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Draft National Education Policy was not Hindi-chauvinist & Modi govt shouldn’t have caved in

Far from a conspiracy to impose Hindi, the draft national education policy is actually a step forward in policy thinking on language and education.

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There was a sense of déjà vu as I followed the controversy about “imposition of Hindi” and its retraction by new Narendra Modi government over the last few days. Seven years ago, I had seen and suffered a similar controversy over “objectionable cartoons” in the NCERT textbooks in Political Science, of which I was one of the chief advisers, along with professor Suhas Palshikar.

The controversy exploded in May 2012 with a short, heated and ill-informed debate on the floor of Parliament regarding a cartoon in the class XI textbook that allegedly denigrated Dr Ambedkar. That was followed by an equally heated national media trial in which basic facts about the textbook were the biggest casualty. Faced with this political heat, the UPA government simply capitulated. Kapil Sibal, then HRD minister, offered an abject apology in Parliament and got pliant academics to get the NCERT to drop the “offending” cartoon. Professor Palshikar and I resigned in protest. Professor Palshikar was attacked in his office.

The pattern is eerily identical this time. The Modi government released the draft of the new National Policy on Education [DNPE] that had been submitted in December 2018.

Also read: India doesn’t need new education policy, but correct diagnosis of problems: Ex-IAS officer

Almost immediately, a controversy erupted about the BJP’s alleged attempt to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states. The allegation was politically very sensitive, as it emanated from Tamil Nadu. Now, conquering Tamil Nadu features high on the BJP’s future electoral roadmap. The big obstacle is, of course, the BJP’s image as a “Hindi-domination” party.

This was echoed in a pretty ill-informed debate, so far, in the media. Almost all the media reports and commentaries have focused on two paragraphs in the 484-page report and assumed that the DNPE has recommended something new. Comments on the dominance of English language in Para 4.5.4(on pages 81-83) have excited some editorials in the English media. And spelling out of the standard three-language formula in para 4.5.9 (on page 84) invited the charge of imposition of Hindi. If the commentators had read the entire section 4.5 of the DNEP on “Education in the local language/mother tongue; multilingualism and the power of language” and its chapter 22 on promotion of Indian languages, they would have seen that the charge of a grand design for imposition of Hindi is simply untrue. I am afraid, the temptation to wrong-foot the Modi government has led many opposition leaders to take an ill-advised, if not irresponsible position, on something that concerns a vital issue of national significance.

Let’s be fair to the report: The draft NPE nowhere takes the Hindi chauvinist position of Hindi being the “national language” of India, an expression that does not exist in the Indian Constitution. Nor does this document contain anything that shifts from the existing language policy of the country with respect to the status of Hindi. It simply repeats the three-language formula that has been, at least on paper, the standard official policy on language education since the first National Policy on Education in 1968 (para 4 (3)(b)).

The formula suggests that every child should learn three languages: one’s regional language, Hindi and English. If the child’s regional language happens to be Hindi, then she should learn another “Indian language”, preferably a south Indian language. This formula was reiterated by the National Policy on Education in 1986 (revised in 1992) and the National Curriculum Framework of 2005. The DNPE just reiterates the inherited consensus. If anything, the DNPE is more circumspect about underlining the role of Hindi than the original NPE.

Also read: Here’s the 50-year-old three-language formula at heart of New Education Policy row

The three-language formula was a prudent way to resolve the vexed issue of English and the various modern Indian languages, or bhashas, as U.R. Ananthamurthy would call all of these. It respected the primacy of the state/regional languages, while recognising the emerging utility of Hindi as a bridge among Indian languages and that of English as a bridge to the world outside India. Sadly, the formula was never practiced in its true spirit. The Hindi belt states found ways to circumvent it.

Instead of getting Hindi-speaking children to learn, say Tamil or Marathi or Bengali, they started using perfunctory teaching of Sanskrit (or, in a few cases Urdu) to meet the formality of the third language. So, in reality, the three-language formula meant that non-Hindi-speakers learnt Hindi while Hindi speakers learnt no other modern Indian language. This inequality has naturally caused heartburn.

