The Gonds are an Indian ethnic group, who speak the Gondi language and belong to the Dravidian language family. They are the largest tribal groups in India and are spread across the states of Madhya Pradesh, eastern Maharashtra (Vidarbha), Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha. They are listed as a Scheduled Tribe to ensure a more focused approach towards their integrated socio-economic development. They are well known for their traditions and customs.
Of India’s total population, the population of the Gonds is 1,32,56,928 (around 1% of the Indian population). Hira Singh Markam, President of the Gondwana Ganatantra Party claims that the actual number of Gondi speakers is around 2 crores because census was not conducted in the resident villages of the Gonds which were affected by Naxalite activities. The Gond Tribe constitutes about 13% of the total Scheduled Tribe (ST) population. In contrast to this, Gondi is the mother tongue of 29,84,453 people (around 25% of the official Gondi Population). What is even more disheartening is that today only 100 people can write in Gondi with accuracy. This decreasing use of the language can be attributed to various factors like ridicule faced by those speaking in their native Gondi accent, increasing use of scheduled languages in Government offices etc. which have forced the Gonds to shift to Hindi or other local languages like those of Telugu, Marathi, Odia etc.
ARE THE LAWS APPLICABLE TO THE GOND TRIBE DISCRIMINATORY IN NATURE?
The Indian Constitution grants to its citizens the right to “conserve” their language, script and culture in addition to the minorities’ right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The use of the word “conserve” in Article 29 instead of “promote/propagate” is used in Article 351 and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution respectively and depicts the “tolerant” instead of promotional attitude of the state towards the language rights of minorities. The concept of recognizing official languages (of a State/ the Union under Part XVII), i.e., the language of the Government, Judiciary, Bureaucracy etc. is adopted for administrative efficiency and to ensure the eventual assimilation of the minority into the majority groups because all the people in the union/state should be fluent in that language for dealing with or working for the government. Languages cannot survive for long in the modern world unless they are used in public lives and spheres. Since Gondi is not a recognized official language in Telangana and India, it does not receive as much recognition and support from the government as those languages under schedule 8 receive. Article 41 of the Constitution (Directive Principle of State Policy) directs the state to secure the right to “public assistance in cases of old age, sickness and disablement”. This provision lays a condition that the state has to secure these rights “within its economic capacity and development”. Furthermore, Article 47 improves Public Health as a primary duty of the state, which is possible only when people have access to public healthcare services. The vitality of language (rights) in access to healthcare has been established. The major shortcoming in these provisions is that they are non-justiciable, non-mandatory and mere directives. Therefore, it is the prerogative of the government as to which directive it desires to follow and how it interprets them.
To evaluate the language rights enjoyed (or, in other words, the subtle forms in which discrimination is faced) by the Gonds, 3 vital questions need to be answered:
1) Whether they enjoy the “same/similar/identical” or “comparable” language rights as the majority does?
2) Whether they have the four R(s) (Resources, Recognition, Rights and Representation) as the majority does?
3) Whether the linguistic rights enjoyed by them enable access to state services and participation at par with the linguistic majority?
The answer to the first question is “NO” because Gondi is recognized as an official language neither at the union level nor at the state level, which implies that the dominant majority (speaking schedule 8 languages) enjoys better communication links with the state and the government. As far as the second question is concerned, the Gonds enjoy NONE of the four R(s). Being notified as a Scheduled Tribe under the Indian Constitution, the state recognizes their socio-economic backwardness. This implies their lack of “resources” to enjoy their language rights (“conserving” Gondi). Gondi language hasn’t been given an official language status but Gonds have the right to use Gondi in their private life. Thus, Gondi lacks recognition in the public domain. As far as the “Rights and Representation” component is concerned, the Gonds only have the right to preserve their language but no explicit right to promote it and the exercise of these rights is obstructed by their lack of resources. Though some states have granted various reservations to the ST community, Gonds haven’t been able to take benefit of it. For instance, in Telangana, though the reservation has been granted to STs, the Gonds are unable to enjoy this reservation because the Lambada tribe constituting about 64% of the total ST population of Telangana sweeps away most of the seats reserved for the STs as of 2017. The effect of language differences on access to state services and participation has long been known. Until 2017, the Gonds could not access the public offices like those of the Collector (due to linguistic barriers as one of the major reasons) and also faced language barriers in communication with the government hospital staff including the doctors.
THE GONDI STRUGGLE FORE REPRESENTATION AND RECOGNITION
The Gond tribe, in 2017-18 undertook a conflict with the Lambada Tribe (64% of the ST population of Telangana). The cause behind this violent outbreak was that the Lambada community had cornered a disproportionate portion of the reservations, pushing the Gonds and other tribes further down the socio-politico-economic level. Atram Bhujanga Rao, State Committee Vice-President of Telangana Human Rights Forum said that across Adilabad district, the nine Adivasi communities combined had lesser representation than the Lambada tribe alone. This was because, until August 27, 2020, the state didn’t have the authority to make sub-classification amongst the SCs and STs, but post the judgment under State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh and ors., the Supreme Court clarified that social realities couldn’t be ignored while the Constitution aims at the comprehensive removal of the disparities. The court also recognized that STs are not a homogenous group and therefore, the state government has the power to create sub-categorizations amongst them. This judgment has the potential to allow the state to take steps in furtherance of the constitutional goals of equality and inclusivity. The Adivasi Sankshema Parishad (ASP) has started an online campaign on various social media platforms to gather support for its long-standing demand of including the Gondi language in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution in 2020.
THE WAY FORWARD
The state/central governments should re-think granting Gondi the official status, which would make the language(s) eligible for multiple benefits like cultural incentives, employment opportunities, monetary and pedagogic benefits, membership in the Official Language Commission, benefits in Parliament (like translation). Furthermore, the Government officials should be trained in such a way that they work for the welfare of the tribals with zest and zeal. This zeal should be meaningfully channelized by arranging for minority language training programmes by the Government or the officials being taught the local language(s) by the tribals themselves in an informal setting. This linguistic skill should then be used to understand the issues and arrive at plausible solutions to the grievances amicably. There is an urgent need to eliminate the dominancy of languages, meaning thereby all languages should peacefully coexist amongst one another without any clashes. What more can be done is that the civil servants (the District Collectors, ITDA officials etc.) should be made more accountable and answerable to the public than to their political superiors. This can be achieved through citizen charters, social audits, encouraging outcome orientation among the civil servants.
 Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Statistical Profile Of Scheduled Tribes In India 2013.
 V. Sraavya Rajasri Kumar, Gondi Language- Identity, Politics and Struggle in India, 24 IOHR-JHSS 51, 56 (2019).
 Will Kymlicka, “Official Language of Policy”, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism and Citizenship, New York: Oxford University Press 78-82 (2001).
 Andrulis DP, Goodman N, Pryor C., What a Difference an Interpreter Can Make: Health Care Experiences of Uninsured With Limited English Proficiency, Boston, MA: The Access Project (2002).
This article is authored by Garvit Daga, a second-year law student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.