In a departure from the British Raj practice of using only English in the courts, the State of Haryana in a notification, dated 11th May 2020 notified that ‘Hindi’ should be used in all Courts and Tribunals of Haryana. The move is aimed to bring the litigators at pace with the daily day-to-day proceedings of the court which is difficult for a layman to understand in the first place but having it in English was another stumbling block. The rationale behind the decision was to ensure people get justice in their own language, thereby making the judicial system more litigant friendly.
But as usual, detractors of this decision came out and started protesting, with some reaching the Supreme Court. However, the apex court shot down the petition asking what was wrong with the law as around 80% of the litigants do not understand English.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy heard the plea and said, “There is nothing wrong in Hindi as the official language of subordinate courts in some states.” The Chief Justice also added that proceedings are done in Hindi/vernacular language in many states including Madhya Pradesh.
To which the petitioners came up with a quizzical rebuttal. The plaintiff said that it would be difficult for the lawyers to argue in Hindi in Haryana courts and also it would be difficult for multinational companies to argue their cases in Hindi.
The bench entertained the meek response by saying that the law under question does not exclude the English language and it can be used with the permission of the court.
In the legal glossary, the State of Haryana amended section 3 of The Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Act, 1969 and this Act is now called The Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Other states shall follow the route and make their vernacular languages the official language of Court
Every state has the right to choose its vernacular language to be used in all of its official works including judicial proceedings. Even the Civil and Criminal Code mandates that the State can decide the language to be used in all courts except the High Court.
Coming from a writer who is writing an article in English, there is no particular hatred for English by the states or anybody. It is just that using the vernacular languages is a good way of promoting them and ensuring that justice is delivered in the language that the litigant will understand the best.
The court has already made provisions that if one wants to speak or have the legal proceedings in any other language, it can be managed.
As pointed out by the court, over 80 percent litigants do not understand English in the state of Haryana and consequently, for a single legal application in the court, they have to run from pillar to post to properly understand it or in the end hire a lawyer that requires a fair amount of money.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has iterated the importance of regional languages in the states. In his Howdy-Modi rally in Houston, PM Modi had turned the title of the event into a question and answered it saying “Bharat Mein sab achha hai (Everything is great in India).” He later proceeded to repeat the phrase in eight Indian regional languages including Kannada, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, and Bangla.
The incident was a tight-slap on Narendra Modi’s critics who had time and again accused him of promoting Hindi and trying to force it on the states.
The Haryana government has set the precedent for other states to follow the suit. We need to get out of the colonial hangover of using only English in our courts. Vernacular languages represent us all and using them in the legal courtroom will only expedite the entire judicial process.