Successive governments in Tamil Nadu have rejected this formula as a manifestation of linguistic inequality. The English-speaking elite has cleverly used this quarrel among bhashas to perpetuate the dominance of English language and the bizarre practice of English as a medium of instruction.

Far from a conspiracy to impose Hindi, the DNPE is actually a step forward in policy thinking on the issue of language and education. First, it recommends multilingualism as the foundation of education in a country like ours, thus moving away from a pointless debate about what should be the national language. It recognises children’s ability to learn several languages and the cognitive advantages of multilingual education. Second, like the previous policy documents, it reiterates the well-known pedagogic wisdom, supported by cognitive psychology, that the child’s “home language” or “mother tongue” must be her medium of instruction. This is in sharp contrast to the cognitive barbarity of the spread of English as a medium of instruction in a setting where, more often than not, the child, the parents, as well as the teachers, are innocent of this language. Third, it celebrates the strength of Indian languages as carriers of modern education and the country’s future. It makes a strong case for teaching of and knowledge creation in these languages. The government would do well to implement the detailed suggestions for helping the growth, preservation and vibrancy of Indian languages. Fourth, and conversely, it attests to the fact that the dominance of English language is due less to its intrinsic value and more because it is the language of the dominant elite. I call the prevailing situation a system of linguistic apartheid. The DNPE makes bold to say something that needed to be said: dominance of English needs to end.

Also read: Almost every Tamil Nadu leader is against Modi’s draft education policy over Hindi

Finally, it recommends greater attention to classical languages like Sanskrit and Tamil (Persian is also included in this category), so as to encourage appreciation of our cultural heritage. So, let us not judge this debate through the BJP/anti-BJP lens. It is after a long time that a national policy document has offered such a fresh and forward-looking perspective on language.

Yet, how did the Modi government react to the unfounded political criticism of this document? Just as Manmohan Singh’s UPA government did – bent backwards in the face of wild political allegations. The all-powerful Modi government too capitulated to unfounded political suspicions. First, the government hastily distanced itself by saying it is merely a draft. Fine. Then it clarified that it was not, in any case, going to impose Hindi on any state. Understandable. And then, lo and behold, it got K. Kasturirangan, the chairman of the DNPE Committee, to amend the draft itself without consulting the Committee that wrote the report.

Not the first time that short-term political expediency has trumped well considered suggestions on educational reform. As Raag Darbari , the iconic satire on Indian politics, had put half a century ago: “Vartamaan Shiksha paddhati gali me padi hui wah kutia hai, jise koi bhi laat maar sakta hai.” Our education system is that street dog anyone can kick.

The author is National President of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. Yogendraji,
    What is the use of being one multilingual capability? Do you want all our students energies to be spent only to learn new languages? If you spend more time to learn new languages, when you can find time for innovations and discoveries?
    India is knowledge based economy and mostly our job generation is happening in IT industry and other service sectors to get required foreign exchanges for our country.

    Even China, a manufacturing giant is pushing its nationals to learn English to expand its markets and win friends to their side.
    English is an international language which is must to communicate and learn the innovations from rest of the world.

    How long you want the Hindi belt be in life support from center? Let us impose English on the Hindi belt and let them prosper to lead our country which would improve the social indicators of that region.
    Political parties might support Hindi imposition on south for electoral gains by creating Hindi Pride.Liberal and Socialist like you also fallen to the Hindi Pride trap is neither good for the nation nor for democracy.

    What benefits South Indians would get by learning another new language, Hindi. Will it provide new job opportunity? If it provides job, why Hindi belt is still under developed and majority of migration happening from Hindi belt to other part of the country.
    I feel that you are suggesting all south Indians to learn Hindi so that migrated North Indians would feel comfortable to converse with locals. Is it fair? South Indians must learn Hindi either he wants to go North India for work or give Jobs to North Indians in South.

    Many local languages were vanished in northern India only after India become Republic and world biggest democracy. Each language is bound with its centuries old own culture and larger literature than Hindi.

    Do you want to disappear our identities too in the same way as it happened in the north for many languages? If a language is not used for generations then the language will be forgotten and disappear soon from the people memory.

    I have been astonished for your honey coated opinion on many subjects but I felt another wicket fallen after Shekhar Gupta, through his post election opinion.

