Hindi in court please, demand litigants and lawyers

By Kanu Sarda, IANS,

New Delhi : For 40-year-old Kamal Kishore, attending hearings in the Delhi High Court is a pain every time – not just because his case has been dragging for over seven years but also because of the use of English in the proceedings.

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“I sit like a fool in the court room as all arguments are in English. I can understand English a bit, but they speak so fast. It is so difficult to make out what my lawyer is arguing or whether he is making the right comments,” said Kishore, who works as a lower division clerk in a Delhi government department.

When he heard that a signature campaign has been launched by lawyers for allowing Hindi in Delhi courts, he was overjoyed.

“It will be great for people like us for whom English is like a foreign language. If it is in Hindi, we will know whether our lawyers are going right or wrong,” Kishore, who has been fighting since 2002 for the court’s intervention to get compensation,” Kishore told IANS.

“Maybe, if we take part (in the legal process involved in a case), the court will take its decision faster,” Kishore said, echoing the thoughts of hundreds of litigants who can’t speak or understand English.

Last week, a group of lawyers started a signature campaign in Delhi High Court and the five district courts of the capital, requesting they be allowed to argue their cases in Hindi besides English.

“We have received a huge response from lawyers and collected over 3,000 signatures so far to support our campaign,” said Ashok Aggarwal, president of the Delhi unit of the lawyers’ association who launched the campaign.

After collecting the signatures, the lawyers will urge Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Ajit Prakash Shah to allow them to present their cases in Hindi as it is the national language.

The Delhi High Court Act does not allow lawyers to argue in Hindi.

“Even in our constitution, Article 19(A) says that everyone can express himself in any language and denying the use of Hindi in courts is a violation of this fundamental right,” Aggarwal told IANS.

“If lawyers happen to argue in Hindi, judges do not pay attention. English has become a status symbol. We have often come across instances when lawyers start their arguments in Hindi but are rebuked by judges,” he added.

Moreover, Article 348 of the constitution provides for arguing court cases in English as well as regional languages, Aggarwal pointed out.

Somdutt Sharma, vice president of the Delhi unit of the lawyers association, said: “Our demand is that there should be an option before us to argue in Hindi or in English. We want an amendment. The move is in the interest of litigants. Their interest should be everyone’s priority.”

Talking about the Act, Sharma said: “It is a hangover of the British colonial system and it should be abolished now.”

Hindi is being used in the high courts of Rajasthan, Allahabad and Madhya Pradesh, but not in the national capital, according to the lawyers’ body.

District and Sessions Judge Mamta Sehgal had issued a circular a few months ago, making it clear to subordinate judges that they must see that their court employees are proficient in Hindi and also use it in their work.

The circular also stated that the use of Hindi would fetch the staff extra performance points and be considered in their annual performance reports.

The issue, however, is not resolved that simply. Some court staff and many stenographers are not conversant in Hindi.

“The concept is wonderful but its implementation would require a comprehensive effort by not only the staff but also judges, lawyers and administrative officers, who could provide the necessary infrastructure like software for Hindi for all the computers,” a court staffer said.

Naresh Kumar, a daily wager who has been involved in a civil suit for the past four years, welcomed the move. He said: “If this happens, it will be really great for poor people like us who just can’t understand a word in court. But the question is: will it happen?”

(Kanu Sarda can be contacted at [email protected])