Published: 11th January 2019
Hindi Imposition: In post-Periyar, Kalaignar era, will TN see another anti-Hindi uprising?
The MHRD has said Hindi will not be made compulsory yet there is a suspicion that it might be made compulsory soon enough
Union Minister Prakash Javdekar has denied reports that the draft education policy recommends making the 'Rashtrabasha' Hindi compulsory in schools. News reports had suggested that making Hindi compulsory till Class 8 was one of the many recommendations that had been made - a report that Javadekar termed 'mischievous' in a tweet. Despite his rejection of the reports, it has planted doubts in everybody's mind.
But when you're in Tamil Nadu, history tends to be on your side.
The state has always been at the forefront of anti-Hindi agitation, after all. But 2019 is a strange year. It marks the first time that state is now in a post-Periyar, post-Karunanidhi era, and that begs the question: Are they prepared for the big fight should it be unleashed on them?
Thol Thirumavalavan, the President of the VCK party said that the imposition of the language will continue to be unacceptable by the State, "Even if there is no Kalaignar or Jayalalitha, we have always lived in the land of Periyar and we have been following and continue to follow his ideology. It is rooted in our people and it continues to develop. Which is why we will not keep calm if there is an imposition. Whether it is Congress or BJP, we Tamilians will oppose it."
Aazhi Senthil Nathan, Federal Coordinator, Campaign for Language Equality and Rights, also agrees and says that Tamil Nadu is absolutely prepared for the fight — now, more than ever. Senthil Nathan is of the opinion that in the last two to three years, there has been a growing anti-Delhi sentiment in the state. This sentiment, he says, cuts across party lines and various organisations, "The political parties, organisations, Periyarists, the Left parties — they are all against the imposition of Hindi. So if the new education policy states that Hindi will be compulsory, everyone will unanimously oppose it." Senthil Nathan says the growing public sentiment can also be attributed to the belief that 90 percent of central government jobs are allocated to North Indians, "There is a big problem with the way domination is taking place in our country. It is not just a language issue, it is also a political one and that is very dangerous. It is what divided India and Pakistan and it is what set off the civil war in Sri Lanka," he says.
Safe Guards: The anti-Hindi protests were a one of a kind in the country and inspired other states to safeguard their languages as well.
You are not alone
Tamil Nadu is not alone in its fight against Hindi domination, Senthil Nathan pointed out. As recently as November, the activist says he was in Chandigarh to attend a rally against the imposition of Hindi. "All the way in Chandigarh, people were protesting because they feel that Punjabi is getting pushed out of curriculum in schools. They fear that Hindi imposition will rob them of their language," he said, adding, "Tamil Nadu is not alone in this fight anymore."
Ironically, the United Nations is observing 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Languages. "Not allowing people to speak their languages and learn their languages is like a linguistic genocide. Not giving any recognition to other languages and imposing one language on everyone is a genocide. Let people choose their language, choose what they want to eat, choose what they want to practice," Senthil Nathan said.
Scripted for trouble
Another point in the education policy that found its way to the newspaper reports said that languages that don't have a script and use the Roman script will be forced to use the Devanagari script, "Several remote areas in Orissa, Jharkhand, almost all of the North East and other places have no script or use the Roman script. In Karnataka, the Konkani language is written in Kannada and in Goa it's written in Devanagari, we should just let people do what they do, we cannot force it on them," he said. Senthil Nathan is also pretty confident that such the education policy does aim to make Hindi compulsory in schools despite what the minister has said. "It is their core agenda. It is explicit and imperialist. The government does want to make Hindi compulsory, it is a political issue and it is about dominance," he said.
With the CBSE syllabus being adopted in most schools, the BJP is trying to impose Hindi, Senthil Nathan said, "The schools will soon start saying they don't have teachers or the required support to continue teacher regional languages and the parents will be forced to study Hindi."
But Tamil Nadu will never accept such an imposition he believes, "People will come out and people will oppose it vehemently and now we have the support of states across the country too," he said. So even in an era without Periyar, Kalaignar or any other dynamic Tamil leader, Senthil Nathan still believes the people will come out to protest against such an imposition.
