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Karnataka: Migrants Welcome Kannada, But Question Newly Proposed Language Bill

Chief Minister Bommai likely to table Kannada Comprehensive Development Bill in Karnataka Assembly.

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Just a few days after the opposition protested against 'Hindi Diwas' celebrations, on 14 September, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that his "government is not just committed to safeguarding Kannada, but is also planning to promoting it."

Now, With the aim of giving more attention to Kannada speaking domiciles, the Bommai government is all set to table the Kannada Language Comprehensive Bill in the state's Legislative Assembly.

The bill which has a total of 58 recommendations proposes that Kannada be used as the state's official language for all communication and bills that are presented in the state legislature.

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Bommai Government's Method of Promoting Kannada Questioned

The proposed Kannada Language Comprehensive Development bill mandates that Kannada be taught as a functional language to higher, technical, and professional students who do not have background of the language.

According to 2011 census, 36 percent of Bengaluru urban’s population comes from other state domiciles of which many have no or very little knowledge of Kannada language. Now, with the new rule mandating them to learn, several migrants have questioned, to whom exactly the rule applies.

The bill also defines what it is to be a Kannadiga and states, "Kannadiga is a person who is a domiciled citizen for "not less than 15 years" and has also learned to read, write, and speak Kannada as a language up to Class X.
"I have been working in Bengaluru for more than 10 years. However, there has never been a need for me to learn Kannada as my interaction with locals is very limited and I often travel across the country. Now, making the language mandatory and imposing unnecessary penalisation would deter us from learning Kannada. The government must come out with more creative ideas to preserve the language."
Puneet Mishra, IT Professional

Speaking to The Quint, IT-professional turned Kannada activist Arun Javgal of Kannada Rakshna Vedike said, "The government celebrates Hindi Diwas celebrations but nothing substantial is being done for Kannada. We welcome what the government is doing in terms of the bill. But they have ensured that everything is done according to the Constitution. If the law is challenged in the court, then it would defeat the purpose."

The proposed bill also demands that secondary and tertiary industries and commercial establishments give Kannadigas the first priority as prescribed in the state's industrial policy. It further dictates that all businesses shall be penalised and licenses will be revoked if this law is violated.

Meanwhile, a private businessman in the paint and construction industry claimed that such decision would result in disastrous consequences for Bengaluru.

Hemant Kumar, in an interaction with The Quint, said that since more than 80 percent of the workforce in this sector are migrants, it would be difficult for businesses to function if government starts to penalise them.

"I am born and bought up in Bengaluru, but native language is Marwadi. We do use Kannada as a primary language for our business. But the industry (paint and construction) is mainly driven by migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, and imposition will be wrong. I read, speak, and write in Kannada and take pride in the language, but the government must be careful in implementing a new policy and not propose penalising establishments."
Hemant Kumar, Businessmen
The proposed bill also suggests that the government give reservation to students who have studied in Kannada medium till Class 10, in higher and professional education. It also adds that one must pass the language examination to get a government job under the state public service commission.

Earlier, there has been instances where nameplates, banking documents, government brochures, and banners were not in Kannada, making it difficult for the native consumer to comprehend what is being conveyed.

In response, pro-Kannada activists had either blackened the sign boards or had sat in protests demanding action from the government.

The Bommai government's bill will also mandate that all lower courts and quasi-judicial bodies make Kannada as their medium of proceedings.

"In every state, the locals are preferred. It is natural for natives to demand this. I have seen plenty of people who have been living in the state for more than 20 years, but they do not speak Kannada. That should not be the case. Meanwhile, there is huge workforce which comes from Odisha and Bihar. The government must understand the talent pool and allot reservation if necessary. This is because there is a dearth of labourers in certain sectors."
Jacob Crasta, Entrepreneur and Former National Executive Member, FICCI

Meanwhile, as the government wishes to push its pro-Kannada narrative a year before the elections, the activist groups fighting for Kannada language feel that the bill might push the cause further behind if it is not framed properly.

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