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Mind your language!

Their Lordships have suddenly discovered that 383 Urdu and Persian words used in police reports are incomprehensible to the public — even to persons filing the report

Hindi movie buffs who like crime dramas may well be aware of words like Saboot (evidence), Anjam (result), Jama Talashi (personal search), Hirasat (custody), Gair Kanooni (illegal), Mujrim (culprit), Asliyat (reality), Ilzaam (charge), Chasmadeed Gavah (eyewitness), Intekaam (revenge), Natija (result), among others. Actors portraying the role of police officers use these words while spouting their dialogues.

These words – Urdu or Persian in origin —  are so popular now, that they may have attained universal appeal. But what do they really mean? These words are not simply words used by the scriptwriter or one who writes dialogues for movies. These words are those that are found in FIRs filed with the police.

However, in a bid to make First Information Reports (FIRs) more readable and user friendly, the Delhi High Court on November 25 directed the Delhi Police to replace hard to understand words with simple words. “An FIR should be in the simplest language possible,” the division bench of the high court observed. “It should be in the words of the person filing the FIR,” it added.

The high court’s order came on the heels of a plea filed by law student Vishalakshi Goel. At a previous hearing, the high court had pulled up the Delhi police for using “high sounding” or “bombastic” words.

The high court sought an explanation from the Delhi Police Commissioner as to whether these words were those of the police, or the person filing the complaint.

“FIR should be in words of the complainant. Too much flowery language, the meaning of which is to be found out with the help of dictionaries, is not to be used in the FIRs. Moreover, the police officers are working for the common public at large and not always for those who are Doctorate degree holders in Urdu, Hindi or Persian languages. As far as possible, simple words are to be used in the FIRs.”

Referring to 383 words, the bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar said these words were “mechanically” being used by the police “without knowing the meaning thereof and without proper application of mind.”

“There is no need for the police to show their knowledge of Urdu or Persian words and these words should not be used by them mechanically without knowing their exact meaning…the practice of using these words in an FIR must be stopped by the police,” the bench noted in its November 25 order.

For the moment, a translation of the Urdu/Persian words – in Hindi, will be given with every copy of a FIR filed. So, the public at large will now use words like Vividh virudh/kanoon ke virudh (illegal) Vyaktigath khoj (personal search) Vastavikta/sacchai (reality), Badla Lena (revenge), Aankho dekha (eyewitness), Parinaam (result) etc.

“Looking to the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, it appears that FIR is the most vital document prepared by the police as it sets the process of criminal justice in motion. In fact, copy of the FIR is required to be sent to the Magistrate immediately as it is an immediate version of the narration of the whole offence,” the bench observed. “In Court, FIR is required to be read time and again, hence, it should be in a simple language or it should be in a language of the person filing the FIR,” the order read.

The high court also took notice of a November 20 circular sent by DCP (Legal Cell) Rajesh Deo to all the DCPs on “instructions regarding use of simple words while recording FIRs.”

“The HQ has compiled a list of Urdu, Persian words which are presently being used in day-to-day functioning of Delhi Police along with their English/Hindi words. IOs/duty officers working under your control be suitably sensitised to evade using archaic Urdu, Persian words. As far as possible, simple words which are easily understood by the common public at large should be used…,” the memo read.

“Persian was a court language used in administrative matters. The continuity in administration meant that a lot of those words remained in our vocabulary. The police training college is now unofficially training staff to not use tough words,” a news report read quoting a senior officer.

The high court further directed Delhi Police to submit 10 FIRs from 10 police stations to show whether the officials were complying with their order.

The petition was filed by a law student last year. In her plea, Goel noted that “there is a mandatory insertion of Urdu words in the last few lines of the First Information Report which should be omitted since it does not serve any reasonable purpose nowadays as it is not a language of common use.”

“…it would not be wrong to infer that this mechanical and futile usage of Urdu-Persian words is a mere customary practice blindly aped over the years,” she added.

Goel went on to suggest that at present the FIR is mixture of various languages including Hindi, English, Urdu and Arabic words.  “The words used by complainant may be in his/her own language which can’t be interfere as otherwise it shall be denial of justice…”

She noted that “This practice started from the Mughal time in India thereafter it continued even after Independence. Though Hindi is the official language but no one ever bothers to discontinue such practice, as, in fact, we all learn it from other seniors and continue same blindly.”

Bolstering her argument, Goel said that in almost all the states “FIR is registered in the local language of the state like Assamese, Punjabi, Guajarati Marathi etc. However, Urdu and Arabic words are being used in FIR in various states.” The use of Urdu, Arabic words acts as a “barrier for complainants, victims, accused and others concerned to understand the procedural aspect of the filed complaint…”

“Furthermore, it is contended that the First Information Report should be in its entirety, in the language best understood by at least by the complainant,” the petition read.