This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, October 2008
English continues to play a controversial role in the regional politics of India. The civic authorities of the city of India’s financial
capital Mumbai (Bombay) have suddenly abandoned the official use of English and Hindi in favour of Marathi, the local language and an official tongue in the surrounding province of Maharashtra. Marathi is now the medium for ‘all official documentation’ in Mumbai, a city of 12 million people. The change from English and Hindi was enacted in August by Mayor Shubha Raul and his Shive Sena party, which holds a majority in the municipal corporation that governs the city. Mumbai’s vast business community were reportedly furious. The official formal version of written Marathi that will be used is unfamiliar to many of the language’s native speakers in Mumbai, who speak a very different vernacular version of Marathi and do most of their reading and writing in English or Hindi.
The police and the lower courts already operate in Marathi, but the higher courts and the state government will have to switch from using Hindi and English documents. The municipal corporation said that local government tenders and university-level training civil service training would stay in English. Citizens – many of them recent arrivals from around India – would be able to write to officials in English or Hindi, and their press conferences would remain trilingual.
The Mumbai-based Bollywood Indian film industry, the world’s biggest, increasingly recruits its movie stars from the Indian
diaspora. These actors often struggle to speak their lines in Hindi, and are given English-language scripts to read through at the casting stage.
Meanwhile, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the CNN/ IBN network has reported that members of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike party had attacked the office of state assembly member Derrick Fullinfaw after he addressed the assembly in English rather than the local language of Kannada. Assembly member Fullinfaw is an Anglo-Indian (of mixed British-Indian origin) and explained:‘I find it very difficult to speak in Kannada without any disrespect to the language. In fact my wife speaks excellent Kannada. If I knew Kannada I would have become a big leader in the state by now.’
The Karnataka assembly is located in Bangalore, world famous for its English language call centres. But the leader of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike Anajanapa party was unforgiving, and warned: ‘If anyone speaks in any other language besides Kannada in the assembly, they will face the wrath of our group.’