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Postmen are the latest entrants in the war over language
Postmen are the latest entrants in the war over language|Photo credit: Five Prime
Governance

The Mystery Of The Centre’s Language Gaffes 

Are the attempts at promoting Hindi a strategy to impose the language on India or accidental gaffes? 

Sandhya Ravishankar

Sandhya Ravishankar

The Centre appears to be making repetitive gaffes of language, if one must give them the benefit of doubt.

Those from non-Hindi speaking states in the country would of course, say that the Union government in all its power was attempting to impose Hindi on them.

But neither explanation makes sense, really. Because this term, the Union government has issued circulars or orders making learning Hindi compulsory in a variety of ways and then faced with, predictable protests, quickly withdrawn their actions.

Why is the Centre doing this?

The Postal Exams Case

Take the most recent instance of the exams for the Department of Posts. On 11 July, a notification was issued by the Department stating that exams for its various groups would be held only in English and Hindi.

On 12 July Tamil Nadu’s main opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s youth wing filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) before the Madras High Court, demanding that the notification be rescinded and other exams be conducted in other local languages as before.

On 16 July, the Union Minister for Law and Justice, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha - “The examination will now be held in all local languages, as per the notification of 10-5-2019 of the department concerned (with) examination, including Tamil.”

Barely four days had gone by before the Centre hastily withdrew its notification to hold postal department exams in only two languages.

But the counter affidavit filed by the Centre in the PIL before the Madras High Court does not clearly make the point as to whether exams will now be conducted in the local languages as well.

“Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the local languages will be restored in Parliament, but the affidavit filed by the Centre today has not given any undertaking on this,” said P Wilson, senior counsel for the DMK youth wing and Rajya Sabha nominee for the DMK.

“The counter affidavit has only said that all postal examinations will be cancelled. They have not stated whether the local languages option is restored or not,” he said.

But the postal exams are only the latest in what the DMK alleges are moves to impose Hindi on an unwilling Tamil populace.

But the pattern is different to what the DMK alleges – the Centre has, on at least two major occasions taken a step forward in the direction of promoting Hindi and almost instantaneously gone on the backfoot when the protests began.

The first and bigger instance of protest was when the draft National Education Policy was released by the Kasturirangan-led committee.

Many political parties, especially the DMK, cried foul over the three-language formula, stating that it would amount to imposition of Hindi.

The reaction was swift, with Kasturirangan making necessary corrections in the draft.

In an interview to Hindu Businessline on June 07, Kasturirangan refuted the charge of Hindi imposition. “There is no language imposition and the States are given full flexibility to impart education in the languages that they choose. As far as the three-language formula is concerned, we assumed that every line in this paragraph would be read with respect to flexibility. Unfortunately, it was perceived in a different manner by people and States and they thought that Hindi is being imposed on them. Now there is a revised version and the important thing is that we should not get stuck up in the policy. You make the required changes and move on,” he said to the newspaper.

Senior advocate P Wilson echoes his party’s view on the Centre. “They (the NDA government) are simply testing the waters,” said Wilson. “Their intention is that - you protest, you cry, you do anything but I will do impose Hindi upon you. That is the agenda. The only place to fight them is in the Parliament and the courts.”

The BJP’s View

The BJP’s Tamil Nadu spokesperson Narayanan Tirupati explained to The Lede that the postal exam notification and the Centre’s subsequent backtracking had various reasons.

He said that the reason for the exam papers for postmen being changed was due to fraud having been discovered in early 2017 when candidates from Haryana and Punjab managed to score full marks in the Tamil language paper.

“Paper 1 is based on the Postal Manual and this is a multiple choice paper for which you need English or Hindi,” said Tirupati. “Paper 2 has been changed now to letter writing, essay writing and translation in an effort to stop exam fraud.”

Tirupati says that the notification of 10 May should have ideally removed the local languages from Paper 1 and that it should only have been in English. It was corrected in the subsequent 11 July notification.

“The Minister had to go back to the 10 May notification because there was very little time to implement the change,” he argued. “This year the postal exams will be held in all languages. But by next year, if the syllabus is changed and made available in all languages, we can have Paper 1 in all local languages,” he said.

The jury though is out, on whether these moves are being made by overzealous officials or whether the Centre is indeed attempting to foist Hindi upon parts of the country that does not want it.

Whatever the case may be, what is certain is that language is a sensitive subject that no government at the Centre has ever been able to get right.