The story so far: A 50-year-old controversy got a new lease of life recently when a paragraph in the Draft New Education Policy 2019 referred to the mandatory teaching of Hindi in States where Hindi is not spoken. This was a reiteration of the Central government’s three-language formula, but it set off a storm in Tamil Nadu, which stoutly opposes any attempt to impose Hindi and adheres to a two-language formula. The Union government sought to neutralise the hostile reaction by dropping the controversial reference to Hindi.
What is the formula?
It is commonly understood that the three languages referred to are Hindi, English and the regional language of the respective States. Though the teaching of Hindi across the country was part of a long-standing system, it was crystallised into a policy in an official document only in the National Policy on Education, 1968. This document said regional languages were already in use as the media of education in the primary and secondary stages. In addition, it said, “At the secondary stage, State governments should adopt and vigorously implement the three-language formula, which includes the study of a modern Indian language, preferably one of the southern languages, apart from Hindi and English in the Hindi-speaking States.” In the ‘non-Hindi speaking States’, Hindi should be studied along with the regional language and English. It added: “Suitable courses in Hindi and/or English should also be available in universities and colleges with a view to improving the proficiency of students in these languages up to the prescribed university standards.”
On promotion of Hindi, the NPE 1968 said every effort should be made to promote the language and that “in developing Hindi as the link language, due care should be taken to ensure that it will serve, as provided for in Article 351 of the Constitution, as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India. The establishment, in non-Hindi States, of colleges and other institutions of higher education which use Hindi, as the medium of education should be encouraged”.
Incidentally, the NPE 1986 made no change in the 1968 policy on the three-language formula and the promotion of Hindi and repeated it verbatim.
Why is it in the news now?
The Central government released a draft NPE, a report prepared by a committee headed by space scientist K. Kasturirangan. Its reference to mandatory teaching of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking States set off a political storm in Tamil Nadu, which is traditionally opposed to the compulsory study of Hindi. The draft had a sentence on flexibility on choice of language for school students. Those who wished to change the three languages may do so in Grade 6, it said, “so long as the study of three languages by students in Hindi-speaking States would continue to include Hindi and English, and one of the modern Indian languages from other parts of India, while the study of languages by students in the non-Hindi-speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English.”
How did Tamil Nadu react, and what was the Centre’s response?
The draft evoked a hostile response from political leaders in Tamil Nadu, who were quick to dub the proposal as an attempt to impose Hindi on the unwilling State. Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam president M.K. Stalin warned that his party would be forced to launch another agitation against Hindi imposition. The State had witnessed massive protests against earlier attempts to impose Hindi in 1937 and 1965. The Centre sought to defuse the situation by first reminding them that it was only a draft, and that the policy was yet to be finalised. Subsequently, the reference to Hindi was dropped by the committee. It reworked the sentence to the effect that students could change their language preference in Grades 6 or 7, “so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one at the literature level) in their modular Board examination some time during secondary school”.
What is the backdrop to the Hindi imposition row?
The State has been traditionally opposed to any attempt to introduce Hindi as a compulsory language of learning or administration. The origin of the linguistic row, however, goes back to the debate on official language. In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language by a single vote. However, it added that English would continue to be used as an associate official language for 15 years. The Official Languages Act came into effect on the expiry of this 15-year period in 1965. This was the background in which the anti-Hindi agitation took place. However, as early as in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in Parliament that English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it.
What is Tamil Nadu’s stand on this?
Leaders in Tamil Nadu are often at pains to emphasise that they do not oppose the voluntary learning of Hindi and cite the unhindered work of the Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, established in Chennai by Mahatma Gandhi in 1918. The institution imparts Hindi teaching at various levels to anyone who enrols for its programme. Also, there is no bar on private schools, most of them affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, offering Hindi.
The State has been following the two-language formula for many decades, under which only English and one regional language are compulsory in schools. In 2006, facing criticism that many manage to avoid learning Tamil by opting for Hindi or Sanskrit in private schools, the State government enacted The Tamil Nadu Tamil Learning Act under which Tamil has to be compulsorily learnt in schools operating in the State.
The State is also opposed to the establishment of Navodaya schools by the Centre in any part of Tamil Nadu.
An important aspect of the opposition to Hindi imposition is that many in Tamil Nadu see it as a fight to retain English. English is seen as a bulwark against Hindi as well as the language of empowerment and knowledge. There is an entrenched belief that the continued attempts to impose Hindi are essentially driven by those who want to eliminate English as the country’s link language.