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Government tweaks Hindi plan amid southern pressure

The title of the controversial section was tweaked from “flexibility in the choice of languages” to “flexibility in the three-language formula”.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2019 07:20 IST
Amandeep Shukla
Amandeep Shukla
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
National Education Policy,Hindi language in schools,three-language policy
The modification was made to the clause 4.5.9 of the draft policy that dealt with the bouquet of languages a student had to learn in middle school. (Sanchit Khanna/HT File PHOTO)

The Union government on Monday dropped a controversial clause in the draft National Education Policy (NEP) that mandated the compulsory teaching of Hindi in schools across the country, after protests by a number of southern states and even an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the alleged imposition of Hindi.

The modification was made to the clause 4.5.9 of the draft policy that dealt with the bouquet of languages a student had to learn in middle school.

The title of the controversial section was also tweaked from “flexibility in the choice of languages” to “flexibility in the three-language formula”.

In the original draft, made public last week, under the three-language policy, a student in Grade 6 in a non-Hindi-speaking state would have had to learn the regional language of that state, Hindi and English.

“Students who wish to change one of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6, so long as the study of three languages by students in the Hindi-speaking states would continue to include Hindi and English and one of the modern Indian languages from other parts of India, while the study of languages by students in the non-Hindi-speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English,” the earlier draft policy said.

The revised version of the provision does not specify what language a student has to study.

“In keeping with the principle of flexibility, students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6 or Grade 7, so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one language at the literature level) in their modular Board Examinations some time during secondary school,” read the new clause inserted by the human resource development ministry.

The revision was welcomed by a number of states in southern India, especially Tamil Nadu, which had been rocked by protests against “Hindi imposition” since Friday, bringing back memories of the widespread agitations to stop Hindi from being declared as the official language of the Union in the 1960s.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which led the protests in Tamil Nadu, hailed the decision.

“At a time when we are celebrating the birth anniversary of Thalaivar [leader] Kalaignar [late chief minister M Karunanidhi], the central government withdrawing the Hindi compulsory subject clause shows that Kalaignar is living. Let us guard mother Tamil always breaking up the hegemonic imposition of Hindi,” party chief MK Stalin said. Speaking at a public meeting later, however, Stalin said that the revised draft was just a smokescreen meant to hide the real intentions of the Centre. He said the revised draft could not be accepted.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), an ally of the BJP that opposed the clause, said the Centre’s announcement was a thing of joy. “This is a huge victory for the PMK which raised its voice against the Hindi imposition and the Tamil Nadu people,” party founder S Ramadoss said.

“Draft (NEP) policy corrected. Beautiful solution,’” musician AR Rehman tweeted.

The draft policy was strongly opposed in neighbouring Karnataka as well. Former chief minister Siddaramaiah said earlier in the day that no attempt should be made to impose Hindi. “Nothing should be done against our opinion. There is no need for three languages. English and Kannada are there,” he told reporters.

There were protests in Telangana and West Bengal as well.“Each state has its own character and language. Regional language is our first priority. There should be a freedom of choice,” West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.

Stung by the protests, the Centre clarified on Sunday that the draft policy was open to public consultations and was not final yet. Information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar -- who served as human resources development (HRD) minister in the first Modi government and was replaced last week by Ramesh Pokhriyal -- said there was no attempt to impose any language. However, that did not stem the demonstrations.

A senior HRD ministry official said on condition of anonymity that the clause was changed by the drafting committee, headed by former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief K Kasturirangan.

When contacted, Kasturirangan said the changed clause had the committee’s approval.

“There was formulation in a particular para 4.5.9 that spoke about flexibility in the three-language formula. That formulation, we initially thought, will convey the spirit of the language policy, which is that the policy should be multilingual, flexible and that the choice will be left to state, institutions and even parents. But when this para went into this policy book and when you read it as an outsider, it looked a little out of step,” he said.

“We realised the moment there was a concern expressed in certain quarters. We had also discussed it. Therefore, we had a version that was approved by the committee. And that version was not giving this kind of impression at all. It was in tune with the spirit of the policy. We thought that would be more appropriate with this particular formulation,” Kasturirangan added.

First Published: Jun 04, 2019 00:26 IST