It appears that the strike being held over the last few days in front of the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC) in Pattam, Thiruvananthapuram, has been ignored by the authorities and the public. The indefinite hunger strike, demanding due place for mother-tongue in the functioning of PSC - in the state, where 97 per cent of the population speak Malayalam - has entered its fifth day, but those at the higher echelons seem least disturbed.
The political parties of the land or student organizations have not come forward to take up the strike beyond as a mere 'cultural intervention'. The demands raised during the strike, such as to allow answers in Malayalam also for PSC's employment tests, make Malayalam the medium of the upcoming tests for KAS (Kerala Administrative Service), PSC should adopt the language policy of the state government, are all just and rational.
In all other states of the country, PSC tests are held in respective mother tongues, but in order not to prejudice linguistic minorities, they will be given special consideration too. What more, this is an age in which even the civil service examinations held by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), can be written in regional languages including Malayalam. In the same era, Malayalam remains taboo in PSC tests. Thinking of it, those who work under civil service officers – who come through written IAS examinations in Malayalam - are ones who clear PSC recruitment and enter government service. That being so, what is the logic behind not insisting on proficiency in mother-tongue for their qualifying tests? This only speaks for the fundamentally flawed language policy of Kerala PSC.
PSC happened on the same day the state of Kerala came into being under formation of states on linguistic basis, i.e 1 November 1956. From this it can be inferred that the Public Service Commission that was founded in 1926 got divided in Indian Republic based on language. Most of the states followed the rationale based on language in setting up the PSC functions, but due to some reasons Kerala lagged behind. It is only two years since it was declared in Kerala that language of administration will be Malayalam. All the government files till then were in English. How many of ordinary Malayalees would be able to follow the content of those files? It was as a result of several agitations ever since the birth of Kerala that the mother-tongue of Kerala became administrative language.
Even then, PSC continued with its old language policy, though the government had in the meantime given directives to conduct tests in Malayalam too. But those at the helm of PSC threw the directives into the winds citing flimsy reasons. One of the questions raised in the context is if the questions are asked in Malayalam, what will the candidates who passed out of English-medium institutions do. But those who raise this question forget the fact that there is an existing law that any student studying under any syllabus in Kerala should learn his mother-tongue. One has also to realize that such 'innocent' questions in fact damage the core of the laudable attempts of the education department to strengthen public education. The silence of the government and education department over this is still incomprehensible.
Mother tongue is a human right. And it is raised as a human rights issue because the basis of the existence of distinct communitiets and cultures is their regional languages. In all the amendment of international human rights resolutions of the United Nations, wherever mention is made of the right to freedom of speech and expression, there is a stress on the need to uphold linguistic diversity. Protection of the regional languages of every country is a fundamental issue of the very existence of humanity. Although Malayalam does not immediately face any threat on that score, the prejudice of authorities may lead to the decay of this language too in the distant future.
In this sense, the language stir happening now should assume a popular complexion. All the same, these slogans should not take the nature of linguistic fundamentalism and an anti-English movement. The recent anti-Hindi campaign organized in Karnataka was in the name of 'love for mother tongue'; and it is too early also to forget the damage done by the sons-of-the-soil movement in Maharashtra. Beyond any such fundamentalist approach, what should be evolved is a langauge policy in tune with the contemporary world. It is to be hoped that the current strike against PSC will lead the government along the path to such wise decisions.