AIR Has Downgraded National Languages to Regional Ones, Yet Chief Ministers Remain Silent

The decision to shut down the central news units of All India Radio in several Indian languages in Delhi, and shift them to their respective state capitals, is in line with the hegemony of Hindi.

“All-India Radio has played a very significant role in the country, specially, in integrating the whole nation… It has a unifying and binding role in the country… We are far from the National Capital. If we are attached to the National Capital it is through language. Language is a very very sensitive issue. Now, they want to de-link Assamese language from National Capital. It will go against the interest of the national integration process. So, we cannot support this stand.” – Sarbananda Sonowal, MP, in the Lok Sabha in 2005.

What Sarbananda Sonowal had said as an MP on the question of national languages during the Congress regime is interesting to note. Sixteen years on, the same Sonowal, now chief minister of Assam, has nothing to say about the Assamese language being pushed out of  All India Radio (AIR) news broadcasts from the national capital, let alone agitating for a reversal of policy.

Prasar Bharati has closed or is closing down the central news units of several Indian languages namely Arunachali, Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujrati, Oriya and Tamil in All India Radio (AIR) at its news headquarter at the national capital in Delhi and transferring the broadcasting of national news bulletins in these languages to their respective state’s capital stations.

The nation is passing through turbulent and challenging times with divisive politics at its peak.  Language too has not been spared. There have been constant and deliberate efforts to subjugate national languages, other than Hindi, included in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution. All of this is part of a well-thought out plan to degrade the stature and dignity of these national languages and relegate them to the status of “regional” languages with limited reach.

In a reply to question No: 4566 on August 12, 2016, in Lok Sabha, the minister of state for information and broadcasting informed the house that national news bulletins of 12 Indian languages would be transferred from central news units of these languages in the News Service Division (NSD) in Delhi to Regional News Units (RNUs) in the capital cities of the different states. The alibi was to involve more local talent in national news bulletins.

Replying to another question No: 2159, the minister said that in the wake of the emergence of new communication systems, keeping the news units of these Indian languages in Delhi was an unnecessary expenditure. Interestingly the director general of the News Services Division of All India Radio, while mooting this proposal, cited the shortage of manpower and non-availability of capable talent as a primary reason.

Also read: To Move Beyond the Binary of Language Politics, Teach Migrant Workers Tamil

This proposal was strongly opposed by various language organisations and members of parliament. They described the proposal as a move to degrade these constitutionally recognised languages from national status to a local one.

But Prasar Bharti ignored this objection and went ahead with the move. Subsequently, the national news bulletins of eight languages namely Arunachali, Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya and Tamil were transferred to their respective Regional News Units, while the Central News Units of these languages in Delhi were closed.

It is strange that the government says that there is a shortage of manpower and non-availability of capable talent in Delhi for these so-called ‘regional languages’. The story does not end here only.

The process of closing down the units of these languages was on the cards at the same time as a news agency called Hindusthan Samachar, which is considered close to the current ruling dispensation and nurtures a similar ideology as that of the present rulers, issued an advertisement for the appointment of copy editors, reporters, senior reporters and translators in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, Bangla, Assamese, Oriya, Nepalese and Gurumukhi. This signifies that different yardsticks are implied when the question of propagating the ideology of the ruling establishment among the linguistic communities of these otherwise national languages arises. There have been reports of talks between Prasar Bharati and Hindustan Samachar, in which the latter would supply content. But as yet there has been no official word of any arrangement.

Clearly, Prasar Bharati’s move was part of a larger political design of discriminating against the linguistic communities of various national languages in order to establish the hegemony of dominant languages. It is imperative to stop such a move immediately so that the national status of these national languages incorporated in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution is reinstated and discrimination among different Indian languages ends.

To be sure, this discriminatory attitude towards various national languages has existed for some time, even before the Modi government came to power

Here is a debate in Lok Sabha on  May 5, 2005 when the present chief minister of Assam was an MP:

Sarbananda Sonowal (Dibrugarh): Sir, I call the attention of the Minister of Information and Broadcasting to the following matter of urgent public importance and request that he may make a statement thereon: “The situation arising out of recent decision of the All India Radio to discontinue services from Delhi in five regional languages and steps taken by the Government in regard thereto.”

*The Minister of Information and Broadcasting, and Minister of Culture, Shri S. Jaipal Reddy: Sir, Prasar Bharati has informed that it has been decided to shift some of the regional language news units along with the staff from Delhi to concerned regional stations of All India Radio.

Shri S. Jaipal Reddy: AIR broadcasts two types of news bulletins in the regional languages. These bulletins are compiled and edited in New Delhi by the General News Room. They are heard by the listeners mainly in the State where their regional language is mainly spoken. These bulletins convey the national news and some amount of international and business news. There are 17 such languages. * Also placed in Library See No. LT 2075/05.

