Recently in the election-charged atmosphere of Bengal, a routine inconsequential observation communicated to the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), Kolkata, by the Hindi Cell of the Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India, generated controversy. The circular, besides everything else directs the premier scientific institute that at least 55 per cent of all communications are to be in Hindi and at least 33 per cent of the noting to be written on the office files should be in Hindi.

IACS is the oldest scientific research institute of the country that was established in 1876 by Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar, a renowned physician of his time who propagated all his life the importance of fundamental research in basic sciences. To commoners, however, Dr. Sarkar was better known as the physician who had treated Ramakrishna Paramahansa towards the end of his worldly life when the great sage was suffering from cancer.

Nobel laureate Physicist C.V. Raman while working at Calcutta GPO Complex as Asst. Accountant General (Postal Life Insurance), got acquainted with the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science which allowed him to do independent research outside his working hours, and his fundamental work on ‘Raman effect’ was carried out in the Institute set up by Dr. Sarkar. The Institute in past was led by the eminent personalities of the stature of Sir Nilratan Sarkar, Prof. Meghnad Saha, Prof. Gyan Chandra Ghosh, Prof. S.N. Bose and Prof Arun Kumar Sharma.

No wonder that academicians, researchers and students of such a pioneering institute will protest against any attempt of interference by any agency and that too in a matter of “imposition” of a language.  Though an autonomous body, the funding of IACS primarily comes from the Dept. of Science & Technology, Government of India. Like all other departments, Science & Technology also has a ‘Hindi Cell’ which on behalf of the Department of Official language, Ministry of Home Affairs, is supposed to monitor the status of implementation of the Official Language Act of the Govt. of India (1963) in all the bodies under that Department.

The Official Language Department through Hindi Cells of different Ministries and departments communicates targets to all Central Government Offices, Universities, autonomous bodies and PSUs as to what percentage of correspondence in a year are to be done in Hindi. Year to year percentage is fixed depending on the location of the office. Targets are very high for the offices of “A” Region (comprising of Hindi speaking States), moderately high for “B” Region (viz. Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab etc.) and relatively less for “C” Region (comprising of the states of Eastern, North-Eastern and Southern India).

Whereas the written communication between two offices in “A” Region has to be mandatorily in Hindi, the correspondences between the offices of “B” and “C” Regions may be in English. The communication between an office of “A” Region with an office in another Region may either be in Hindi or in English but if the original communication is in Hindi, its reply mandatorily has to be in Hindi.

For all practical purposes, the responsibility of fulfilling all these targets in offices located in non-Hindi speaking states (Region ‘B” and “C”) ultimately comes down to the “Hindi Officer” and a couple of assistants and translators in his cell as the staff in general have no mental connect to follow the directions relating to official language nor is their “working knowledge” of Hindi good enough to carry out the intricate governmental work in Hindi.

So, it all comes to the poor “Hindi Officer” to ensure that all letters received in Hindi are translated and draft replies prepared in English by the office are also translated for the sake of compliance. Sometimes a circular which is supposed to be issued in bilingual format is issued only in English with a rider that “Hindi version will follow”. No one actually keeps track of what exactly happens with the translated version. It becomes the job of the Hindi Cell to write names of the files, Hindi to be written first and then English. In order to show a respectable status of achievement of correspondence in Hindi, computerized formats in Hindi are prepared for singlesentence replies and for routine acknowledgements.

Staff in Government offices in such states are encouraged to fill up routine things in Hindi viz. leave applications. Some even write the note in English and put the initial at the end of the note in Hindi to count that as a Hindi noting. All these are meant to show a greater amount of work in Hindi.  It is the Hindi Officer who is to prepare the Quarterly Review Statistics and send those to the Ministry. Hindi Cell of the Ministry reviews the progress report and issues strictures to the subordinate office if there is any shortfall in targets.

No one takes such strictures seriously in the offices of non-Hindi speaking States and responsibility for compliance and the duty of giving suitable replies to the stricture lies with the Hindi Officer. Thus, the entire effort of popularising use of Hindi in the offices located in non-Hindi speaking states is found not to have been integrated in the work ethics of such offices, but remains an isolated parallel affair in the system solely carried out by a few officials appointed for the purpose.

The stricture that came to IACS from the Hindi Cell of the Dept of Science & Technology is in all probability one such routine letter. The authority in the organisation made it clear that the communication had nothing to do with the language of research papers or scientific dissertations and the issue was solely associated with administrative functioning of the institute. Yet it is no wonder that at a time when an election is being fought on the issue of “imported culture” vs. “local culture” this inconsequential communication from Delhi will draw so much media attention.

This episode, however, raises one fundamental issue: what’s the point in perpetuating a ritual by the Government of India which has no connect with the general staff in the States of “B” and “C” Regions? In Central government offices in non-Hindi speaking states, incentives are provided and prizes are given if an employee has acquired skills or working knowledge of Hindi to discharge duties in the official language. Hindi Cells in the offices make arrangements for training and organize workshops and seminars for employees to acquire working knowledge of Hindi.

Such efforts are welcome. In a multilingual country like India there is nothing wrong in encouraging a non-Hindi speaking official of government to learn Hindi. But what employees detest is the compulsion: that a letter received in Hindi (in all probability from an office of “A” Region) has to be compulsorily replied in Hindi or at least 55 per cent of all communications are to be in Hindi etc. Such targets make the employees rebel and they rebel silently by showing lukewarm response to the directions.

When everyone rebels, no authority can implement any policy and that too on a sensitive issue like language. It is interesting that these rituals and practices in the name of promoting use of Hindi in central government offices in “B” & “C” Regions are continuing in the same fashion for last six decades or so, no matter who was in power in Delhi. These efforts do not appear to have made any worthwhile impact though billions of rupees were spent.

Will the authority in Delhi listen to the employees for whom such rituals are actually meant? Should we not restrain ourselves in fixing such ambitious targets in the name of promoting Hindi in the offices of non-Hindi speaking States and indirectly force such offices to follow useless practices to show increased numbers? The present regime in Delhi has taken many far-reaching decisions towards administrative reforms.

Lateral induction of professionals in senior positions of the government is one such example. In many instances redundancies in governmental work have been done away with. If the regime makes efforts to get rid of all the rituals perpetuated in the name of promoting Hindi in the offices of “B” and “C” Regions, that will be an appropriate rebuff to those who allege that the government is trying to create in India a unitary structure of HindiHindu-Hindustan!

(The writer is a former civil servant who retired in the grade of Additional Secretary to the Government of India. The views are personal)