Voices Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 05:30
Alankrita Anand | The News Minute | June 10, 2014 | 4.23 pm IST In a recent meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, KArnataka Chief Minsiter Siddaramaiah urged the PM to convene a meeting of all Chief Ministers to push for the evolution of a nation-wide policy on making vernacular languages a medium of instruction in primary schools.The debate over the medium of instruction in primary schools in Karnataka has once again taken centre stage with the recent Supreme Court ruling. In May, the court ruled that parents, and not the State, should decide what language their children are taught in. According to the 1994 Language Policy of the Karnataka government, the medium of instruction in all primary schools was to be Kannada, the ‘mother tongue’. However, this policy ran into trouble with most private schools and eventually, in 2008, the Karnataka High Court struck down those clauses of the Policy that mandated the use of Kannada.  The verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court and a petition sought to overrule it. But the SC, on May 6, quashed the policy. (The Karnataka government was set to file a review petition by the 5th of June).  The problem The desire to impose Kannada as the medium for instruction in all government-recognized schools saw resistance from most private schools across the state on the premise that it is parents who should choose what language their children learn in.  The state government’s position on the issue is not feasible for multiple reasons, the most important one being that Kannada is not the mother tongue of all primary schools students in Karnataka. Against this context, the government’s stance would lead to a case of imposition of a language.  In case of a diverse population with different linguistic backgrounds, where is the unifying element? As foreign as it may be, English as a language of instruction in schools serves as the element of uniformity and is less controversial than the use of Hindi as a unifying language. And again, this uniformity does not have to be imposed, each parent can choose between schools with English, Kannada or a third language as its medium of instruction.  The Union Education Ministry (now HRD), in its 1968 National Policy Resolution had spelt out the ‘three language formula’ under which children in the Hindi speaking states were to be taught three languages, i.e., Hindi, English and one of the local languages and those in non-Hindi-speaking states were to be taught the local language, English and Hindi.  This formula was developed in keeping with the demand of the non-Hindi speaking states. While following this would be a legitimate and practical course to follow, the imposition of Kannada to promote an indigenous language (and the culture attached to it) will perceptibly face opposition in the kind of environment that the country and especially the cosmopolitan sections of it are aspiring towards.  In spite of all moves to stick to indigenous languages, an example being the lobby pushing for the recognition of Maithili as a medium of instruction, it is an undeniable fact that English has become a language that opens doors to opportunities.  The other extreme However, there is another side to this story, and that is seen when the term ‘opportunities’ becomes interchangeable with ‘social ladder’ which in turn converts it into a question of social status.  The case of Prime Minister Narendra Modi joining the league of world leaders who do not wish to use English may be an exception but the desire among parents to want their children to learn English remains, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  It becomes a bad thing only when it is pushed to the other extreme by schools awarding ‘negative points’ and ‘black badges’ to students for speaking in their mother tongues. Yes, it is a most crafty way to teach English and make students fluent in it but it runs into trouble when in the long haul, it leads to denigration in the importance of one’s mother tongue.  Not allowing a child to speak in her or his mother tongue is tantamount to curbing her or his freedom of speech and expression. The law:  The status of languages - according to Article 343 (1), the official languages of the Union Government (and not of India) are Hindi and English while individual states are free to choose their own official languages. According to Article 350A of the Constitution, each state should endeavour to provide facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary level. While this was done keeping in mind the need to protect linguistic minorities, the SC verdict has reiterated how the State cannot dictate or make compulsory the medium of instruction to be a particular language.  The Karnataka HC, in its 2008 ruling, had stated that doing so would violate Article 19 (1) (g) - the right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business, Article 26 - Freedom to manage religious affairs subject to public order, morality and health and Article 30 (1)- all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice of the Constitution. The Yeddyurappa government had sought to highlight Section 29 (2) (f) of the RTE Act according to which the medium of instruction, as far as practicable, shall be in the child’s mother tongue. With the Karnataka Chief Minister intent on starting a campaign to make mother tongue the medium of instruction, this may encourage other regional satraps to go the same way.