Now, I come to the State level regional language bulletins. These are compiled by the Regional News Unit of All India Radio situated in State Capital, but in a few larger States, there is more than one such RNU. These bulletins focus on State level development news and other major national and international events. Both bulletins are to cater to those speaking in the regional languages of various States. There is no difference in the broadcast coverage of these two types of bulletins. However, Sindhi is a regional language, which is not the official language of any State. Only national language bulletins are being broadcast in this language. At present, 17 national level regional language bulletins are being prepared, edited, translated and read out from Delhi. Various problems have arisen, such as: Lack of sufficient regional language news editors, for supervision of translation, having appropriate knowledge and regional language skills. This affects the quality of news presentation adversely. Large portion of work of translation is being done by the casual workers due to shortage of permanent employees, which has caused problems of diction, accent, etc. It was felt that shifting of the Regional language News Units dealing with national level bulletins to the State Capitals will overcome these operational difficulties. In each of the State Capitals, Regional News Unit has trained News Editors, who are also fluent in the regional language, unlike Delhi. In addition, the News Readers/News Readers-cum-Translators available in the State Capitals are also universally admitted to be of higher standard both in voice quality, language knowledge and diction than those in Delhi. National level bulletins will continue to be based on the approved Master script prepared by the General News Room at New Delhi and the listeners will also receive the same mix of national and international news as before, but the accent and quality of translation will be better. Exactly the same number of regional stations of All India Radio will broadcast the news bulletins. There will be no impact on listeners in the National Capital because of the change. Three units have been shifted as follows: Telugu to Hyderabad w.e.f. 1.4.2005 Kannada to Bangalore/Dharwad w.e.f. 27.4.2005 Sindhi to Ahmedabad w.e.f. 27.4.2005 This issue was also discussed, Sir, in the meeting of the Members of Parliament of the Consultative Committee to this Ministry and followed up by a meeting of all the MPs concerned, with me being in the Chair. It is not that any decision was taken there. We only discussed it, because concerns were voiced by Members of the Consultative Committee as well. This decision to shift the bulletins will not go against the role of All India Radio to integrate the whole nation. With this decision, the editorial guidelines for retention of national character of the language bulletins can be provided from Delhi by using on-line communication.

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Photo: Facebook

Shri Sarbananda Sonowal: Whatever the hon. Minister has spoken, I think it is totally against the interest of the country. It is because All-India Radio has played a very significant role in the country, specially, in integrating the whole nation. Through its fast and varied network, it has brought together people in different areas speaking different languages. It has a unifying and binding role in the country. This is not a step in the right direction and would immensely go against national integration. This would also hurt the sentiments of the large number of people in respective States, particularly, Assam and North-East. We are far from the National Capital. If we are attached to the National Capital it is through language. Language is a very very sensitive issue. Now, they want to de-link Assamese language from National Capital. It will go against the interest of the national integration process. So, we cannot support this stand. It is because at the time of taking this stand particularly, the hon. Minister would have thought, for the cause of the country, the ethos of the freedom struggle. We want to stay together. India must stay together. National Capital must create room for everybody’s accommodation. The sense of accommodation must be made strong. Hon. Minister in the House is saying lack of sufficient regional language news editors. What do you mean by this sufficient? You have no intention to recruit resourceful person to fill up the gap. You are saying this affects the quality of news presentation adversely. It is because if you do not have the resourceful persons, of course, it will affect (Interruptions).

Speaker: Come to the question, please. He has mentioned only three units.

Shri Sarbananda Sonowal: Sir, I am coming to it. The news broadcast from All-India Radio, Delhi is different in content and depth from the news broadcast by the regional centre. It is because it covers the national and international issues. As you have been saying that the news matter can be faxed from the Delhi regional centres, I would like to refer to a matter related to Hyderabad and how it is affecting the entire procedure. After shifting Telugu unit to Hyderabad, it is learnt that the contents and news are being faxed from Delhi to Hyderabad. Here casuals are being employed in addition to the already available regular staff to translate and broadcast the news. This has complicated the existing well-settled procedure that was followed prior to shifting. Neither this resulted in improving the quality, nor in any administrative convenience as claimed by the administration. Now, I do not want to prolong my debate. I want to simply ask my question. As you know, Assam and North-East are going through a very troubled time. We do not want to alienate that part of the country from the National Capital.

