A classroom in India (representational image)
Students in a classroom in India | Representational image | Max Pixel
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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government announced the new National Education Policy (NEP) Wednesday, bringing about sweeping changes in the Indian education system, both at the school and college level.

The policy also mentions the three-language formula where it says that of the three languages, two must be Indian languages, with English not to be considered as one. It also says that the freedom to choose the two Indian languages should be left to the states, regions or students.

The new NEP further advises the use of either the mother tongue, regional language or local language as the medium of instruction, at least until Class 5.

When the draft of the policy was released in June last year, there was much furore regarding changes in the three-language formula by Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as they made Hindi mandatory for school students in non-Hindi-speaking states as well.

ThePrint looks into why this formula has been a bone of contention between southern states and the Centre, its origin and controversies.

Also read: Sanskrit a casualty of 3-language formula, make it compulsory till Class 8: RSS-affiliate

Lack of uniformity in its implementation

The three-language formula was first devised by the central government in 1968 and incorporated in the National Education Policy. The idea behind the scheme was to ensure that students learnt more languages.

After 1968, it was only in 1992 that the policy was modified.

The formula was implemented across the country in 1968, barring Tamil Nadu that adopted a two-language policy.

When first implemented by the Indira Gandhi government in 1968, the formula stipulated that students from the Hindi-speaking states should take up English, Hindi and a modern Indian language, while students from non-Hindi speaking states should also take up Hindi, English and one Indian language.

However, its implementation was not uniform across the country. 

A paper by Leena Ratti from the Central Institute of Education in Delhi University said: “In many of the Hindi-speaking states, Sanskrit became the third language instead of any modern Indian language (preferably south Indian language), whereas the non-Hindi speaking state such as Tamil Nadu operates through a two-language formula.”

“Some boards/institutions permit even European/foreign languages like Spanish, French and German in place of Hindi or Sanskrit. Only some states accepted the three-language formula in principle, while others made some adjustments and some changed to an extent that it became impossible to implement it,” according to the paper.

Controversy about the formula

Since 1937, Tamil Nadu has consistently opposed the decision to make Hindi compulsory in schools. The founder of Dravidar Kazhagam, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy was against then Madras chief minister C. Rajagopalachari’s decision to make Hindi mandatory.

The controversial provision in the draft NEP released last year said that students in the non-Hindi speaking states should take up Hindi, apart from English and a regional language as part of the three-language formula. One of the three languages could be changed in Class 6, the draft NEP had said.

The draft received backlash from almost every Tamil Nadu political leader. DMK leader M.K. Stalin said the three-language formula propagated the use of Hindi from pre-school to Class 12 and it was a big shocker, which could potentially divide the country.  

There was furore in Karnataka too, with Congress leader and former chief minister, Siddaramaiah saying the draft was a brutal assault on the states. 

“Nothing should be done against our opinion. There is no need for three languages. English and Kannada are there… they are enough. Kannada is our mother tongue, so primacy should be given to Kannada,” he had said.

After these controversies and opposition from southern states, the Modi government retracted the “mandatory-Hindi-lessons” clause from the draft. 

The revised draft then said, “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.”

Smriti Irani and German debate

The three-language formula hit the headlines in 2014 too when then HRD Minister Smriti Irani decided to remove German as a third language choice for students in Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs). 

Close to 80,000 students in KVs across the country from Classes 6-8 were studying German that time when the government dropped the language. 

The move to remove German, thus, inevitably made Sanskrit a compulsory third language, which triggered debate. 

At the time, Irani defended the move by saying that the earlier arrangement was in violation of the three-language formula in which the third language must be a modern Indian language or Sanskrit. She had said German would continue to be taught as an “additional subject of hobby class”.

Also read: Chetan Bhagat likes the three-language formula, Swara Bhasker says Article 15 ‘gives her hope’


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16 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Tamil Nadu physically belongs to India but mentally does not belong to india.when Tamil Nadu is against hindi,why does it support a non Indian origin languages like English,Spanish French ?Every language has its own significance.Is hindi is opposed due to anti brahminisim in Tamil Nadu?.Hindi is a modern derivation of ancient language like Sanskrit.Learning a new language rejuvenates your mind and body.Why even learned people in Tamil Nadu does not understand importance of learning a new language?.Opposing to learn new things in life makes a person only illiterate. Jai Hindustan.

    • Better limit yourself with your home with this rotten mentality. Tamil is the language of India. Hindi is not native to India, go and wash your brain.

    • by the way you dont have any rights to tell us to learn hindi Mr.alok… if we madrasi want to learn hindi than u also learn our language tamil.and what the hell you were saying without this language we cant survive in india..before use this type of sentence think and speak….

    • Pakistani language speaking people first get lost of India, you must have your Indian citizenship first stripped for committing high treason of using Pakistan’s language and faking it as an Indian language.

      Your so-called language Hindi is outcome of Mughal and Islamic occupation of India, why do you even call yourself Indian when you speak Pakistani language which is the language of Islamic Jihadi terrorists.

      This is India not Hindia or Pakistan. You are free to sleep with your Mullah Jihadi friends in Pakistan and take your language with you. Hindi has nothing to do with India.

    • I sometimes wonder why North Indians are so backward and under developed compared to South Indians….you are a living example why North is so backward.


    • Why should we learn hindi? What will you do alok sharma? you will send all madrasis out of india? You linguistic chauvinists, you include no of rajastani, haryaavani, bhojpuri gujarati speakers as hindi speaking people and manipulate the no of Hindi speakers as 43% in real number only 23% use hindi as their mothertongue. Only TN retained English and so in south you have IT companies. Otherwise north indians who work in IT companies in south will becselling pani poori and chaia. Alok mind your words. India does not belong to hindi people alone. You are welcome for a debate to Chennai, for open debate.

  2. Why do you bring Tamil language hater and insulter here and give him false credit?. Periyar had nothing to do with Hindi imposition. He showed his face in the Hindi agitation and then the next 50 years he was made a false here, just like he was falsely dubbed as Vaikkom Veeram just for posing for a photo in Kerala. The insulter of Tamil language even started an institute for the Islamic origin language Hindi, but did nothing for Tamil and other earning false credits for the works done by others.

    This kind of false credits to a non Tamil origin insulter of Tamil must first please stop.

  3. Yes…. Hindi was once an issue of political importance, as the Dravidian parties used it gain political prominence…. it was relevant then, but i doubt it will have the same relevance today…. Besides local language, here tamizh, kannada, is being given prominence…. So it is doubtful whether the opposition to, inclusion of other indian language will gain any traction in TN & Karnataka…. But besides all this, it is a bit surprising that we continue to give prominenece to English over our native languages…. Its disheartening really…..

    • Hindi itself is not relevant to Indian culture, it is only relavant to the brutal Islamic history of India which proxy Jihadist party BJP and their partner Congress will never talk about. Special status given to the British invented version of the Islamic invaders origin language must first be stopped. Hindi/Urdu is the SOLE REASON for backwardness of India, Islamic terrorism, backwardness of North India, unhealthy migration towards the Southern states, proliferation of inter-state crime etc. It is high time this foreign invaders origin language Hindi / Urdu be banned in India. It is the same language of the enemy country Pakistan and is one of the reason terrorist can sneak and do their “religious duty” and get away.


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