Recently, while browsing online, I came across an article from October 2018, which reported that Consumer Affairs Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, had urged food product manufacturers to start labelling their products in Hindi and other regional languages. It has been almost two years since that article was published, however, nothing much has changed. Packaged food products in India continue to have their ingredient lists and nutritional information printed only in English. This has to change.
The majority of Indians are NOT proficient in English, whether speaking, reading, or writing. According to a 2014 Forbes article, approximately thirty percent of the population is, to varying degrees, able to speak English. The number of people who can read, or write in, English, is even lower. Even accounting for the fact that the article is six years old, I doubt that these numbers have changed much. This 2019 Livemint article seems to confirm my belief.
If only a small portion of the population is English literate, then why are brands not being forced to print the ingredients lists and nutritional information of their products in local Indian languages? Hundreds of millions of people all over the country being denied their basic right to know what is in their food. It can’t be a question of local language printing not being possible, especially since it is done in non-English speaking countries in the developed world, and in the Middle East. Why are Indians consumers treated differently?
It is abundantly clear that voluntary compliance isn’t going to happen. The Government must pass suitable legislation to force manufacturers to print ingredient lists and nutritional information in local languages. For starters, let this at least be done in the nine or ten most popularly spoken Indian languages. Indians have a right to know what they’re eating and drinking, just like citizens in the West and Middle East, or any other part of the world.