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LANGUAGE RIGHTS AND EDUCATION IN INDIA
12. Majority/Minority Syndrome
In India, we see that both the majority and the minority assert their language rights as far as language in education is concerned. The linguistic minorities are afraid that the language of the majority will be used as a tool of oppression against them. In Karnataka, most of the time the minorities perceive threat from Kannada, the Official Language of the State, and try to find shelter under English. They perceive a threat to the existence of their community as a distinct group. They fear the loss of their home language. And they like to assert their linguistic rights.
Sometimes the majority perceives some threat to the existence and continuation of their language (Kannada) from Hindi, some other times from Sanskrit, and at other times from English.
The Constitution has given right to the regional languages to become official languages of the concerned states. The major challenge towards the implementation of the language policy and its relation to language rights was faced when there was a conflict between the majority and the minority in Karnataka. It continued for more than a decade as a legal battle for language rights.
The Kannada majority began to fear that their language has been deprived of the pride of place in all walks of life as it deserved. This fear forced the majority to agitate for such a place for their language in Karnataka. In the multilingual setup that prevails in Karnataka, the desire to retain and preserve Kannada (and Kannadiga) interests as the dominant linguistic group, and the fear of loss of stature in the state that the Kannadigas consider to be their traditional homeland shape and guide the responses of the majority mother tongue group (Kannada) and to assert their linguistic rights. But the minority, most of the time, perceives a threat from Kannada, the Official Language of the State, and tries to find shelter under English. Often social, economic, political, legal, and other issues not related to education came to influence the language choice for education purposes.
13. The Three Language Formula in Karnataka
Karnataka had adopted TLF for education in schools since the linguistic reorganization of states in 1956 for more than two decades. The late sixties and the early seventies witnessed strong opposition to Hindi since it was perceived as a threat to the existence, use, and development of Kannada. This had forced the Kannada speakers to lean towards English. However, many among them also felt that Kannada faced a threat to its continuation as the dominant school language from Sanskrit. It was possible to pass the SSLC State Board examination without passing the Kannada course in the scheme outlined above. It was but inevitable, then, that this scheme created and widened the incompatibility between the policy of language choice for administration and the languages chosen for the purposes of education.
14. Linguistic Movements for Language Rights
Linguistic movements initiated by various political parties, groups of Kannada teachers, students, college and university professors, literary critics, playwrights, and creative writers created an awakening among the Kannada speaking majority to seek a place of pride or pre-eminent place for Kannada in the affairs of the State. Their dream was to restore the primacy and the lost glory of their language as the only medium of governance in the linguistically re-organized Kannada state. This awakening in favor of using Kannada as the language of administration was a consequence of many factors including linguistic movements, political agitations, and the general political awakening among the backward classes. This description of the linguistic situation in Karnataka can be easily applied to many other linguistically re-organized Indian states also.
15. Inter-twining of Socio-economic and Political Factors with Language Rights
Spread of literacy mainly in Kannada, and the spread of general education among the people, had led to a new awakening. The large-scale migration of people, mainly from adjacent Tamil Nadu, for jobs that opened up through fast industrialization of the state was perceived to be curtailing the job opportunities for the Kannada majority. All these needed an avenue for the expression of their anger and disgust among the people. The language choice in education in 1979 provided an avenue to meet the challenge thrown up by industrialization and consequent migration of people from other linguistic groups. The government decided to delete Sanskrit from the first language list in 1979 and included it in the second/third language list. But the government that took this decision did not remain in power to implement its decision. The subsequent government reconsidered the stand of the previous government, and decided to maintain the status quo. Pro-Kannada groups protested against this decision.
16. Gokak Committee's Landmark Report
This agitation against retaining Sanskrit in the first language list made the government to think afresh about the language choice in school education. For this purpose the Government of Karnataka constituted a committee (July 5, 1980) with Prof. V.K. Gokak as the Chairman, and placed the following questions before it.
The Committee recommended (January 27, 1981) that:
The Committee further recommended that this should be implemented for the education of Kannada speaking pupils from 1981-82 itself, and, in respect of others, from 1986-87, after taking necessary steps to teach Kannada to them from the 3rd Standard beginning with the academic year 1981-82 itself.
17. Government Order on the Gokak Committee Report
The order (dated the April 30, 1982) issued by the Government of Karnataka on the basis of this report prescribed the following pattern for language study:
At the secondary school level First Language Kannada or Mother tongue: Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, English, or Hindi.
