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Hindi Imposition and Its Discontents


The reported recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee on Official Language to use Hindi as the medium of instruction in Central institutions of higher education in Hindi-speaking States and regional languages in other States has once again ignited a controversy over, what is called by critics of the BJP, an attempt to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking people.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Backdrop to the Hindi imposition row
  2. Why do many parties in Tamil Nadu stand against the recommendation?
  3. What does the present proposal say?
  4. What is the alternative suggested by critics of the proposal ?

Backdrop to the Hindi imposition row

  • The origin of the linguistic row goes back to the debate on official languages.
  • In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language by a single vote.
  • However, it added that English would continue to be used as an associate official language for 15 years.
  • The Official Languages Act came into effect on the expiry of this 15-year period in 1965.
  • This was the background in which the anti-Hindi agitation took place.
  • However, as early as in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru had given an assurance in Parliament that English would continue to be in use as long as non-Hindi speaking people wanted it.

Why do many parties in Tamil Nadu stand against the recommendation?

  • Tamil Nadu has had a long history of agitations against “Hindi imposition”.
  • In August 1937, in the then Presidency of Madras, the regime headed by C. Rajagopalachari, also known as Rajaji or CR, decided to make Hindi compulsory in secondary schools.
  • E.V. Ramasamy, or Periyar as he was known, who was still in the Justice Party at that time, had spearheaded an agitation against the move, marking the first such stir.
  • A few months after CR’s resignation, the British government, in February 1940, made Hindi optional.
  • In January 1965, the second round of agitations erupted in the wake of Hindi becoming the official language of the Union government coupled with the approach adopted by the Central government towards the whole issue.
  • At different points in time, leaders, starting from Jawaharlal Nehru in the mid-1950s, assured the people of Tamil Nadu that there would be no “imposition” of Hindi.
Recent years:
  • National Education Policy or reports of English signage on National Highways in the State getting replaced with Hindi signage, the political class of the State had overwhelmingly expressed its reservations.
    • The reiteration of the age-old assurance by the Central government coupled with the promise of the promotion of other Indian languages have barely mollified the protesters.
  • The essence of the Official Languages Act, 1963, is to provide something to each of the differing groups to meet its objections and safeguard its position.
  • Whenever the parties in the State see any attempt to disturb this status quo, their reaction is always uniform — a virulent opposition.

What does the present proposal say?

  • If reports in sections of the media are an indication, English, as a medium of instruction in all technical and non-technical institutions, will be permitted only where it is absolutely essential, as the idea is to replace the language gradually with Hindi in those institutions.
  • While IITs, IIMs and All India Institute of Medical Sciences are considered technical institutions, Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas fall under the other category.
  • Also, the committee has recommended the removal of English as one of the languages in examinations held for recruitment to the Central services.
  • It has stated that the requisite knowledge of Hindi among candidates should also be ensured.

What is the alternative suggested by critics of the proposal?

  • They have called for equal treatment to all the languages specified under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • The Kerala Chief Minister has specifically stated that question papers for competitive examinations should be prepared in all the languages while his Tamil Nadu counterpart has urged the Centre to promote all languages and keep open the avenues of progress in terms of education and employment equal to speakers of all languages.

-Source: The Hindu

February 2024