ANALYSIS : LANGUAGE & ‘MINORITY’

Intro : No absolute right to linguistic minorities to reject a regional language says Honourable Supreme Court.

The word ‘MINORITY’ has always been the bone of contention whether is the religious or linguistic one, in the past or is the same at present and the tussle between the “majority” and “minority’, now has become a worldwide phenomenon. Be it politically or constitutionally the balancing acts goes on whenever the conflict arises. In Our Country, majorly the political parties have failed by adopting appeasement policy but it is the Hon’ble Supreme Court which has always stood for the same. Here, at present we  are concerned with the rights of linguistic minorities as balanced by the Hon’ble Supreme Court by a decade old and very laudable judgment in the Year, 2004 reported in (2004) 6 SCC 264 titled as “Usha Mehta & Ors. Vs. State of Maharashtra & Ors.” 
      
Before analysing, further it is pertinent to mention that the word “MINORITY” has not been defined in our Constitution but it’s defined by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. So, in Indian as well as linguistic context, to understand the term “Linguistic Minority” as defined by the National Commission for Linguistic Minorities, Government of India is accepted here, which says that “Any group of people whose mother tongue is different from the principal language of the State.”

The issue then arose with the policy decision made by the Maharashtra State Government whereby Marathi language study was made compulsory throughout the schools in that State and as a result, the English-medium schools run by Gujarati linguistic minorities were compelled to teach four languages (Hindi, English, Marathi and mother tongue Gujarati) as against the accepted “Three-Langauge Formula”. The said policy was challenged contending that the imposition of compulsory Marathi is in violation of the fundamental right of the linguistic minority to establish an educational institution of “their choice” under Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India and that the imposition of regional language is violative of the minority right to conserve its own language, script and culture and it has no constitutional duty or obligation to learn or promote the regional language. It was further argued that the minority has a right and a “choice” to avoid the regional language if it feels that the same might conflict with their “conservation” of mother tongue and/or promotion or learning of Hindi and English by the students.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court very aptly and affirmatively answered the question- Can a State impose the teaching of its regional language upon the linguistic minorities as a matter of policy? After elaborately considering several cases concerning limit of minority rights under Article 30, in Rev. Sidhajbhai Sabhai case[ (1963) 3 SCR 837], St. Stephen’s College Case[(1992) 1SCC 558] with approval in T.M.A. Pai Foundation Case [(2002) 8 SCC 481] concluded the position regarding the minority rights under Article 30 as under:

“The right under Article 30(1) has. Therefore, not been held to be absolute or above other provisions of the law, and we reiterate the same. By the same analogy, there is no reason why regulations or conditions concerning, generally, the welfare of students and teachers should not be made applicable in order to provide proper academic atmosphere, as such the provisions do not in any way interfere with the right of administration or management under Article 30(1).…In other words, the essence of Article 30(1) is to ensure equal treatment between the majority and the minority institutions. No one type or category of institution shoul be disfavoured or for that matter, receive more favourable treatment than another. Laws of the land, including rules and regulations, must apply equally to the majority institutions as well as to the minority institutions, the minority institutions must be allowed to what the non-minority institutions are permitted to do.” The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Usha Mehta Case (supra) clearly and rightly held that the State can impose reasonable regulations on the institutions covering Article 30 for protecting the larger interest of the State and the nation. The “choice” that could be exercised by the minority community or group is subject to such reasonable regulations imposed by the State.While imposing regulations, the State shall be cautious not to destroy the minority character of institutions. The Hon’ble Court also went to the extent of observing that it won’t be in the fitness of things to establish English-medium schools and asking for not teaching the regional Marathi language. It is difficult to read Articles 29 and 30 in such a way that they contain the negative right to exclude the learning of regional language. Ipso facto it is not possible to accept the proposition that the people living in a particular State cannot be asked to study the regional language. While living in a different State, it is only appropriate for the linguistic minority to learn the regional language. In the view of the Hon’ble Court the resistance to learn the regional language will lead to alienation from the mainstream of life resulting in linguistic fragmentation within the State, which is an anathema to national integration. The learning of different language will definitely bridge the cultural barriers and will positively contribute to the cultural integration of the country. The Hon’ble Court also confirmed the other aspect of the matter by relying on the position settled by it in Bombay Education Society Case (1955) 1 SCR 568 that the language of Article 29(2) of Our Constitution is wide and unqualified so as to cover both majority and minority groups within its ambit.

That conclusively, we can say that the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Usha Mehta’s case had been able to bridge the gap between the majority and the minority and had preserve the National character of our country which is multi-lingual, multi- ethnic and multi-cultural and as intended and anticipated by the framers of our Constitution. This judgment is very laudable one and has far reaching implications in balancing the regionalism and language. It is true how one can assimilate and adopt himself in a different State without understanding its principal language and hence, this judgment aptly most and timely answered this question.

 Sanjay Kumar Visen (The writer is Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court)

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