Sunday, December 05, 2021

Language No Bar

Maharashtra must not contest the Bombay HC order against govt circular making Marathi compulsory for auto permits.

Written by Editorial |
Updated: May 3, 2018 1:36:36 pm
Language No Bar

The Bombay High Court has done well to strike down a Maharashtra government order that made speaking of Marathi compulsory for applicants seeking autorickshaw permits. The court turned down a 2016 government circular on a technical point that the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act do not allow the government to impose such a condition. To introduce language as a restrictive barrier betrays a parochial and protectionist intent, which is out of place with the constitutional rights, among them the right to pursue livelihood anywhere in India. Ironically, Maharashtra had introduced the Marathi compulsory provision at a time when the polity is moving towards a common Indian market with the Goods and Services Tax and internal labour migration in India is on the rise.

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That the Bombay HC order came on a petition filed by various rickshaw-taxi owners and drivers unions is interesting. The workforce in Maharashtra, as in many Indian states, has become cosmopolitan, drawing in workers from economically backward regions. This trend of labour migration has not just led to the flourishing of a money-order economy in some states but also immensely helped local markets to remain competitive. Even nativist political groups like the Shiv Sena seem to have reconciled that the ongoing social transformation, driven by labour migration, is here to stay: The party’s strategy to downplay chauvinistic agendas and reach out to non-Maharashtrians in the recent civic elections in Mumbai points to it. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) results also confirm the changing social matrix of the region: 20 per cent of the BMC councillors are non-Maharashtrians. Simply put, the petitioners in the HC were confirming a fact that migrants are good for the economy.

Clearly, the GO was an act of tokenism by the Devendra Fadnavis government. Government diktats are unlikely to help promote a language or nativise migrants workers. State departments entrusted with language promotion ought to be enabling bodies, not enforcement agencies. The history of Hindi promotion in India is a case in point. The government’s attempt to make Hindi-learning mandatory faced political resistance and has very little success in terms of results, whereas Bollywood and film music got many more to learn and appreciate Hindi. Taxi-auto services are an economic activity and will inevitably adjust to the needs of the market. If knowing Marathi is good for business, an auto driver from Patna will learn the language. The court has done well to tell the government that forcing him/her to do so by law is a bad idea. The government’s response that the language requirement is non-negotiable and it will amend the Motor Vehicles Act provisions to override the court makes no social, political or economic sense.

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