Tamil is not as emotive an issue for the people of Tamil Nadu, as it is made out to be by the Tamil television channels and English media. If it is so, it is neither reflected in the state's education system, nor in the education choices of Tamilians.
Just a few days ago and even as the DMK and an assortment of its associated hacks were heroically saving the helpless Tamil population from the imposition of Hindi by a majoritarian, upper caste, suit-boot sarkar; traders in Theni district — a major centre for fruit and vegetable trade — were busy putting up posters and distributing pamphlets supporting the introduction of Hindi.
One of those traders speaking to Dinamalar's (the author's employer) web channel said, "Most of the people I employ have completed Class 10 and are expected to travel to other states to purchase and deliver goods. I might be multilingual, but it is hard to train them to be multilingual as well. It would be great if they are already proficient in Hindi when they are out of school."
The sentiment of Theni traders is echoed by most traders in Tamil Nadu, who regularly do business across state and national borders, and are multilingual. The stock markets and commodity exchanges might do trades in English, but a bulk of the practical trade in commodities is done in Hindi or other regional languages.
It is not just traders who want Hindi. Tamil Nadu is the top state in the country in terms of tourist arrivals. Every year, around 34 crore domestic tourists and 50 lakh foreign ones come to Tamil Nadu. The associated hospitality and other businesses support the livelihoods of lakhs of Tamils, most of whom are not college graduates. To those in the industry serving the 34 crore tourists annually means a knowledge of Hindi is essential. They too would have been glad to have learnt Hindi in school.
There are many such examples where Hindi is required — from those working at large companies to those employing seasonal casual labour from Bihar and Bengal. Commendably, a number of those in trades requiring Hindi have acquired it even without formal education. Even for the large number of Tamilians for whom Tamil and a little English are enough to get by their working lives, the need for Hindi is slowly dawning upon them, as travel to other states on holidays is growing with rising incomes.
As such, one can claim with confidence that there is support for introduction of Hindi, in Tamil Nadu's urban centres and with nearly 50 percent of the population living in them, it is not an elitist phenomenon.
As for the Dravidian parties, especially the DMK, its confounding of the introduction of Hindi with the protection of Tamil is but a ruse. If Tamil needs saving, it is from the DMK and Dravidian parties. They have systematically degraded the status of Tamil in the daily lives of Tamilians, even while grandstanding on the national stage on linguistic issues with little bearing on the actual health of the language — all this to profit from the education industry in which a number of them are involved. Today a Tamil child studying in Tamil Nadu can finish schooling and higher education without learning a word of Tamil.
The need to make Tamil compulsory in schools was only felt in the 2010s and a government order was passed to that effect. But it was subsequently watered down so much, with exemptions of all manner to benefit privately-run schools, that in the end only state-run and state-aided schools were required to implement it. The medium of education in most of these schools was anyway Tamil, thus defeating the purpose of the order.
Over the past 20 years, the policy of Dravidian parties of wilful neglect of education standards in state-run schools has pushed parents to opt for privately-run English medium schools. An indicator of this is the recent Class 10 state board exam: Of the 9.37 lakh students who appeared for the exam, nearly 28 percent were from English medium schools. English has become a stand-in quality indicator, given the poor state of state-run Tamil medium schools.
With the number of English medium students on the rise and enrolment dropping in government schools, 3,000 of the 31,200 schools run by the state are slated for closure this year. Former chief minister J Jayalalithaa sought to control this slide and introduced English as an optional medium of instruction in 2013. The DMK's M Karunanidhi was quick to criticise this claiming that learning in a non-native language would hinder the learning process. Jayalalithaa retorted, "Did [Karunanidhi's son] Stalin admit his children in Tamil medium schools? The schools that are administered by his family members do not teach in Tamil medium. The schools even have English names. They teach Hindi along with English."
One of the schools in question, Sunshine Montessori Primary and Nursery School, is run by DMK president Stalin's daughter Senthamarai Sabarisan. It is one of the most expensive and exclusive schools in Chennai. There have been allegations that students are fined for speaking in Tamil at the school. Such is the duplicity of the DMK.
Enhanced job opportunities was the justification given for the introduction of English, to which Karunanidhi responded, "English is not even spoken in many countries. In countries like Russia, Germany, Japan and China, their own languages are used as the official and teaching languages." He was right, he always knew the right things to say, but neither he nor any other Dravidian party leader has done anything to introduce Tamil as a medium of instruction in higher education, effectively depriving lakhs of students every year an equal opportunity to access higher education.
There have also been no efforts to encourage businesses operating in Tamil Nadu to adopt Tamil. Some examples of how businesses can be encouraged to adopt Tamil are: Machinery manuals, factory floor manuals, receipts and invoices, accounting, labels on packaged products, medicines, medical test reports and such to be in Tamil and providing legal support for the same. Thus with the linkages cut off at the higher education and employment levels, Tamil has become fairly useless for earning one's livelihood, forcing parents to opt for English education for their children. And so, if Tamil becomes irrelevant, it shall be due the policies of Dravidian parties geared towards generating private profits at public cost and due to their lack of vision and effort.
The DMK's high-volume opposition is only to further the ruse of being the protectors of Tamil and Tamilians. From their point of view, it is cheaper to oppose Hindi compared to opposing English or helping Tamil grow and any dividend that comes of it shall be profitable.
The BJP is to be blamed for handing them the issue on a platter. With the party's usual lack of sophistication it has made it appear, at least in Tamil Nadu, that Stalin forced the Central government to change its Hindi imposition policy. Even if there is no real opposition to Hindi in Tamil Nadu, in issues where there is opposition to the Central government or BJP, a section of voters will believe that Stalin might be the man to stand up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This issue has been a win for the DMK and loss for the BJP.
However, as the politics of this issue plays out, it remains that Tamilians are not opposed to Hindi and they have no notions that Hindi will wipe out Tamil. The language has been chugging along just fine since its proto-Dravidian origins 7,000 years ago in Mehrgarh, Pakistan and shall continue to do so, if not for the Dravidian parties.
The author is deputy editor at Tamil newspaper Dinamalar
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Updated Date: Jun 06, 2019 09:17:26 IST