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Page last updated at 19:05 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 20:05 UK

India lawyers want to speak Hindi

By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, New Delhi

file image of justice scales
Lawyers say a majority of their clients only understand Hindi.

Lawyers in India's capital, New Delhi, are arguing for the use of Hindi to be allowed in the city's High Court.

Currently, English is the only official language for the proceedings of Delhi's High Court.

Protesters say the practice is nothing but a colonial practice from the era of British rule and must now be abolished.

A group of lawyers has collected thousands of signatures in support of their campaign to argue their cases in the national language, Hindi.

The lawyers are filing a petition to the chief justice of the Delhi High Court to press their demand.

They say a majority of lawyers, who come from states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are not very articulate in English.

Besides, they argue, a majority of their clients also understand only Hindi.

'Class bias'

Ashok Aggarwal, the President of the Delhi Lawyers' Association, told the BBC changing the system would benefit almost 80% of lawyers and their clients.

"At the moment there is a provision that the language of the court is English, so the judges strictly go by that," he said.

"This is a class bias in the sense that the language of the ruling class is English - it is not the language of the masses. That's why we want this to be rectified.

"A majority of the lawyers who come from states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh Madhya Pradesh, say they win their cases at the district level but have a difficult time in the High Court and have to depend on a minority of English-speaking lawyers. "

But some people argue that English is an important link language among non-Hindi speakers and its continued usage in courts is fully justified.

They also stress that court rulings must be written in English as they have wider implications across Indian states.

The protesters say they are not against the use of the English language, but Hindi must also be permitted in court.

In recent years, the legal community here has raised a number of issues that it says have been inherited from the British Raj and make no practical sense now.

They have objected to wearing flowing black gowns in the hot climate, as well as the use of the prefix - "My Lord" - while referring to judges.

These lawyers insist it is time the country came up with its own set of rules in keeping with the local conditions.

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