BENGALURU: After fighting against use of Hindi in its metro rail and contemplating a separate state flag, the Karnataka government is stepping up pressure on bank officials to learn Kannada. A government body mandated to promote Kannada has told banks to get its officials to learn the language within the next six months or remove them.
The move comes ahead of assembly elections less than a year away that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who would be the Congress' chief ministerial face, has vowed to win. It is in this context that the Chief Minister has been on an overdrive to project himself as a crusader for Kannada language. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had recently supported protests against Hindi signage in Bengaluru's metro and later, reignited a debate for a separate flag for the state.
The ultimatum to learn Kannada in six months was delivered by the Kannada Development Authority set up under a 1994 law to propagate the language. According to a circular to all nationalised, rural and scheduled banks, their non-Kannada speaking staff would have to learn the language to help the local population.
Banks have also been asked to use three languages English, Hindi, Kannada in their transactions and forms. The letter has also asked all bank branches in the state to have a Kannada unit similar to the Hindi units which were set up when Hindi was implemented.
"In Mandya, when an account holder went to the bank, a officer asked him to leave the country for not knowing Hindi. When there are such arrogant officers, it is a threat to federal structure of this country. That's why we are quoting their own rule and asking them to learn Kannada in six months," said Prof S G Siddaramaiah, chairman, Kannada Development Authority.
It is, however, unlikely that the KDA can enforce its directive. At best, the authority can use its persuasive powers to nudge the central government to "to understand local sentiments and needs".
Jayaram, general secretary of staff association Syndicate Bank that is headquartered in Karnataka's Udipi district, welcomed the initiative. He said many people who come from villages to the urban centres may not be well-versed with Hindi or English. "So the local language should be there," he said.