Cow belt’s hypocrisy over three-language formula exposed 

The three-language formula has been subverted in Hindi-speaking states where students opt for Sanskrit but can neither read, speak or write in it

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Ashlin Mathew

The last comprehensive language Census, carried out in 2001, had put the number of Sanskrit speakers in the country at just 14,000. These numbers were less than anticipated since many students in the Hindi-speaking states, as well as the national capital Delhi, opt to study Sanskrit.

In Delhi alone, in 2015-16, as many as 1,94,801 students were enrolled to study Sanskrit, which was being taught in 98% of the schools. In 1,024 government schools in the national capital, official records put the number of Sanskrit teachers at 4,296 which translates into one Sanskrit teacher for every 45 students.

The figures acquire significance because of the renewed debate on the three-language formula implemented in 1968, following recommendation by the Kothari Commission. The recent debate has been triggered by media reports that Hindi has been made mandatory up to Class 10 and that the ‘President has accepted recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Raj Bhasha’.

A major recommendation floated by the Standing Committee was that people occupying Constitutional posts should deliver addresses in Hindi, even in cases they are not able to read and speak the language.

The proposal was made way back in 2011 and it is still not clear why the reports have begun to surface only now.

Predictably, however, the reports have still caused an uproar.

The ‘imposition’ of Hindi on South Indians, the predominant language in 10 out of 29 states, coupled with the reluctance of North Indians to learn a ‘South Indian’ language has thrown the debate wide open. The language Census of 2001 recorded that 25% of the population had Hindi as their mother tongue.

While Indian students have been expected to learn their mother tongue, Hindi, and one other language under the 1968 formula, school-goers in Hindi-speaking states seem to have got away by opting for Sanskrit and not learning English either.

In other words, judging by the Census figures, a vast majority of students in the cow-belt are neither literate in English, nor proficient in Sanskrit.

When an attempt was made to end the use of English as the language for official communication back in 1965, Tamil Nadu erupted in protests which even sparked off riots in Madurai. Peace could only return after then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri assured state residents that English would continue to be used as the official language until the nation reached a consensus over Hindi.

“I am happy with the three-language formula, whereby every Indian child would compulsorily learn three languages in school – English, Hindi and a regional language of their choice (usually the language of the state). Where the language of the state is already Hindi, children could be encouraged to learn a South Indian language just as South Indian children have to learn Hindi. This would eliminate concerns about marginalisation. But Sanskrit could also be an acceptable substitute,” Shashi Tharoor, the Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram, told National Herald in an email interview.

Tharoor remarked that pushing people in high offices to make speeches in Hindi was silly. “The language chosen should vary according to the fluency of the speaker, the nature of the occasion and the identity of the audience.”

Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta agreed with Tharoor.

“The three-language formula exists and it is possible to find a workable solution within the existing framework. There was no compelling need to revisit the issue,” said Dasgupta.

A Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, NS Kanimozhi, however, reckoned that the three-language formula has been “subverted” in the northern states.

“Why should one language be given preference, when many languages exist? Making anything compulsory doesn’t help. The three-language formula is in place, but this formula has been subverted in northern parts of the country, especially rural areas, where children are taught Hindi, English and Sanskrit. No one cares to opt for any other language,” Kanimozhi told National Herald.

Professor Apoorvanand, a Hindi professor at Delhi University, believed that lax enforcement of the three-language policy in the North was leading to “many native languages dying out.”

“In many of the states in South India, except for Tamil Nadu, Hindi is being taught, but those from the Hindi-speaking areas are not learning any other language,” the academic said.

“There was no need for the notification now, but there has been a move to make the country Hindi-dominated. It would create nothing but suspicion. Look at our currency notes. Devanagari numerals have replaced the Constitution-approved international numerals, which are of Indian origin. It is an unconstitutional move,” Apoorvanand added.

A supporter of the three-language policy, Congress MP Tharoor remarked that “homogenisation” stood no chance in a diverse country like India, saying, “If such decisions are part of a BJP-led project of Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan, it will only divide the nation at a time when unity is what we all need.”

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Published: 20 Apr 2017, 9:26 PM