Two other languages Kannada, Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, or Marathi.
The Kannada-speaking majority did not find this solution adequate to meet their demand to accord a pre-eminent place to Kannada. Up to this point, in the debate or agitation over the choice of languages for school education, only the Kannada protagonists were in the forefront.
18. Reconsideration of the Order
The linguistic or religious minorities did not participate in the debate actively. The Government, after reconsidering its order, issued the notification (on July 20, 1982) detailing the language choice for school system and modus operandi for its implementation through the circular, dated the August 11,1982.
According to this order:
19. Inadequate Understanding of the Concepts such as Mother Tongue, First Language, etc.
An analysis of this language formula reveals an inadequate understanding of the concepts like mother tongue, first language, and the strategy adopted for choosing languages for education. Also this formula stands out as an exceptional case where a regional (majority) language/Official Language of the State is ascribed a special status of sole first language in the secondary school, and this language is made a compulsory language for all students irrespective of their mother tongue with the same syllabus. This formula does not grade languages as first language, second language, etc., either in terms of pedagogical concepts, or in terms of chronology of their introduction in the school system. In this formula, the Kannada mother tongue student had an advantage over the students of other mother tongues. A mother tongue Kannada speaker has Kannada as first language. The Urdu or other mother tongue student has to take Kannada as the first language. He might select Urdu or another language as one of the other two languages. The third language may be English. Thus Hindi, one of the languages of the three language formula is not included as part of his education. If he desires to take Hindi, his mother tongue is not included as part of his education.
20. Agitation by the Minorities and the Decisions by the Karnataka High Court
The Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee and others challenged the order and the relevant circular of the Director of Public Instruction in the High Court of Karnataka. The following three questions came up before the Full Bench.
Whether the Government Order dated July 20, 1982 or any part of it is void being violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the petitioners under Articles 29(1) and 30(1) of the Constitution
Whether the Government Order dated July 20, 1982 or any part of it is violative of the pledge of equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.
Whether, on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, the Circular dated August 11, 1982 issued by the Director of Public Instruction of the State Government is violative of Article 14, 29(1) and 30(1) of the Constitution?
This became a classic case and formed a basis for wider debate on the role of the Regional language/Official Language in the school curriculum and on the question of student's mother tongue as medium of instruction. This case did not have any analogy to the cases decided by the Courts hitherto in the country.
21. The Position of the Litigants - Linguistic Minorities
In this case, the litigants argued as follows: There is no rational basis for making Kannada as the sole first language; it is unreasonable for the State to compel the students to study the official or regional language if they do not have aptitude and if they intend to reside in the state only temporarily; providing opportunity to study their language is as much in the national interest as is the study of the regional language; to achieve primacy for Kannada, minorities need not be compelled to study it from the first standard in the schools; the parents and students should choose whatever they want to study and the State cannot 'indulge in regimentation' in the matter relating to the study of languages; children must have the benefit of having education in their mother tongue; children whose mother tongue is not Kannada get a discriminatory treatment and they cannot study Kannada and compete with Kannada mother tongue students; the right to equality under Article 14 is affected; the linguistic minorities have the right under Article 29 to take steps to conserve their language and also a right under Article 30 to establish institutions of their choice, which right includes a right to take a decision as to what language should be studied as first language; it is for them to decide in what manner their language should be conserved, preserved, produced and it is not for the Government to decide and the Government under the guise of public interest cannot impose conditions.
22. The Position of the State Government
The State, while arguing in favor of its policy, said: it has the power and right to take steps for the development of Kannada, including making the study of Kannada compulsory to all the children from the primary school stage and as the sole first language in the secondary school since Kannada is the declared Official Language of the State, and hence it is rational to make it compulsory; this is necessary to give primacy to Kannada in the affairs of the State; also 'the State has power to make regulations in the interest of excellence in education and any regulations so made by the Government cannot be regarded as infringing on the rights of the minority groups; the usefulness of a language is measured in terms of its use in administration, trade, industry, defense, managerial decision-making and such other wide variety of a range of domains and in social and family affairs. Such domains can be covered by more than one language used complimentary to each other. Language development is central to educational advancement on a mass scale. Educational development is central to economic, cultural, and political developments. Language development is corollary to national development. India is a country with a population of sizable numbers, speaking and using different languages and therefore the problem becomes difficult and complex,' and 'a child belonging to a minority section of the community in any State speaking a language other than the regional or the local language will thus develop its personality with two languages; one spoken at home, the other spoken beyond the threshold of his home, for, in the absence of knowledge of the local language an individual would be at a severe disadvantage in participating in the daily life of the State. When a child or person learns two languages, one as his mother tongue and the other as the language spoken by the people around, both become his language. Therefore, it cannot be said that a child speaking a language other than the regional language at home is totally alien to the regional language'.
