[lg policy] Language Planning and Policy in Nepal

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Apr 15 15:15:55 UTC 2015

Language Planning and Policy in Nepal


Prof Dr. Ram Kumar Dahal

Senior Political analyst,TU Nepal

The study of language politics would be completely inadequate without the
proper study of language planning/policy and programmes adopted by the
various governments of Nepal. Language planning, as Crystal points out, is
a term used in socio- linguistics to refer to a systematic attempt to solve
the communication problems of a community by studying the various languages
or dialects, its uses and developing a realistic policy concerning the
selection and use of different languages (Crystal, 1985 174). Language
planning and policy thus, are the important aspects of language politics.

With the introduction of multiparty democracy in Nepal in 1950, various
linguistic communities tried to uplift their languages Hindi in Terai and
Newari in Kathmandu Valley took the leading roles. During 1950-60 , these
languages enjoyed almost freedom, though K. I Singh Government ordered the
removal of other languages from school instruction except Nepali (however
some optional languages were prescribed in class 9 and 10). With the
forceful dissolution of the first democratically government in 1960 and
with the introduction of non- party oriental democracy in 1962, the
Panchayat system in the name of national integration and extreme
nationalism under King Mahendra, developed the concept of Nepali
nationalism and “one nation, one system” concept of which Nepali Language
became a part. Language actually was not studied in linguistic sense but in
socio-political sense It also stressed on the representation of one
Language system. In course of inculcating oriental non-party culture,
politics and linguistic sentiments went side by side and linguistic issues
remained highly related with political issues. It tried to Panchayatize the
Language culture, and ethnicity. Besides Nepali Language, the Panchayati
rulers discouraged other cultural and linguistic sentiments. In practice,
no investment on the development of Language was done. Royal Nepal Academy
(RNA) and few other research institutes conducted intellectual research
works for the study and survey of other languages.  Till its alleged
involvement in assisting the Tibetans’ Free Tibet Movement and the Khampa
revolutionaries, the US based summer Institute of Linguistics (Sit.)
conducted linguistic research on language on eastern parts of Nepal. The
Panchayati rulers never accepted Nepal as the multi lingual society,
however, some research works were conducted during this period. They never
considered Language as national property and never stressed on its

The concept of democratic pluralism was not encouraged in politics,
philosophy and virtually in language also Nepali language was used as a
medium for the expression of political views and desires by the non-party
Panchayat politicians. Thus, language and politics were closely inter
related. The Panchayati leaders stressed on the development of Nepali
language as the lingua franca of the nation. Article 4 of the constitution
of Nepal, 1962 gave Nepali the status of national language, however, it did
not mention about the position of other languages. Though Article 10 of the
then constitution had provided the Nepalese citizens the right to equality
it did not specify about linguistic equality (HMG, 1962: 6) During 1962-89,
Nepali became the medium of instruction, of media of parliamentary debates,
of deliberations of the court etc. Derecognition of local Languages, thus,
remained the linguistic feature during the Panchayat period.

The New Education Plan (NEP), introduced in 1971, discouraged the medium of
instruction in school in other languages than Nepali, however, some local
languages including Hindi and Newari were prescribed in class 9 and 10 as
optional subjects.

The Marich Man Singh Government, while stressing on one “nation, one
language” formula, de-recognized the degree of M.A in Hindi, Newari and
Maithili as a basis of promotion Except Nepali and English, no other
languages were recognized by the Public Service Commission (PSC). The
linguistic minorities charged the government-owned Sajha Prakashan (SP) and
Royal Nepal Academy (RNA) had not done justice with their languages.
Publication of Newspapers other than Nepali and English were also
discouraged. Radio Nepal stopped the news broadcast in Hindi and Newari
(Jha, 1993 25). Except Hindi movement, as advocated by Gajendra Narayan
Singh the, leader of the then Nepal Sadbhavana Parishad and Manka Khala
movement advocated by Padma Ratna Tuladhar, Nepal faced no important
language movements during the Panchayat period. The leaders of the language
movements, particularly Padma Ratna Tuladhar, Gajendra Narayan Singh and
Ananda Dev Bhatta, criticized the language policy of the Panchayat
governments and strongly demanded the implementation of liberal language
policy that gave equal protection to all the languages of the nation,
besides Nepali. But those personalities during the post Jana Andolan days
turned into political activists that brought language and politics into
closer ties.

With the restoration of multi party and pluralistic democracy on West
Minister line in 1990, Nepal started adopting liberal language policy. Soon
after the formation of a multi party interim government under the Prime
Minister ship of K P Bhattarai, government owned and controlled Radio Nepal
started its news broadcast, besides in Nepali and in English, in Hindi and
Newari In the post Jana Andolan days, the democratically elected
governments of Nepal tried to encourage the development and promotion of
various languages of the nation and started its news broadcast in few other
local languages including in Magar and Tamang. The government owned Nepal
Television (NTV) also started the production of some tele-films on small
screen in various local languages.

The publications of newspapers in various languages were also promoted and
accordingly, few more newspapers were also published in various local
languages. However, no additional facilities were provided to these
publications from government side. The private sector is also taking
interest in this direction.

*The Nepalese Constitution (1990) and Official Language Policies:*

The constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal ( now an Interim Constitution in
republican Nepal) , 1990 framed after the mass uprising of 1990 constitutes
the central and perhaps, the sole formal statement of Nepal’s language
policy-a policy that gives differential status and power to Nepalese
languages which, in turn, gets reflected in institutional and societal
support to attitudes towards these languages.

The supreme law has shown commitment for the preservation of all languages
by providing equal status to all the languages of the nation but a clear
cut distinction was marked between the national language and languages of
the nation. Nepali language in the Devnagari script, under Article 6(1) of
the then constitution is accepted as the national language of Nepal and is
granted the status of the official language. All the languages spoken as
the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are the languages of the
nation. Similarly, Article 18, providing cultural and education right of
the citizens of Nepal, states that every community residing within the
kingdom of Nepal shall have the right to protect and develop its language,
script and culture. Every community is also given the right to establish
schools for providing education to the children up to the primary level in
their mother tongue (then HMG 1990). The then constitution, thus, had
accepted the basis norms as advocated by UNESCO and as mentioned in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 by accepting mother tongue
education at primary level.

In the post Jana Andolan days, various languages, besides Nepali, have been
used within parliament though House of Representatives Rules 2048 (1991)
clearly mentions that Nepali should be .the medium of expression,
discussions and other deliberations. This rule has been violated by the MPS
within parliament. MP Padma Ratna Tuladhar delivered speech in Newari,
Gajendra Narayan Singh in Hindi, to mention a few. The Kathmandu
Municipality Mayor took oath in Newari.

The democratically elected governments of Nepal since 1991 have adopted
liberal policy regarding the promotion of languages as outlined in the
supreme Law (1990) in 1992 (2049 BS ) the National Committee for
Formulating cultural policy and programmes was constituted by the
government, which, besides other things, recommended for the promotion and
preservation of various cultures in Nepal (then HMG, 1992). A year later
National Language Policy Recommendation Commission (1993/2050 B.S.) was
also constituted which recommended for the establishment of a separate
body-National Language council to formulate appropriate language policies
and for their proper implementation (the HMG, 1993; Yadav, 1998; 233:
Gurung 1997: 495-532).

*Next week Ethnicity, National 1ntegration and Language Politics: Text
courtesy Journal of Political Science PN Campus, Pokhra, 1998.
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