Linguistic Minorities in India

Though the Constitution of India does not define the word ‘Minority’ and only refers to ‘Minorities’ and speaks of those ‘based on religion or language’, the rights of the minorities have been spelt out in the Constitution in detail. Supreme Court through its judgment has defined minority as “community, which is numerically less than 50 percent” (SR das CJ). This statistical criterion prevail with the Kerala High Court also which, in A.M.Patroni v. Kesavan, defined minority to mean the same thing as it meant to the Supreme Court.

A linguistic minority is a group of people whose mother tongue is different from that of the majority in the state or part of the state. Linguistic minorities are determined on a state-wise basis.

Important Constitutional provision

i. right of ‘any section of the citizens’ to ‘conserve’ its ‘distinct language, script or culture’; [Article 29(1)]

ii. restriction on denial of admission to any citizen, to any educational institution maintained or aided by the State, ‘on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them’; [Article 29(2)]

iii. right of all Religious and Linguistic Minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice;[Article 30(1)]

iv. freedom of Minority-managed educational institutions from discrimination in the matter of receiving aid from the State;[Article30(2)]

v. special provision relating to the language spoken by a section of the population of any State;[Article 347]

vi. provision for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage;[Article 350 A]

vii. provision for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities and his duties; and [Article 350 B]

Protection of linguistic minority

1) Every aggrieved person has the right to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority (state/union) in any language used in union and state. I.e. representation can’t be rejected on ground that it is not official language.

2) Every state and local authority in the state should provide adequate facility for instruction in mother tongue at primary stage to people belonging to minorities. President can issue necessary direction for this purpose.

3) Special Officer for Linguistic minority.

• Article 350 b added through 7th constitutional amendment.

• Appointed by president.

• His duty is to investigate all matter relating to safeguards provided for linguistic minorities.

• No mention of qualification, tenure, salary etc. in constitution.

• Commissioner headquarter is at Allahabad. Regional office at Belgaum, Chennai, Kolkata.

• At central level falls under Ministry of minority affairs. Hence submit its annual or other reports to President through Ministry of minority affairs.

Other Constitutional provision related to use of language

1. Article 120(Business in parliament)

2. Article 210(Business in legislature of state)

3. Article 343(official language)

4. Article 344

5. Article 345

6. Article 346

7. Article 348

8. Article 349

9. Article 350

10. Eighth Schedule of constitutions

Current state of languages in India

1) The UNESCO-World Atlas of Languages in Danger for India lists 172 languages in danger, out of which 101 are classified as severely, critically or definitely endangered and 71 “vulnerable” (A complete list of India’s endangered languages is provided by the “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger” (Christopher Moseley, ed., UNESCO, Paris 2010).

2) Only 22 out of more than 1,600 languages were officially recognized in the country under the VIII Schedule.

Recent Development (Why in News)

1) Legislature committee has recommended the state government (Karnataka) to DE-recognize ‘linguistic minority’ status of 10 private dental colleges for denying admissions to linguistic minority students in under-graduate and post-graduate courses.

2) Debate on Use of Hindi.

Way Ahead

1) Only religious minorities are being considered for government scholarship schemes. But the Constitution says minorities can be religious as well as linguistic, the government gives scholarships only on religion basis. This should be extended to linguistic minorities also.

2) Educational institutions should not be allowed to misuse their “linguistic minority” status.

3) No coercion regarding use of Hindi should be done to non-Hindi speaking people.

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