaller communities educational opportunities in their mother tongue and to appoint a special officer for linguistic minorities:

(5) Art 350 A. Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage- “It shall be the endeabour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and the President may issue such directions to any State as he considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities.”

(6). Art 350 B. Special Officer for linguisti minorities- (1) There shall be a Special Officer for linguistic minorities to be appointed by the President. (2) It shall be duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under this Constitution and report to the President upon those matters at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament, and sent to the Governments of the States concerned.

This Commission has been asked to suggest criterion for identifying the socially and economically backward classes amongst the religious and linguistic minorities. As language cuts across caste, religion, race and people speaking the same language are found in every socio-economic group, it cannot be taken as an indicator for backwardness.

Views of the Commission

… there is no justification for making language as the basis to determine the socio-economic backwardness of the people, it was felt that in a multi-lingual society like ours, exclusive adherence to a minority language, which may be the mother-tongue of a section of population, does affect the socio-economic and educational development of that linguistic minority specially in the initial years. Therefore, steps for enhancing the skills of the linguistic minorities including learning/teaching of the majority language need to be emphasised.