B.S. Ramesh

Parents are happy that the right of the child to choose the medium of instruction has been upheld

BANGALORE: Even as there is a hue and cry in the State over the Karnataka High Court verdict on the language policy, parents of schoolchildren are happy that the court has for the first time recognised the right of the child to choose the medium of instruction.

The court, on July 2, 2008, while upholding the contentious language policy of 1994, has quashed certain sections dealing with compulsory medium of instruction and the punishment for schools that disobeyed this order.

The court order has come as a boon for educational institutions which have been fighting the State seeking permission to run English medium schools.

The State, after 1994, made it mandatory for schools to teach in one of the eight mother tongue languages it recognises.

What this meant was that the Government would not recognise or permit schools teaching English and they would have to either teach in Kannada or the mother tongue of a child. It is this that the schools had challenged in the court.

Schools defy ban

After 1994, the State refused to permit any new English medium school. Trouble arose in 2006-07 when the Government received complaints that schools were violating the State policy on medium of instruction and imparting education in English. The State conducted an investigation and found out that nearly 2,000 schools had violated the undertaking that they would teach in the medium of instruction in which they had been permitted to.

On April 12, 2004, the State came out with a voluntary scheme under which schools which had violated the medium of instruction would be allowed to continue provided they paid a fine and also gave an undertaking that they would not violate the language policy.

Though some schools opted for the scheme, others, many of them under the umbrella of the Karnataka Unaided Schools Managements Association (KUSMA) and Karnataka Unaided Minorities Schools Association (KUMSA), petitioned the High Court.

The court, however, upheld the scheme and directed the schools to file an affidavit promising to impart education in the medium in which they had been permitted to teach. Even as this issue (medium of instruction) continued to boil, parents and schools were hoping that the Full Bench verdict would settle the dispute once and for all.

The recent verdict has said that the Government cannot compel students of unaided and private schools to follow its policy on medium of instruction. It is also for the first time anywhere in India that a court has dwelt at length on a child’s “right to medium of instruction”.

Puttige Ramesh, one of the advocates who argued on behalf of linguistic minorities, says the Full Bench has gone by the Constitution and several Supreme Court judgments in deciding the case.

He says the court has given precedence to the right of an individual over the right of State and there is nothing wrong with this.

G.R. Mohan, advocate for KUSMA, says the court has not quashed the language policy of 1994. It has only quashed Sections 2, 3, 6 and 8 of the policy dealing with the issue of medium of instruction and punishment to schools that did not follow the policy.

Opposing their views, advocate Ashok Harnahalli, asks where else can Kannada be taught other than in Karnataka?

He says the Supreme Court, in the Usha Mehta case, held that the State has the right to prescribe the medium of instruction. In this case, Gujaratis in Maharashtara had contested the right of the Government in making Marathi compulsory at the primary school level. In 2006, the Madras High Court upheld the State policy on teaching Tamil in schools.

Interestingly, the High Court itself has said that the benefits of the Full Bench judgment can be availed of only from the next academic year. Justice B.V. Nagaratna made this observation when several schools sought permission to teach in English from this academic year. These school managements had challenged the State’s refusal to allow them to start English medium schools.

Though schools and parents are jubilant over the verdict, the Government is in no mood to give in. It has decided to file a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court challenging the verdict.

It is hoping that the Supreme Court would stay the High Court order and also reaffirm the right of the State to prescribe the medium of instruction.