Special Correspondent

“Stirs in Assam, Maharashtra, Orissa stemmed from lingustic issues”

Lack of access to primary education in mother tongue is a major drawback

CHENNAI: India’s growth to become an economic powerhouse is being held back by squabbles arising from lack of government action to ensure that linguistic minorities are not second-class citizens in their States, Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities Suresh A. Keswani said on Monday.

Agitations in Assam, Maharashtra, Punjab and Orissa, Mr. Keswani said, stemmed from issues of language. His office found that 90 per cent of the linguistic minorities, mostly labourers, were unable to assimilate because their rights were not guaranteed in the State.

He pointed in particular to the opportunities they had lost because of the lack of access to primary education in their mother tongue. Even Tamil Nadu, a State that he said should be emulated for its ability to nurture talent and preserve culture and religion, could do more to support the demand of its Telugu and Kannada speakers for primary education in their mother tongue.

The Constitution guarantees the right of linguistic minorities to preserve their language, use it in redress of grievances and provide instruction at primary education. “State governments have to … provide funds to educate minorities in their mother tongue, particularly at the lower levels of society,” Mr. Keswani said. Extra funds were available for States from a variety of sources such as the World Bank and UNESCO.

A quota for linguistic minorities in education was not desirable, he said, responding to a question from reporters. But the minorities should have their concerns addressed.

Providing these rights to minorities would help to preserve India’s cultural heritage and traditional knowledge and reverse the rise in poverty, Mr. Keswani said.