How language units lived in the past  

In 1937, the British Central News Organisation (CNO) added Marathi, Gujarati and some other languages in the aftermath of World War II. After Independence, the government added Kashmiri and Dogri to the CNO’s broadcasting responsibilities to meet the challenge of putting up India’s case in the face of Pakistani aggression. Gradually, the News Services Division in All India Radio at Delhi became the hub of all Indian languages. Not only were language-capable journnalists stationed in AIR, but there were also such interpreters in Parliament too.

Now, the idea of unity in diversity is being given a go by; with the hegemonic RSS ideology having taken over Prasar Bharati, news broadcasts in national bulletins from the national capital are being discontinued.

Are language speakers limited to a particular state? For example, is Gujarati a language of Gujarat only? Is it not spoken in Maharashtra? Is it the argument that Gujarati-speaking people in the other parts of the country do not listen to Gujarati bulletins? In Gujarat, Vadodara was under Gaikwad rule and even today there is a large Maharashtrian population. Every state has a sizable population of those who do not speak the state’s official language. Bengalis or Tamils do not live in West Bengal or Tamil Nadu only. Bengalis also live in Varanasi, the constituency of the prime minister. In Delhi, one may find people from all regions, speaking their languages, celebrating their festivals, intermixing with people from other regions and giving them a national perspective.

All India Radio

All India Radio logo. Photo: Wikipedia.

Delhi is the administrative capital of India and could well have become a melting pot of all Indian  cultures, but it is now being transformed into the capital of a hegemonic language. Strangely, the Sanskrit news bulletin was not dispatched out of Delhi. Why not? The census shows the largest number of people who returned Sanskrit as their mother tongue are in Maharashtra. So why isn’t the Sanskrit bulletin relocated there? Is it because promoting Sanskrit at the national level – even if the total number of Indians who speak it as their mother tongue is just 24,821 (2011 census)  – is part of the Sangh parivar’s cultural agenda? So money and personnel can always be found for AIR Sanskrit but not, say, Assamese.

When in 2005, Assamese, Telugu and Sindhi were relegated to Guwahati, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, Sarbananda Sonowal had strongly rebutted the bureaucracy’s false logic.

Other than Sonowal, several other MPs spoke on this issue. Kirip Chaliha, then the Guwahati MP, cautioned the government: “ … this is a very sensitive matter. So, I would definitely urge upon the minister not to be guided by inexplicable reasons and considerations that are extraneous. More importantly, I would like to urge the minister not to be misled by the officers of Prasar Bharati who are trying to sacrifice the broader concept and the need for national unity. They are sacrificing national unity due to financial and technical considerations.”

“Sir, I thank all the hon. Members who have raised this matter. I think their sentiments have to be understood that the Delhi Station of All India Radio has been an institution and it has become almost a centre for national heritage. Under no circumstance, we should allow the segregation to take place and give an impression that India has now become decentralised centres and there is no need for these institutions like All India Radio which represents the nation as a whole.”

Babu Rao Mediyam, MP for Bhadrachalam at the time, raised two questions.“Telugu, Kannada and Sindhi language news bulletin units have been shifted to their respective state capitals. I feel Telugu is the third largest spoken language in India. Both, for me and the Minister (referring to Jaipal Reddy), it is our mother tongue. Moreover, Telugu is known as the Italian of the East. As the minister said, I feel there is a dilution in the spirit of national integration, because in the process of translating, compiling and gathering news, the original words and the regional spirit of that language will be diluted.”

Also read: Pushing Hindi as Politics, Not Hindi as Language

He continued: “My question is, this whole issue is erupting from the lack of manpower in the Delhi Radio Station because for so many years there is a ban on the recruitment of News Readers. So, due to less number of News Readers in Delhi, the persons who know more languages other than their own mother tongue are over-burdened with work relating to other languages which they know. As a result, the persons working in various language news units are being reduced day-by-day. Therefore, I would like to know whether the minister will consider lifting the ban on recruitment and recruit more number of people into these regional language news units of Delhi Radio Station, so that we can prolong this process of broadcasting regional language news bulletins from Delhi.”

A new definition of talent is being fabricated here. A social base is being set up to transform languages from national to local so that a conflict of Delhi versus locality arises.

How can a bulletin be improved by sending it to a state capital? Does a language bulletin like the air of the state? People speaking different languages can develop mutual affinity only if they are brought together under one roof.

The followers of the ‘one nation, one faith, one language’ theory do not even know that India proudly speaks languages that are spoken beyond Indian borders – Tamil in Sri Lanka and Java in Indonesia; Bengali in Bangladesh; Sindhi in the Sindh province of Pakistan; and Punjabi in the West Punjab province of Pakistan.

These languages always deserved due regard for their status as cross-border languages, but now the government has further downgraded them as being simply a regional language of one or the other part of the country.