23. The Judgment
The Judges examined the submissions made before them. The majority opinion of the Bench on the teaching of Kannada compulsorily in the primary stage, and as the sole first language in the secondary schools considered that such insistence led to the violation or otherwise of various Constitutional provisions. Their opinions can be summarized as follows:
Based on the majority opinion, the court directed that the Government of Karnataka will be at liberty:
Thus, as the proceedings show, in language-related litigation academic issues take a back seat and the legal issues come to the forefront.
24. A New Policy Promulgation by the State Government
On the basis of the direction of the court, the Government of Karnataka elucidated the language policy for school education in its order (June 19, 1989) pending the decision of the Supreme Court. This is the first time that the government used the word language policy for education in its official document. Accordingly:
25. Curriculum Guidelines
Meanwhile, the government, in order to implement the Education Policy 1986, issued curriculum guidelines (April 24 ,1992) to be adopted from 1992-93. According to this order, the students could opt for mother tongue Kannada, English, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, or Urdu in the 5th, 6th and 7th standards. The second language will be English for Kannada mother tongue students, and Kannada for all others. The third language can be one of the following: Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic or English. Here each language carries 100 marks. Learning Kannada is made compulsory. The students opting for Sanskrit should answer in Sanskrit only. In the secondary school, the first language consists of Kannada, Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu, Marathi, English, or Hindi. The second language list has Hindi, English or Kannada. The third language list has Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Persian, Kannada, or Arabic. One of the three languages should be Kannada. Here the first language is for 125 marks, and other two 100 marks each.
26. Medium versus Language as a Subject
The question of language through which education has to be imparted always gets entangled with the issue of language(s) to be taught in the schools. The same thing happened in case of Karnataka too. The choice of medium of instruction in Karnataka was also based on the statements in the Constitution and the Grant-in- Aid Code of the State government since Oct 19, 1969. According to this arrangement, 'in all primary schools, the medium of instruction shall ordinarily be the Regional Language or mother tongue of the child'. The English medium schools or English medium sections in the primary schools were permitted by the Director of Public Instruction to cater to the needs of migratory groups and 'students whose mother tongue is a minority language for which there is no provision in the schools of the locality.'
27. English Gains Ground
The anti-Hindi stand of earlier decades, instead of supporting the regional languages, gave rise to the fast growth of education in the English medium. This gave an added advantage to the linguistic minorities who could opt for English due to their perceived threat from the regional language. Thus, the microscopic minority of English mother tongue succeeded in providing a universal umbrella for all the elites in all categories, the minorities as well as the majority, by creating a common avenue for education through the English medium.
So, the primary and secondary education in the English medium, like engineering and medical education, has become donation/capitation-oriented, and ultimately a tradable commodity. The legal provisions that were framed to protect minority rights became an effective means for every section of Karnataka society to make capital out of the very same legal provisions. There were institutions of the linguistic minorities imparting higher education and primary education in English medium but not through their mother tongue.
28. Yet Another Battle
The Division Bench of the High Court heard the Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee and others on languages to be taught in schools and medium of instruction. The minority litigants had argued on the basis of the opinions of experts that the child has fundamental right to have education only in his or her mother tongue in the primary schools and found no justification to introduce Kannada in addition to mother tongue at that level.
Government was directed to 'to provide and ensure that primary education up to first four years including pre-primary education is imparted in mother tongue of the children concerned, in Government schools as also schools established by any private agency including linguistic minorities which are recognized, whether receiving financial aid or not, subject to the existence of the prescribed minimum number of children having a common mother tongue who have got themselves admitted to the school concerned '. This order of June 19, 1989 while elucidating the language policy had said, "From 1st standard to 4th standard mother tongue will be the medium of instruction, where it is expected that normally only one language … will be the compulsory subject of study".