Coming Together: Periyar, Ambedkar, Jinnah and other leaders during one of the meetings in this regard
Will parents really care?
Babu Jayakumar, a senior journalist who is currently working on a book on Periyar is not as hopeful, "The protests might not happen with as much intensity," he says. The anti-Hindi agitation in 1965 was the biggest one, almost 60,000 people protested and the unofficial death toll in the riots was 500. "People still have their Tamil pride and they will still come out and protest such a move but it is true that we don't have anybody like Karunanidhi or Periyar to rally behind. We have to depend on political parties like DMK, and to a certain extent the PMK and VCK, to take forward the demands because they share the same ideology on the issue," he explained.
Beyond that, he doesn't see too much happening, "It really does depend on who calls for the protest." he feels. Things have also changed a lot, he says, in that sense that more students are studying the CBSE syllabus now and have more knowledge about Hindi, so there is a chance that they won't mind as much. "But there is scope for the opposition but it still might not have the same intensity. It might not be as easy to mobilise," he adds.
"It is true that more schools now irrespective of the syllabus are trying to make Hindi as a compulsory language, we will oppose is it nevertheless. Even if lakhs of people don't come out to the streets as they did in '65, still there will be an opposition. Like there's a group of people who want to learn Hindi, there is a group that doesn't, so there will be those fighting for their rights," Thirumavalavan said.
A pertinent point that Senthil Nathan makes is that often people think that people are averse to learning a new language, "That isn't the case at all. Wanting to learn another language is not something anyone is going to oppose. Learning Hindi should be a non-compulsory option, it is one's personal choice to learn the language or not, it just should not be imposed on anyone," he concludes. Thirumavalavan also makes a similar point," We respect Hindi but no one should be forced to learn it and made ot feel like third class citizens."
The Anti-Hindi Timeline
1937-40 - The Congress Party won and Rajaji, who had become the Chief Minister supported the propagation of Hindi in the state. That is when Periyar launched the anti-Hindi protests. The agitation was backed by Periyar's Self-Respect Movement and Justice Party.During the agitation, a total of 1,198 protesters were arrested and out of them 1,179 were convicted (73 of those jailed were women and 32 children accompanied their mothers to prison). Periyar was fined 1,000 Rupees and sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment for inciting "women to disobey the law" (he was released within six months on 22 May 1939 citing medical grounds)and Annadurai was jailed for four months. On 31 October, Periyar suspended the agitation and asked the Governor to withdraw the compulsory Hindi order. On 21 February 1940, Governor Erskine issued a press communique withdrawing compulsory Hindi teaching and making it optional.
1952 - In 1952, the Ministry of Education launched a voluntary Hindi teaching scheme. On 27 May 1952, use of Hindi was introduced in warrants for judicial appointments. In 1955, in-house Hindi training was started for all ministries and departments of the central government. On 3 December 1955, the government started using Hindi (along with English) for "specific purposes of the Union". The agitations at this point bagan to grow.
1965 - Riots began in Madurai and spread to other parts of the State. Police responded with lathi charges and firing on student processions. Acts of arson, looting and damage to public property became common. Railway cars and Hindi name boards at railway stations were burned down; telegraph poles were cut and railway tracks displaced. The Bhaktavatsalam Government considered the situation as a law and order problem and brought in para military forces to quell the agitation. Incensed by police action, violent mobs killed two police men. Several agitators committed suicide by self-immolation and by consuming poison. In two weeks of riots, around 70 people were killed (by official estimates). Some unofficial reports put the death toll as high as 500. A large number of students were arrested. The damage to property was assessed to be ten million rupees. Violence continued despite Annadurai's appeal for calm. Efforts were made by both sides to find a compromise. Expressing shock over the riots, Shastri promised to honour Nehru's assurances. He also assured Tamils that English would continue to be used for centre-state and intrastate communications and that the All India Civil Services examination would continue to be conducted in English. The cases on students were withdrawn too and amendments were made - The Congress working committee finally agreed to a resolution which amounted to slowing down of Hindi-isation, strong implementation of the three language formula in Hindi and non-Hindi speaking states, and conduct of the public services exam in all regional languages.
(This article was edited to include quotes from Thol Thirmavalavan)