19th July 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
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Q1. Discuss the various shortfalls in language enumeration done during every decadal census in India
The death of a language is literally shrouded in silence. Because of its nature, a language is not visible and fails to move anyone except its very last speaker who nurtures an unrequited hope of a response. When a language disappears it goes forever, taking with it knowledge gathered over centuries. With it goes a unique world view.
ISSUES PLAGUING LANGUAGE CENSUS AND ENUMERATION
- Over the last many decades, successive governments have carried out a decadal census. The 1931 Census was a landmark as it held up a mirror to the country about the composition of caste and community. War disrupted the exercise in 1941, while it was a rather busy year for the new Indian republic at the time of the 1951 Census It was during the 1961 census that languages in the country were enumerated in full. India learnt that a total of 1,652 mother tongues were being spoken. Using ill-founded logic, this figure was pegged at only 109, in the 1971 Census. The logic was that a language deserving respectability should not have less than 10,000 speakers. This had no scientific basis nor was it a fair decision but it has stuck and the practice continues to be followed.
- The language enumeration takes place in the first year of every decade. The findings are made public about seven years later as the processing of language data is far more time consuming than handling economic or scientific data. During the 2011 census, citizens submitted 19,569 names of mother tongues – technically called “raw returns“. Based on previous linguistic and sociological information, the authorities decided that of these, 18,200 did not match “logically” with known information. A total of 1,369 names – technically called “labels” – were picked as “being names of languages”. The “raw returns” left out represent nearly 60 lakh citizens. And because of the classification regime, their linguistic citizenship has been dropped.
- In addition to the 1,369 “mother tongue” names shortlisted, there were 1,474 other mother tongue names. These were placed under the generic label “Others”. As far as the Census is concerned, these linguistic “Others” are not seen to be of any concern. But the fact is that they have languages of their own. The classification system has not been able to identify what or which languages these are and so they have been silenced by having an innocuous label slapped on them.
- The 1,369 have been grouped further under a total of 121 “group labels”, which have been presented as “Languages”. Of these, 22 are languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, called “Scheduled Languages”. The remainder, 99, are “Non-scheduled Languages“. An analysis shows that most of the groupings are forced. For instance, under the heading “Hindi”, there are nearly 50 other languages. Bhojpuri (spoken by more than 5 crore people, and with its own cinema, theatre, literature, vocabulary and style) comes under “Hindi”. Under Hindi too is the nearly 3 crore population from Rajasthan with its own independent languages. The Powari/Pawri of tribals in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh too has been added. Even the Kumauni of Uttarakhand has been yoked to Hindi. While the report shows 52,83,47,193 individuals speaking Hindi as their mother tongue, this is not so. There is a similar and inflated figure for Sanskrit by counting the returns against the question about a person’s “second language”.
- As against this, the use of English is not seen through the perspective of a second language. Counting for this is restricted to the “mother tongue” category – in effect bringing down the figure substantially. Given the widespread use of English in education, law, administration, media and health care, a significant number of Indians use English as a utility language. To some extent it is the language of integration in our multilingual country. The census can, given the data on the language of second preference, but it does not for reasons that need no spelling out. So the Census informs us that a total of 2,59,678 Indians speak English as their “mother tongue” – numerically accurate and semantically disastrous.
One expects that the Census in India should adequately reflect the linguistic composition of the country. It is not good practice when data helps neither educators nor policy makers or the speakers of languages themselves. The Census, a massive exercise that consumes so much time and energy, needs to see how it can help in a greater inclusion of the marginal communities, how our intangible heritage can be preserved, and how India’s linguistic diversity can become an integral part of our national pride.
Q2. The credibility of the Election Commission and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) has come to question. Comment. Do you think going back to the ballot paper era is a solution to the EVM malfunctioning problem?
- The government has been accused of undermining various constitutional institutions including the EC. In contrast to the time when T.N. Seshan as CEC firmly established the EC as an independent authority by rigorously bringing in revolutionary reforms, the body has lost some sheen in the last few years. Former Gujarat Chief Secretary Achal Kumar Jyoti was appointed the CEC in July 2017, months before the crucial Gujarat elections. In a peculiar decision, theEC chose not to announce dates for the Gujarat elections but announced dates for the Himachal Pradesh elections which were to be held at the same time. This conveniently allowed the government to announce some new sops and schemes for Gujarat which he would not have been able to do if the dates had been announced. The inept management of elections by the ECI, as seen in the December 2017 R.K. Nagar by-election in Chennai in which there was distribution of cash and in the seizure of fake electoral ID cards in the R.R. Nagar constituency in Bengaluru, has brought into question the Commission’s propriety. It has also cast a shadow on the integrity of EVMs.
- The intermittent reports of malfunctioning EVMs have intensified the gloom. For instance, data obtained under the RTI revealed that votes cast for an Independent candidate went to the BJP candidate in the February 2017 polls to the Buldhana zilla parishad in Maharashtra.
- In a democracy, there is perhaps nothing more important than the credibility of the electoral process. Many Opposition parties have asked for a return to the ballot paper.
- There are several problems that political parties and counting agents face while dealing with ballot papers. When the election is seen to be swinging in favour of one party, the agents of the perceived winning party create havoc.EVMs have brought a certain structure that did not exist during the ballot paper days when a large number of invalid votes would often be higher than the margin of victory. Interestingly, even in the ballot paper era, there were often bizarre theories. One of them was the ‘Russian ink’ theory when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. Opposition parties then ridiculously alleged that “special ink” was being imported by the government to stamp ballot papers that would favour the Congress.
- Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, a couple of procedural changes will bring in credibility to the voting process. The EC has already operationalised the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) with an attached printer that will provide a paper trail for those who have cast their votes. At present, after casting the vote in EVMs, the printed paper is directly dropped in the box (the voter only has seven seconds to see this). Instead, the paper should be given to the voter who should then drop it in the ballot box. This was the procedure before the introduction of EVMs. In the current system, to ask for a counting of ballots from the VVPAT, one has to move the courts. Instead, the ECI should introduce a new procedure wherein the manual counting of the printed ballots has to be done before announcing the result if the difference between the winner and the loser is less than, say, 10%, and the loser demands a recount. In a democracy, elections should not only be fair but should be seen to be fair. By shoring up its image and bringing in some more transparent reforms, the EC can restore faith in elections.