29. Arguments Before the Supreme Court: The Verdict of the Supreme Court
The validity of this judgment was questioned in the Supreme Court on the ground that the linguistic minorities are discriminated and they cannot be forced to study Kannada (violation of Article 14); linguistic minorities can not be prevented from an opportunity to choose languages(violation of Article 350-A).
Finally, the Supreme Court did uphold the High Court judgment and ruled that (a) there is no element of compulsion because mother tongue of the child is medium of instruction, (b) only one of the languages is a compulsory subject of study, (c) Kannada is optional from 3rd standard for non-Kannada mother tongue speakers and it is taught on voluntary basis and there is no examination. Study of Kannada does not throw any burden on children. There is no violation of Article 350 -A.
30. Orders of the Government of Karnataka, 1994
In pursuance of this judgment, the Government issued the order of April 29, 1994 wherein it made a comprehensive policy relating to language choice for education and medium of instruction in Karnataka.
Accordingly, from 1st to 4th standards, the child's mother tongue will be the medium of instruction. It will be Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, or English. From 3rd standard Kannada will be an optional subject. There is no examination in it at the end of 3 or 4th standard. From the 5th standard, the student has to choose second and third languages. They can be one of the following: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malyalam, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, English, Sanskrit, Arabic, or Persian. The student, who is not studying Kannada as first language, has to study it as second language. Attendance for classes and appearing for examination for third language is compulsory and it is not an examination (a student need not pass this) subject.
In the secondary schools three languages have to be studied compulsorily. The first language will be any one of the following: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, or English. The second and third languages can be any two of the following: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, English, Sanskrit, Arabic, or Persian. One of these should be Kannada.
31. Strategies of the Majority
During the evolution of this language policy,
Tulu-speaking political leaders have asked that, in their mother tongue speaking area, the moral stories from their language and culture be made part of schooling in 1st and 2nd standards. When the Literacy campaign was conducted in the South Canara district, where Tulu is the majority language, the primers prepared in Tulu using Kannada script were introduced. The adult learners were not enthusiastic about this experiment. The DPEP prepared a draft Soliga (a preliterate language) 1st standard primer in Kannada script for use in the BR Hills region where it is spoken. But it was reported that '...the community leaders and the State Project Officer have expressed reservations about the need for textbooks in Soliga language ...'
32. Two Important Issues: Indian Languages as Media of Instruction
Two important aspects relating to the issue of medium of instruction are,
The number of students opting for the Kannada medium at the SSLC stage is on the ??? so also. Other language media are not that competitive. As regards Marathi, the number of students has actually decreased.
The rate of success in the examinations in the regional language medium is not also encouraging, whereas the English medium education has greater rate of success in the examination.
In fact, the regional language medium is rural-based and is preferred mostly by the poorer sections of Karnataka society. The regional language medium prevails mostly in government schools. The English medium is prominently found in the urban areas, preferred by those who could afford it, and is mainly offered by the schools that are run by private organizations.
Now, the supporters of the Kannada medium of instruction see a threat to Kannada and its development from English/English medium education. All attempts to have new English medium sections in schools/new schools in the government sector are prevented. This has further allowed the private English medium schools to flourish without competition from the schools run by the government. Although it is compulsory to have mother tongue/regional language medium from 1 to 4 standards, it is often reported that many private and unaided schools, even sometimes some of the aided schools, do not follow this rule.
33. The Resultant Scenario
Due to the assertion of rights by majority/minority about the school languages, the following scenario emerges:
The judgments of the High Court and the Supreme Court on the choice of languages in education and medium of instruction have many implications for language education in multilingual India. They are,
34. Right to Learn Through a Language
Right to learn through a language is an important issue in any multilingual situation. Most of the time teaching languages and teaching through a language gets mixed-up since they are interrelated. So, we saw in the case of Karnataka the way the issue started with 'which language to be taught and when' but ended up in getting a judgment about teaching through a language too from the courts of law.
The linguistic demography of Tamil Nadu according to 1991 Census is as follows:
|Language||Percentage of speakers|
Move Toward English as the Choice Medium of Instruction
In the late nineties, Tamil, the Official Language of Tamil Nadu, also faced a peculiar situation, wherein the Tamil mother tongue students, for a few decades, moved in the direction away from their mother tongue as their medium of instruction in the schools. The apprehension started to grow in the Tamil society that the students studying through the English medium and not studying in their mother tongue were in great number as a product of this trend and they are alien to their culture.
