The Madras High Court has been in the news for the past few days for all the wrong reasons. But what got buried in the unruly protests by a section of lawyers is their actual demand - use of Tamil in addition to English in the High Court proceedings.
“When a large section of people in the State can understand only Tamil, why should courts functioning on tax payers’ money use a language people don’t understand?” questions Sivakumar, a Madurai law college student.
He was part of a dozen-odd group that staged a day-long sit-in inside the court hall of the Chief Justice on Monday and held placards that had slogans demanding the use of Tamil in High Court proceedings.
The group’s protest prompted the first Bench to suo motu order that the security cover for the High Court campus be handed over from the State police to Central forces like the CISF.
While legal experts decry the mode of protest, they contend that the demand per se is not short on merit. Remember, Hindi has been allowed in four other High Courts for the last several decades seemingly without any hurdle.
“Tamil will just become an additional language and an option for people who are comfortable arguing in Tamil. Giving such an option will be a move towards more democracy,” says former Madras High Court judge K Chandru.
But this is not without practical difficulties, which have to be addressed first. “There are words like ‘plantiff’ and ‘applicant’, which may appear to have similar meanings, but are completely different in legal parlance. Tamil words currently in use for such terms are often confusing. So, first we have to codify the Tamil language to suit the legal parlance. Only then we can use Tamil as court language with equal precision as English,” stresses retired High Court judge T N Vallinayagam.
The question that has oft been asked is about the comfort levels of judges, who come from other states and get posted in Tamil Nadu. How would they feel when arguments are made in a language they can’t follow?
“IAS and IPS officers also get posted in different states. They are mandated to learn the local language before joining duty. Why can’t the judges do the same,” counters Vallinayagam.
But advocates who fight for the cause say their demand is not to make Tamil the exclusive language of the court. “If a particular judge is not comfortable in Tamil, advocates can switch to English when arguing before him. But in case the advocate can express freely only in Tamil, he could seek the posting of the case before another Bench,” says M Pari, who is among the advocates who have waged battles for this cause.
But in the digital age, with tools available for instant translations, advocates say the problem in the use of dual language is not insurmountable. “Today Google offers instant language translation. With more advanced tools, translation is no big deal. Nearly 80 per cent of the legal concepts actually have Latin and Greek terminologies. When they can be use in English language, why can’t we frame corresponding maxims in Tamil? A separate institute must be established for this. Just passing Assembly resolutions won’t be sufficient,” quips advocate K Elangovan.