On May 11, the Haryana government notified that Hindi should be used as the official language in all courts and tribunals in the state. The change was effected through the Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2020.
It is true that the state has the power to adopt the language to be used in all of its official work, including judicial proceedings. The reason behind the amendment given by the Haryana government was that most litigants cannot understand English, and they remain mute spectators throughout the judicial proceedings.
As a rustic Haryanvi (where speaking even pure Hindi is work of great audacity) and an alumnus of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi (where law is taught in English), I dared to write this article amid the chaos of the Hindi-English struggle.
After the notification of the state government, I noticed mixed reactions from people on the ground. The non-legal community of Haryana, barring a few, seemed happy as they think that the participation of litigants will be more realistic now. Being for or against the move seemed to be based purely on their vested interests, and hardly any sane voice came forward to speak for the larger interests of society.
Opinions of the general public in Haryana
It is true that Haryana is an economically forward state, but it is equally true that it is socially backward. Every Haryanvi who have been brought up in Haryana has a very terse relationship with English.
The common man wants participation in day-to-day official work, including court proceedings. This participation is not real if they are not aware about the language used in documents. For a single application in court, they have to run from pillar to post or hire an advocate after paying a fair amount of money.
The argument put forward by commoners in favour of the move is that they don't feel alien in their own country if Hindi is made the language of use in offices.
Ramesh Dhaka, a farmer and litigant in district court of Jhajjar expressed his pain. He says,
"I am ten plus two pass, but cannot understand or read English. All the summons, applications, vakaltnama comes in English, which I can't read. I have to rush either to an advocate or any other well educated person of the village. If it comes in Hindi, I myself can deal with."
A few other hurdles faced by litigants in state of Haryana due to the use of English in courts are:
They can't understand what is written in plaints or other documents.
During the court proceedings, they don't get what is taken on record as evidence for or against them.
In criminal proceedings, provisions like Section 273 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which mandates that evidence should be taken in the presence of the accused, become futile and redundant when the accused cannot understand what kind of evidence is recorded against him.
Due to the lack of understanding, the litigant is forced to deal with the advocate purely on trust basis. They can't read what is written in the Vakalatnama or the affidavit which they have signed on instructions of the advocate. Many cases involving advocates deceiving such litigants are pending before the Bar Council.
It becomes more difficult for litigants when the advocates argue in English in the court rooms.
Copies of judgments and orders are in English, and hence they fail to understand the reasoning or rationale of judgments or orders and have to depend on the advocate.
Many documents which are in Hindi, have to be translated in English. This exercise is also not necessary, if the Hindi language is adopted for all judicial work.
Opnions of advocates practicing in subordinate courts
When I discussed the change in court language with practicing advocates in Haryana, a large number of them were in favour of Hindi, with the rider that the rule should be implemented in the High Court also.
"We have been segregated from the lawyers practicing in the High Court merely because we can't argue in English, regardless of how rational the legal argument we raise is. This is utter discrimination on the basis of language, and unconstitutional", Rohtash Malik, an advocate from the district court in Rohtak, expressed his pain.
New entrants to the profession have to invest time to understand the language of suit/proceedings instead of legality or technicalities of a case. Though most law colleges in Haryana offer the LL.B. degree in English medium, the lectures and teacher- student interactions happen in Hindi.
Some of the issues faced by Hindi-speaking lawyers include:
Many lawyers of Haryana earn their law degrees from little known law colleges in the adjacent state of Rajasthan, where the language of instruction is largely Hindi. In legal education, certain terms are quite different in different languages, and it is difficult for a student to use them interchangeably in different languages.
For example the term, Res Judicata and injunction in English are called "Purvnirniyat" and "Parmadesh" in Hindi respectively. What a Hindi medium student learns during the years of his graduation, he is forced to unlearn all of that in court practice.
Such new entrants fail to hone their skills in law as compared to their counterparts elsewhere, because they have to invest much of their time in learning the legal language in English.
One more issue I noticed while speaking with lawyers from Hindi medium colleges is their aspiration to become a judge. Most judicial officers join the service after passing the Herculean three-staged Haryana Judicial Service Examination. The exam is conducted in English. The language of interview is mandatorily English. This means that all judicial officers enter in service only if they are well versed with English as a language.
"We do LL.B. only to do litigation, hardly any thought comes to our mind to sit for the Haryana Judicial Service exam, as this is reserved predominantly for English medium students", says Anil Rana, a lawyer who passed his LL.B. in 2017 from a local law college from Hanumangarh in Rajasthan.
A ten-minute conversation with advocate Rana was enough for me to figure out his sharp legal acumen. Despite this, he cannot even think of appearing for the judicial service examination.
Opinions of English-speaking lawyers and judicial service aspirants
If there is a class that is furious about the state government notification, it is the coterie of English-speaking lawyers, many of whom see their future as judicial officers in Haryana. For them, the concerns are manifold, and to an extent, genuine.
This class of lawyers has graduated from top law colleges of India like the NLUs, Jindal University, Delhi University and others. They are actually not concerned about their careers in litigation in subordinate courts of Haryana, because they do not consider litigation in such courts to be interesting. They are not much bothered about how the use of Hindi or English language in courts would impact the life of common litigants in the state.
Their real fear is how they will deal with Hindi being used in courts and whether they will be selected for the judicial service. Moreover, they are also scared of the possibility that the change of language in subordinate courts will ultimately change the exam pattern (inclusion of Hindi as optional language in main paper and interview), which will increase the competition and challenge their hegemony in the field. Such students pay a hefty amount of fees in coaching Institutes in Delhi and other places.
Some of their points of concern are summarized below:
Such students who have studied in English throughout find it genuinely difficult to switch to any other language overnight.
The education setup of our country is English-oriented. The High Court and Supreme Court do not allow the Hindi language even in verbal arguments. In such a scenario, how anyone can expect that the students will do their law degrees with Hindi medium?
The introduction of Hindi as the court language will require continuous and constant training for all staff, which eventually will delay the proceedings.
It is a well-known fact that all the books (particularly of science and law) available in the markets are written in English. It is hard to expect that Woodroffe and Amir Ali for Evidence Law or Mulla for Civil Procedure Code would be available in Hindi. Lawyers and judges will have to read the text in English and then translate it into Hindi to express their views in pleadings or judgments. In the interpretation of law, a single 'comma' or a word is sufficient to change the meaning of the entire law. Hence, it will hamper the judicial work adversely.
The judicial work in the Supreme Court and the High court is still in English. The language in lower courts should be in consonance with the same.
It can be concluded that the sudden and hasty change of language in courts to Hindi will cause hurdles for many. It is advised that either the language should be made optional, or translated copies of orders or judgments are to be provided to litigants.
The author is an Advocate practicing at courts in Haryana.