India’s Spoken Language Contrasts Sharply With Administrative And Legal Language

After rejecting the Himachal Pradesh high court’s “incomprehensible” verdict, the Supreme Court made a call for “brevity, simplicity, and clarity” across all levels of government. In the HC division bench judgement, one may find gems such as “contra thereto, became adduced by him, and he was thus ordered to dispel the factum” and “the ire res-controversia, exploding interse the plaintiffs, belongs to findings adverse to the workman.” If the significance of this nonsense were not so grave, it would be amusing.

The governing class of premodern societies confused the administrative language of design. This remained even after the so-called “modernization” began. In various Western democracies, efforts have been made over the last two decades or more to modernise and simplify the vocabulary of justice, law, and administration.

There are areas where it has not yet gained traction. Scholars of lawmaking in the United States, for example, often point out the obfuscation and jargon that characterise the nation’s long, complex laws. However, India has made no effort whatsoever. In my perspective, the moment has come. It is almost impossible to discover clarity, brevity, and simplicity in any kind of legal writing, including police reports, charge sheets, presidential directives, and court judgements.

In a democracy, the people are the reason the government exists. Therefore, it follows that communication at the state level is essential. Despite the fact that India has been independent for 75 years, the country’s official language is nevertheless entrenched in the colonial past. Despite the unreasonable criticisms of some, the English language has flourished throughout the years, becoming an indispensable and extensively used administrative language. Nevertheless, legal authors, for instance, refuse to forsake obsolete vocabulary and intricate clause structures. The entire result is more perplexing than illuminating for the reader. Consequently, the terrible tax system is merely one example of how badly drafted laws result in a deluge of litigation.

The language used in laws and decisions should be consistent with how the typical person would use it. It should not be necessary for “experts” to explain the meaning of laws and court judgments that affect ordinary citizens. In India’s electoral democracy, elections are conducted in forms and languages that are accessible to the whole population. Every politician is aware of the significance of being comprehensible. Once in power, however, these same politicians yield to the incomprehensibility that characterises the establishment. They need to be the initiators of change.