The Government of Tamil Nadu Order and the Madras High Court
So, the Government of Tamil Nadu issued an order on January 13, 1999 stating that "… at least two out of three subjects, that is, Social Studies (History and Geography), Math, and Science shall be taught through the medium of Tamil, apart from teaching Tamil as a subject in Nursery and Elementary Schools."
A single Judge of the Madras High Court, in his judgment on June 7, 1999, held that "… this order is valid only for those students, whose mother-tongue is Tamil. Or in other words … Government order is not applicable to the pupils, whose mother-tongue is not Tamil."
Justice Mohan Committee
The back drop for the government order was a representation from a Tamil Association which, apart from the above, had demanded that "the priority in employment shall be given to those who have studied through Tamil Medium of Instruction in the Government/Government Undertaking Departments."
In June 1999, a high level five member committee headed by Mr. Justice Mohan, a former Supreme Court Judge, was set up to "…frame guidelines for introducing Tamil as medium of instruction at all levels in the Educational sphere from Nursery to Higher education." On the recommendations of the committee, the Government issued another order on November 19, 1999. The summary of the order is that - In all schools Tamil or mother tongue shall be the first language; in all schools from class 1 to 5, Tamil or mother-tongue shall be the medium of instruction.
Contention About What Constitutes a Mother Tongue
Here, what constitutes a mother tongue became an important item for adjudication. On behalf of the government it was argued that "…mother-tongue of a child should only be understood for the purpose of these cases as the language which the child is most familiar with … mother-tongue need not be the mother's tongue or father's tongue. Generally, the parents are the proper persons who can assess and say as to which is the language, that child is most familiar with." In 1949, the Provincial Education Ministers had resolved and the Central Advisory Board of Education had approved that "the mother-tongue will be the language declared by the parent or guardian to be the mother-tongue."
The Court Order
The court ruled that the order issued by the government was illegal on many grounds like the following:
Important Issues Relating to Language Rights as Exemplified in the Court Order
Issues discussed in the judgment from the point of view of language rights are important to us. They are:
Language Rights - Theory and Practice
It is interesting to note that in case of Karnataka, it was the linguistic minorities who challenged the modification in the language policy for education, and, in the case of Tamil Nadu, the schools teaching in English medium knocked at the doors of justice. The students in the latter schools were mostly students with Tamil as their mother tongue.
As we saw in both the cases, the pedagogical aspects of language education have taken a back seat and the issues are fought mainly from the legal angle. The issues became very handy for the political parties in some sense. Political interests have counted more than any thing else in the decision-making about language use in education. Practicality of existence of a right and practical utility of such a right under specific socio-economic conditions still remains to be examined. The economic issues are driving the parents/students towards one or the other language normally other than their own mother tongue (Indian language).
Though it looks as if the parents have the right to choose the kind of education they need for the children, the government has the power to decide on the options to be provided about language choice available for the parents and children. The parents have to exercise their choice within the broad framework made available to them.
Indian Census 1991 counts 216 mother tongues within its territory. Through merging of many mother tongues into languages, 114 languages were arrived at. The rights to learn language(s) and the right to learn through languages as already discussed are bestowed on the citizens. In this context, let us see the actual practice of these language rights as recorded in the Third, Fifth, and Sixth All India Education Surveys.
Number of School Languages Taught As First/Second/Third Languages
|Third Survey||Fifth Survey||Sixth Survey|
|Number of Languages||67||44||41|
Medium of Instruction
|Stage||Third Survey||Fifth Survey||Sixth Survey|
With this evidence it is noticed that there is a reduction in number of languages being used in the schools as school languages and also as medium of instruction. It may be noticed that as the country goes higher and higher in the educational ladder, the number of languages being used too becomes less.
The languages will continue to be used in the schooling process either as a subject or as a medium of instruction or both only if the students/parents exercise their right to learn their mother tongue and through their mother tongue. Seeking, and fighting for recognition of the language rights is different from practicing or exercising them. If we are asked whether linguistic rights are misused or abused, undoubtedly we can say that they are not used for the purpose for which they exist.
Today the consequence of these explanations, clarifications, and adumbrations of Language rights by the courts is that people use their language rights to get education of their choice driven by market forces and not in the letter and spirit as codified in the Constitution, or in the statutes framed for that purpose. There is a paradigm shift. So, English which should have been an additional language in education in India has become a substitute language.