Amid objections over Hindi being made a compulsory language in all non-Hindi speaking states, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has revised the draft National Education Policy to state that students are free to choose any language they wish to study in.
The new draft policy now states, "In keeping with the principle of flexibility, students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6 or Grade 7, so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages...."
The three language formula was first formulated in 1968. After Independence, the need for a new national language surfaced and given the expanse of its speakers, the first and most obvious choice was Hindi. The second Gujarat Educational Conference was held in Bharuch, on 20 October, 1917, when Mahatma Gandhi made his presidential address in Gujarati. The Mahatma admitted that he dwelt at length upon the subject of a national language after using English as a medium of communication in India.
Giving a reply to those who felt English ought to become the lingua franca of India, he stated that a national language should satisfy five conditions: should enable smooth execution of official work; a vehicle of religious, social and political intercourse; must be spoken by a large number and must be easy for the masses to adapt to; and lastly, it mustn’t be a temporary makeshift arrangement.
“I have heard Hindi spoken even in far off southern provinces. It is not correct to say that in Madras one cannot do without English. I have successfully used Hindi there for all my work,” he had called attention to the knowledge of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states. Back in 1957, the Official Language Commission had pointed out that ‘Hindi is understood to a considerable extent outside the Hindi speaking areas, in the market places in cities, at railway stations and in places of pilgrimage where persons hailing from different regions of India and not knowing English have the occasion to converse.’
After attempts were made to replace English with Hindi as the link or bridge language to unify the nation, there was a massive backlash from the south and the Indira Gandhi-led government introduced amendments to the Official Languages Act, 1963. One of the reasons for this fear of a lasting cultural dominance from the Hindi speaking north has been severe competition from the Hindi-speaking candidates when it comes to public service examinations.
In 1968, the official language resolution was adopted by both houses of the Parliament after three decades of anti-Hindi imposition agitations in the south which took off in 1937, in retaliation to the introduction of compulsory teaching of Hindi in the schools of Madras Presidency by the C Rajagopalachari-led Congress government. The resolution had stated that compulsory knowledge of either Hindi or English shall be required at the stage of selection of candidates for recruitment to the Union services or posts and that ‘all the languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution and English shall be permitted as alternative media for the All India and higher Central Services examinations’.
It was stated in this resolution that the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution specifies 14 major languages of India besides Hindi and it is necessary for the interest of the educational and cultural advancement of the country that concerted measures should be taken for the full development of these languages. The resolution document further laid down that it is necessary for promoting the sense of unity and facilitating communication between people in different parts of the country. It recommended that effective steps should be taken for implementing fully in all the states the three-language formula evolved by the Government of India in consultation with the state governments.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), led the opposition to Hindi and owing to the party’s firm stand on the issue, the Congress wasn’t able to retain its footing on the soil of Tamil Nadu. The roots of federalism and the rise of regional parties in the south are tied to the politics of languages and the cultural and economic factors attached to them.
Hindi has been a fulcrum of the north-south divide, which has historically been less cultural and more political in nature. The saffron party’s reach is now beyond the Vindhyas but its roots are firmly in the north and its repeated emphasis on Hindi is unmissable.
In 2017, then president Pranab Mukherjee had signed a presidential order that made it compulsory for all government dignitaries to compulsorily deliver public speeches in Hindi. Accepting suggestions from the Committee of Parliament on Official Languages, Mukherjee also granted his ‘in-principle approval’ to making Hindi a compulsory subject from Class 8 to Class 10 in all Central Board of Secondary Education and Kendriya Vidyalaya schools.
It is the imposition and the patronising attitude of the saffron party that enables regional parties to lend a ‘us versus them’ spin that suits their narrative.
What the political voices within states have consistently denied is that the upper classes in the south are fully aware of the benefits the knowledge of Hindi grants them and are more concerned about the erosion of the advantages that English grants them.
The Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha’s headquarters was set up in Madras in 1918 and it had achieved great success in spreading Hindi in Madras, Mysore, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
According to Census 2011, there are 43.63 percent Hindi speaking people in India, which amounts to roughly 52.83 crore. In the last eight years, since the Census, the number might have only grown. The same Census report shows that in Tamil Nadu, for example, the proportion of Hindi speakers nearly doubled from 2001 to 2011.
While Hindi grew by 161 percent between 1971 and 2011, these four largest Dravidian languages grew at half that rate that is at 81 percent over the same period. The competence in Hindi may be low but there is an extra-regional edge that Hindi enjoys over any other language because inter-state migrants have greater familiarity with the language than they do with English.
After 1990, the Indian markets opened up, and both inter-state trade and migration for jobs increased, the need for one language became more apparent. For instance, a sector like tourism can thrive if inter-state communication improves. Bollywood and TV channels introduced a simpler form of Hindi at the colloquial level, which had shed the grammatical conservatism of Doordarshan.
Even Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that Bengal and Madras are the two provinces that are cut off from the rest of India, while the former harboured prejudice against any language other than its own, the latter did not understand Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu). In the non-Hindi belt in India, which includes Punjab, West Bengal, Kashmir, the northeastern States, and Odisha, the combined Hindi speakers would add up to roughly 15 times that of the Tamil speaking persons.
The English-speaking population in India, as recorded by the 2011 Census 2011, is 226,449 but the language is considered important because of its international spread. However, the knowledge of Hindi is rarely viewed from a rational, purely utilitarian perspective. It is instead either imposed or resisted, given the tension between regional and national parties.
While the popularity of another language won’t chip away at the glory of Dravidian dialects that have survived a couple of thousand years and have seen the end of many empires, the system of the day must remain sensitive towards the history of this plurality.
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Updated Date: Jun 05, 2019 14:24:51 IST