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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 56
February 16 , 2008

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Language of law

Mufassil M M Islam

We have a universal language which everybody can use to communicate. The language of claiming our rights and the responses for despair, sadness and happiness are cradled in our smiles, tears and actions. Mothers do feed their babies when they cry and we, parents go over the moon when we see our babies smile. The plight of refugees and the frustration of queuing hungry millions in Darfur region of Sudan tell many stories indescribable in words.

Nature has paved our ways to make us a civilized society. We have learnt to use tools to make our lives easier. We boast about our linguistic genius. We draw political borders to celebrate and nourish individual entities as nations, races and cultures.

Time has progressed to create a homogenous relationship with our tools. We long for our homes and our birth-lands as we are unable to express our inner feelings, thoughts and emotions in strange lands. To talk in our mother tongue is our basic human right and we Bengalis have poured our souls and blood to uphold that in 1952. We have showed the world that our mother-tongue and our national entity are inseparably connected.

A nation cannot rise if they are not able to uphold their own honour and dignity by showing their unique abilities. USA and Australia have been practising and demanding a different style of English that they are demanding to be different from the English of England and Ireland has woke up to finding their own Irish language by writing Irish lingua above English on top of every road signs and official notes. Needless to say, now after many years of British rule, most of the Irish people are unable to speak Irish. The Soviet Union barred Latvia, Lithuania and other conquered states in many ways to force from speaking other than the Russian language and thus crippling their very entity. It is officially not acceptable for the Kurds to use their language in Turkey which gave them cause of frustration which is now universally known.

The question of sovereignty is very much rooted to linguistic proliferations. With the advent of the Satellite Channels, our youths are subjected to unrestricted onslaught of foreign culture, language and ideas. Without strong parental guidance, we are prone to breeding a foreign cultured society within our society which we will find self-contradictory within decades. Our parents already pride in sending their children to English medium schools where the educational standards in many cases are very praiseworthy and the excellent results from those institutions pave ways for easy migration to foreign lands. But it is questionable how many of these brilliant children of the soil know their own language well or even know for which writing Tagore became Nobel laureate and why we revere Sher e Bangla.

Many years have passed, we are yet to have a National Education Policy and the unrestricted multifarious foreign academic systems embrace our society with a harder polar bear hug. If we be realistic, our grandfathers who were educated before 1950 and spoke comparatively better English were all equally devoted to Bengali. So, what went wrong? For knowing the world, knowing wisdom, it is always praiseworthy and required to master foreign languages as well. Without the knowledge of Urdu, it is really difficult to know Iqbal's verses and without the knowledge of Farsi, Rumi remains unknown in his thoughts. But we, as Bengalis need to master our own language to know how to express ourselves with the use of the tool of the tongue that we named Bengali language.

Our rights, our demands and our thoughts can be best expressed with our own Bengali language and to do that we need to agree with our rights unitedly and to enforce that right we need to establish our Judiciary in a Bengali respecting system.

There are many problems in reaching our goal of a completely Bengali oriented Judiciary. A few are as follows:

1. Our present legal system has been fashioned in accordance with the English legal system and our legal researchers are immensely dominated by the collection of lexicons, archives of English based research works, decisions and records;

2. Modern world follows English as the lingua franca and to keep pace with the modern legal development around the wold, we are required to engage in constant research in English language;

3. Most of our senior lawyers and legal researchers hailed from a time when the thought of introducing Bengali in our Judicial system did not get momentum and therefore we lack wisdom in an already existing trend;

4. Many lawyers had their academic life in English medium and therefore there is a tendency to push the issue of a Bengali oriented Judicial system under the table;

5. Lack of government attention in the relevant areas of required work keeps the matter under-funded;

6. Influx of lawyers without any basic legal degrees from Bangladesh, rather Barristers with completely foreign degrees are usually completely against the lobbying for a Bengali oriented legal system as that will make their practise difficult to keep in line.

We, lawyers, judges and students of law must understand that, in time, we will be able to become used to translating our researches in Bengali and transferring our English skills to Bengali skills. Lawyers who are expert in both Bengali and English and in many cases in other languages, with their foreign degrees (in certain cases) and foreign trainings will be better and finer lawyers as their research world will become broader. A lawyer who does not know English will definitely have to struggle in the practice of law as s/he will have to rely on other English knowing staff to assist her/him in researches.

My visit to South Korea and Japan surprised me at their lack of the use of English language but I was equally surprised when I met lawyers in those countries. Most of the lawyers in South Korea and Japan speak commendable English and the reasons we probably have agreed by now. We can do further research in this area by going to Language, Culture, and Pedagogy: An Overview of English in South Korea and the web link is http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/eng6365-flattery.htm.

Our government may follow the example of Estonian Government in developing a national educational policy keeping in mind our own entity and the requirement of adopting foreign and timely tenets. It is worth following this link www.legaltext.ee/text/en/X0121.htm.

There are several legal translating services around the world which can help any lawyer, law student and even researchers in their translation works with the click of a button. An example of such a service is http://www.legallanguage.com/llstranslation.htm.

Many lawyers and other educated people can endeavour to set up such services which should bring businesses for them as well.

We, should endeavour to teach our children and our students the use of articulated English and excellent Bengali. It is not impossible to know both the languages but in the present world, we are required to know our own mother tongue and English hand in hand as we cannot know ourselves completely if we do not know our own language and we cannot express ourselves to foreigners if we do not know English and if we progress with this end in view, time may not be far when we, like the Japanese academic institutions, will demand knowledge of Bengali to become students in our celebrated academic institutions of the future.

Mufassil M M Islam is Human Rights Advocate and CEO at Law Offices of Islam and Associates.

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