Analysis Tamil Nadu

News Analysis | Hindi imposition and the T.N. resistance

State-wide procession carrying black flags marked the observance of mourning day to-day by the Dravida Munetra kazhagam (DMK) and the Dravida Kazhakam (DK) to express the "agency and distress" of the people of Tamil Nadu over the 'Hindi domination'. Mr. Karunanidhi, DMK President, led a procession from Periyar Thidal, Egmore, to Anna Arivalayam at Teynampet. (January 26, 1979)   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

A wave of protests from political parties in the Dravidian heartland of Tamil Nadu has forced the Narendra Modi government to amend the Draft National Education Policy 2019 and withdraw the proposal to teach Hindi as a third language in schools in non-Hindi speaking States. Instead, it has left the choice of the third language open-ended, which still is contentious, as Tamil Nadu has been following a two-language formula – English and Tamil – in its schools since the late 1960s. The State, in fact, has consistently refused permission for setting up the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, arguing that the three-language formula was against the regional policy.

Tamil Nadu’s resistance to imposition of Hindi dates back to pre-Independence period, when the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) founder Periyar E.V. Ramasamy opposed the decision of C. Rajagopalachari, then Chief Minister of Madras State, to make learning Hindi compulsory in schools in 1937. Decades later, Rajagopalachari too joined the chorus against Hindi, coining the slogan ‘English Ever, Hindi Never’.

Post Independence, the Centre planned to roll out Hindi as the official language (distinct from national language) from January 26, 1965. Again, fierce opposition prompted the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to reiterate his promise that English would continue to be used as an official language and there would be no switchover to Hindi until such time the non-Hindi speaking States were ready for it.

Immolation for the cause of Tamil

About 5000 students of local colleges participating in a protest march wearing black badges and shouting anti-Hindi slogans, in Tiruchi on January 25, 1965.

About 5000 students of local colleges participating in a protest march wearing black badges and shouting anti-Hindi slogans, in Tiruchi on January 25, 1965.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives


The agitation against Hindi imposition, piloted by the Dravidar Kazhagam and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, peaked during late January-February 1965 soon after the Lal Bahadur Shastri government issued a circular giving Hindi the primacy of place in official communications. The enormity of the resistance began to sink in when five youth immolated themselves for the cause of Tamil. Police firing on agitators aggravated the situation.

Realising the gravity of the issue, Congress veterans from the South, K. Kamaraj, N. Sanjiva Reddy and Nijalingappa, met Shastri, who then declared that bilingualism would be followed for an indefinite period. His successor Indira Gandhi even got the Language Act amended ensuring that English would continue to be used as an additional official language, “until resolutions for the discontinuance of the use of English language…have been passed by the legislatures of all the states, which have not adopted Hindi as their official language.”

Voluntary learning of Hindi

It is not as if the state has shut its doors on Hindi. Voluntary learning of Hindi in CBSE schools or outside has not been restricted. The Chennai-headquartered Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, which celebrated its centenary last year, has seen such increase in the number of students that it is facing difficulty in finding centres where it could hold examinations. In fact, the State accounts for 73% of active Hindi pracharaks (teachers) in South India and Chennai alone has 4,678 pracharaks, whereas Andhra Pradesh (undivided), Karnataka and Kerala together have only 3,787 teachers. In the past decade the Sabha has seen the number of its students jump nearly three-fold to about 12 lakh.

A distinct feature though is that these students mostly enrol in a Hindi course when they are in class VI, as opposed to the draft New Education Policy that mandates students to demonstrate proficiency in three languages by the time they reach class VI.

While learning Hindi out of choice or necessity has never been a bone of contention, the Dravidian parties remain in the forefront of opposition to any attempt to impose Hindi – be it in schools or in milestones on the highway. The pride that some leaders of national parties in the Hindi heartland take in propagating Hindi as a “national” language - though the Constitution only recognises its status as an “official” language alongside English – and their perceived contempt for regional languages is what triggers such resistance.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 12:49:10 PM |

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