No explanation by the NCERT can hold water since the cartoon on the anti-Hindi agitation in Madras in 1965 was definitely offensive inasmuch as it derided the Tamils for lack of knowledge of English. In fact, it is the other way round. The Hindi-speaking people, it can be argued, opposed the continuance of English as the country’s official language for the reason they could not master it as the southerners did.

One may recall another cartoon in a popular Tamil weekly in which a chaprasi tells his colleague that the day when even peons become District Collectors is not far off, there being no need for them to learn English!

It is a bitter truth that even the rudiments of English grammar, known to a Standard VI student, were discarded by the illustrious Prime Minister of India when he said there was no difference between ‘shall’ and ‘may’ as he supported the clause that ‘English may continue till the non-Hindi-speaking people wanted it’!

According to English grammar, ‘shall’ indicates absolute certainty and ‘may,’ doubtful possibility. It was everybody’s guess that Nehru, in his heart of hearts, would not have favoured discarding English, the universal lingua franca, and gateway to scientific and technological advancement of India in the future. Yet, he had to yield to the linguistic fanaticism of the Hindi-speaking members of Parliament, left with no other go.

There is yet another point to be recalled. When the official language issue was taken up for discussion for passing the bill, feelings were running high in the country, since only a short period had gone by after the departure of the British. In spite of this, opinion was unbelievably equally divided — and, exactly equally at that! And it went to the ‘credit’ of the casting vote of President Rajendra Prasad in favour of Hindi!

After this, heated exchanges took place in Parliament, and it was then that our beloved Prime Minister declared that there was no difference between ‘shall’ and ‘may’ and when one of the Tamil MPs asked him if that was the case, why not replace ‘may’ with ‘shall,’ Nehru had no answer.

Let’s also recall the sarcastically witty remark of George Bernard Shaw, “the British government was helping English language flourish by putting Jawaharlal Nehru frequently in prison” — apparently referring to Nehru’s creations in English while in jail. Poor man! Such a scholar’s mouth was gagged by the Hindi fanatics!

No doubt, the NCERT has belittled Tamils by indicating that they can’t understand English. Had their knowledge been so poor as alleged, there would not have been a wrangle with the erudite Nehru at all over ‘shall and may.’

When the Hindi agitation continued in Tamil Nadu resulting in shooting by police, Indira Gandhi, who was touring in America, cut short her visit and landed in Madras with great anxiety, after declaring, “I should go to Madras now. Something very serious is happening in my country.”

She met the representatives of the student community, several important personalities and editors of popular newspapers and held discussions, after which she had the conscientious courage to declare that she sensed a genuine fear and anxiety in the minds of the students about their future, if English were to be eliminated in due course.

We may also recall while Indira Gandhi courageously landed in Madras, the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, cancelled his tour to Thriuvananthapuram for fear of touching Madras and stayed back in Delhi!

In fine, the NCERT explanation is not at all convincing as such controversial cartoons do not add to the knowledge of students but only cause bitterness and barriers among them.

It’s high time that such things were avoided at least in the future, taking this and the cartoon on Dr. Ambedkar as lessons.

(jothigirija@live.com)

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