    I surprised at your analogous that “Our education system is that street dog anyone can kick.”, I feel India is still a democracy and have to accommodate others feelings as well though it’s minor one.

    • Good hindi speaking capability alone is enough to make you the Prime Minister of India. Don’t fight it, use it.

      I had a Tamil fellow colleague back in my college (in north india), who led a much better successful academic life than other south indian students in our batch. Only because he could speak Hindi, which he liked equally to his mother tongue.. In fact he started liking North India eventually.
      I believe, We north indians would benefit heavily (more than the other way) if we learned south indian languages instead of brahmnical bullshit Sanskrit, which is obsolete and useless. That would have fostered a sense of synergic unity as well. I don’t know the jackass whose idea was to impose Sanskrit.

  2. The dominance of English is market driven while that of Hindi is state driven. This resentment will disappear if large numbers of those in the North know at least one official language other than Hindi, or at least basic English. But of course the bhayyas can’t care less. Living in their own cocoons. I don’t think anyone from the North or even those speaking Hindi like languages have any right to comment on this issue. You don’t know what linguistic subalternity means.

  3. Finally we know who the yo yo in Yo Yo Honey Singh is. Wah Yo Yo ji wah. Honey coated like always – we didn’t even realise when you coloured your robes saffron. Is it for petty gain or is there some real pressure on you. We Delhi students had great faith on you. What a sell out. Shame!

  4. How about instead of 3 language formula, you have a 1 language formula. One language which the student can choose to be educated in, whether regional language, mother tongue, English, Hindi, Urdu, Marati or any other international language. The student can CHOOSE if he wants a second or third language to study. Let each student or her family decide instead of some Govt which thinks it knows better. Lets see what citizens choose to learn instead of some compulsory mandate from a govt body.

  5. Language is nothing but a means of communication and communication is something that has to be understood by both the communicator and the communicated. If you wrote this article in Hindi I would not have read it. If India wants to be in the Global map all Indians must learn English as it is the language of Global communication! Medium of education is in English because science & technology has advanced in English vocabulary! The problem here is more basic – India is not one Country – it is several Countries bound by Geography.

  6. இந்த வார்த்தைகளை நீங்கள் புரிந்து கொண்டால், நாங்கள் ஏன் எதிர்க்கிறோம் என்று உங்களுக்குத் தெரியும்..

  7. I ask Yogendra Yadav which south Indian language he can read and write.If he cannot which child of his or nephew/ niece of his can do so.
    If not can he stop his sanctimonious crap

  8. Mr.Yogendra is clueless about the opposition from Tamil Nadu. For more than half a century two languages formula is practised there. So why should that state switch to a three languages formula Reality is people across classes desire good education with emphasis on English. For higher education English is most suitable and is lingua franca of science and technology. Mother tongue and English as languages is sufficient at school level. Students need training in communication, personality development, and, civic sense .

  9. Yogendraji, what is new about this? For decades, I have observed that whenever the government proposes something, a hue and cry is raised by (A) an individual or a group of persons (B) one or more NGOs ( C ) one or more political party (D) Media and the government backtracks. Sometimes, all the above malcontents act in concert to thwart the government initiative. No attempt is made to appraise the facts and hold rational and meaningful discussion. To keep my comments brief, I will only give two examples: (1) Any move to amend the draconian Rent Control Act (2) Any move to break the stranglehold of IAS lobby and bring in experts from other All India Services and from outside the government.

  10. The fear of imposition of Hindi and the fear of Hindutva among Muslims follow the same politics. Both misconceptions are manufactured for easy votes by politics. Both damages the peaceful living in India. Both have been sustained by politics for a long time now and both have become part of psyche of targeted people. If both of these bubble of misconceptions are to be busted, it will be by the people concerned only. For Muslims fear, Modi has taken the initiative. The next steps are to be taken by the Muslims. In case of Hindi imposition, the initiative have yet to come. Modi has only preempted the likely politics over Hindi. English dominance in India is a fact and there is no attempt from any side to lessen its dominance because it will mean recreation of India as a new nation with Hindi replacing English i. e. Hindi becomes the language of the constitution, the central laws, higher Education and local administrations.

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