Hindi imposition in the banking sector has left Kannadigas disadvantaged

While the issue stems from inequality in how Indian languages are treated, a policy change by the Government of India further enabled hegemony of Hindi over others.
Stylised image of people waiting in line at the bank
Stylised image of people waiting in line at the bank
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This piece is a part of TNM's reader-funded Cooperative Federalism Project. Indian residents can support the project here, and NRIs, please click here.

In October 2020, Madhappa, who runs a grocery store in Mandya district’s Pandavapura, went to a nationalised bank to close his fixed deposit and withdraw what was left of his life’s savings. The pandemic-induced lockdown had been particularly cruel on the 68-year-old who had to keep his shop closed for months on end, while his savings were eroded. When he went to the bank after almost six months, the official who usually helped him carry out his transaction had been transferred.

Madhappa was then asked to speak to another official who only spoke Hindi and English. He had been working in Karnataka for just a few months and could just about ask for the person’s name in Kannada. And Madhappa spoke only Kannada. With the bank short-staffed, Madhappa was told there was no one else to help him. He left and came back the next day and the same story repeated. After four futile attempts, Madhappa requested his nephew who worked in Mysuru to come down and help him.

Incidents like this have increasingly become common, particularly in rural Karnataka. MR Lokesh who lives near Chikkaballapur says he had given an application in Kannada to link his mobile number to his bank account. What would ideally have been a simple and quick process soon became a complicated one, thanks to language barriers. “The official in the bank said in Hindi, “I don’t know what this is.” When I asked her if she spoke any Kannada, she refused to say a word and just asked me to speak to the manager who was not available. I had to go to the bank thrice to meet the manager and get my request across,” Lokesh tells TNM.

Lokesh works with a Kannada rights organisation in the region and says many people have spoken to them about similar issues they face in banks and even post offices. “In many nationalised banks, challans are only in Hindi and English. The bank workers barely help customers in understanding this, there are no help desk personnel who assist customers to translate the challan to Kannada. The customers who only speak Kannada have to seek assistance from other customers,” he says. While the issue stems from inequality in how Indian languages are treated, a policy change by the Government of India further enabled hegemony of Hindi over others.

The Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) is the government agency under the Ministry of Finance in charge of recruiting and placing candidates in public sector banks. Post 2014, IBPS — which also assesses the candidates — started holding preliminary exams for candidates only in English and Hindi. In 2019, the IBPS notified that preliminary exams for recruitment for clerical posts in nationalised banks, including in Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), will be held only in Hindi and English. In Karnataka, this move was met with strong opposition with not just aspirants but language activists and even former Chief Ministers like Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy demanding a change in the policy.

Anand Guru of Banavasi Balaga explains how this impacted not just the customers but even the candidates. “Till 2014, IBPS had a requirement that the candidate appearing for exams should have studied Kannada till class 10. After that, there has been a gradual relaxation of this rule, because of which today, only 10% of the vacancies in Karnataka are being filled by Kannadigas. Currently, the recruitment policy has been changed and due to that the local candidates are facing job loss of upto 90%,” Anand tells TNM.

“This has caused two issues. Our youth are losing job opportunities. Second, the customers who speak Kannada suffer. In many cases, we have seen bank employees show the arrogance of asking the customers to learn Hindi. People who are depositing money in banks are struggling to withdraw at these banks,” he adds.

Not just in banks but even while availing schemes of the Union government, citizens who speak only Kannada are being discriminated against. 40-year-old Mariswamy runs a small shop in Tiptur where he sells coconuts. He was told about the Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY) scheme of the Union government by a friend. He went to the closest post office in December, 2020 and asked for details, hoping to get a loan granted. There were just two people working in the post office at the time and they asked him to read the posters on the walls for information. But the posters had literature only in Hindi and English. And the staff at the post office did not have the time nor inclination to help Mariswamy translate.

The PMMY scheme was launched in 2015 with the aim of providing “loans up to Rs 10 lakh to the non-corporate, non-farm, small/micro enterprises” as per the government website. “If they make information so inaccessible then how do they expect us to avail these schemes? I can read a little English but not enough to understand so much. Posters and hoardings in our villages are also in either English or Hindi. How many will understand them? This has given way to middlemen who take money to just help us apply for the schemes,” Mariswamy says.

Several people have been forced to abandon their hopes of getting services due to roadblocks created by officials who do not speak Kannada. Like Sundari, who is a single parent to two teenage children. She runs a tailoring shop in Ajjipura of Chamarajanagar and speaks only Kannada and Tamil. She wanted a loan to repair her house and approached the local bank. She says that during the lockdown, less than 50% of the staff were working and none of them spoke any language but Hindi. When she applied for a loan, due to communication hurdles, she did not get clarity on the documents that were needed to process her request. “I went to the bank four times, each time I would be told that I needed to get other documents and that I did not understand what the staff told me the previous time. I cannot understand Hindi properly. Finally, frustrated with this process I went to a money lender in my village and took the loan from him. He charges exorbitant interest rates but at least I won’t have to keep running back to understand what he is saying,” Sundari says.

While India has 22 national languages, the predominance of Hindi was cemented with Articles 343 and 351. And those who do not speak Hindi, especially in the southern states, continue to be disadvantaged to even exercise their basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

This piece is a part of TNM's reader-funded Cooperative Federalism Project. Indian residents can support the project here, and NRIs, please click here.

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