Laudable judgment by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (September 08, 2014)

It is reassuring to know that a five-member Constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India, headed by the Chief Justice R M Lodha, has ruled that states have the right to extend second official language to a language other than the official language of the state.

In a case involving a petition filed by Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sahitya Sammelan against UP Sarkari Bhasha (Amendment) Act 1989, which conferred the second official language status on Urdu, the bench ruled on September 4 that there was nothing in Article 345 of the Constitution that prevented one or more languages getting the status of second language.

The Supreme Court clarified that the states of Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Delhi had given the second official language status to other languages, thus allowing their use in official work.

After the law was enacted in 1989 in UP, the Sahitya Sammelan filed a petition against it in Allahabad High Court, which was duly rejected. The Sammelan then went to the Supreme Court in 1997 challenging the Act.

Lawyers for the Urdu cause have rightly advocated that in states like Gujarat, where Gujarati is the official language, Hindi has been made the second official language. In some other states where the regional language is the official language, Hindi or some other language is the second official language. Hence, there should be no problem with Urdu getting the second official language status in UP. The bench accepted this line of argument.

The Institute of Objective Studies has always been alive to this problem and has often deliberated on it and drawn the attention of the government towards it. One of our major initiatives in this regard was a two-day seminar on “Language Problem in India” in Delhi on February 5-6, 1994. We also published a 250-page book by the same name.

In the light of the resolutions of the seminar we had made a representation to the Government of India, asking for positive steps for extending official language status to Urdu wherever Urdu speakers were present in adequate numbers. As recently as on September 6-7, during its Governing Council and General Body meeting the IOS especially expressed satisfaction and happiness over the judgment.

We welcome the judgment and regard it as a good omen for the linguistic and cultural pluralism of India.

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