Pandemonium over Hindi

Monday saw MLAs of the Voice of Peoples’ Party (VPP) walk out of the Assembly while the Governor was reading out the customary address which encapsulates the policy statement of the Government and as such is drafted by the Government. The Governor’s address also contains a review of the activities and achievements of the Government in the previous year and their policy outlines on critical issues that need to be addressed in the year ahead. It also includes the programme of Government Business for the current Assembly session. It is therefore an important statement which all legislators, particularly those in the Opposition need to pay attention to because their duty is to keep the government under check. Hence the Governor’s address foregrounds the points of debate in the House. If the address is in a language that the majority of legislators in the House cannot comprehend then the very purpose of the legislature is defeated.

In the present House, only Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma is well conversant with Hindi. He engages with the powers that are in Delhi in fluent Hindi. The CM has the benefit of having studied in the national capital in his formative years but not all have that good fortune. Those who have studied in Meghalaya also learn Hindi but only as a third language after the vernacular and English and only up to Class 10. Hence their ability to understand the nuances of the language is limited. To engage constructively in a language one does not understand is a tall order.

While the previous governor Satya Pal Malik was also comfortable with Hindi he made it a point to speak in English with those that find it difficult to understand Hindi. In any case it is basic courtesy to speak to someone in a language that the person understands or to do so through an interpreter. And herein lies the rub! The Meghalaya Legislative Assembly is not equipped with a simultaneous translating facility. Had this facility been available then legislators would have been able to speak in their native languages and express themselves better.

There is a point to be made about English and why it scores over Hindi. It is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world and it opens up avenues not just within the country but in every part of the world. It is the language of science, computers, diplomacy, tourism etc. English is the official language of 53 countries and is used as a lingua franca (a mutually known language) by people from all around the world. English is also the language of the media industry. Hence to privilege Hindi above English is to limit the scope for job opportunities. The debate should end here and the Assembly had better acquire translation facilities at the earliest and end the brouhaha over the use of Hindi in the Assembly .

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