ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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A Game of Gestures

Far from being a matter of any substance, the promotion of Hindi is a mere posture.


The month of June brings brief, dusty storms in Delhi. This one raked up some dust that had settled half a century ago. After the long-drawn-out parliamentary election, the country barely had time to decide on how to characterise the election outcome, when a controversy erupted over a positive reference to the old three-language formula in the draft national policy on education. As soon as an objection arose from Tamil Nadu over the mention of Hindi in the formula, the Ministry of Human ­Resource Development swiftly withdrew and changed the concerned paragraph in the draft displayed online. For what it is worth, a new generation of readers should know this old official matter and why the three-language formula still has a life.

There are times when an old document looks more contemporary and feels fresher than the one presented for discussion. The three-language formula, which surfaced to public attention within a week of the renewal of the government, was first brought into the domain of policy drafting by the Education Commission (1964–66), chaired by D S Kothari. Its member-secretary, J P Naik, who drafted the voluminous report, was deeply familiar with the problems of India’s system of education in different regions and as a whole. The commission’s report says that the three-language formula was devised by the Central Advisory Board of Education in 1956 and approved in a somewhat simplified form by the Conference of Chief Ministers in 1961. “The impelling considerations,” the Kothari Commission says, “were more political and social, than educational.”

The elaborate section on language in the Kothari Commission’s report demonstrates its struggle to balance educational considerations with political compulsions. It says: “In practice, the implementation of the three-language formula has led to several difficulties and it has not been very successful. Several factors have contributed to this situation. Among these are the general opposition to a heavy language load in the school curriculum; the lack of motivation for the study of an additional modern Indian language in the Hindi areas; the resistance to the study of Hindi in the non-Hindi areas; and the heavy cost and effort involved in ­providing for the teaching of the second and the third languages for five to six years (from Class VI to Class X or XI) … As far as the third language is concerned, the students in many areas have gained very little because of the unreal situation in which most of them studied it” (p 333, para 8.32). After discussing various options and a dissenting note by one of the members, the Kothari report says: “We strongly feel that the study of three languages at the elementary stage will interfere considerably with the development of the child’s mastery over his mother tongue and with his intellectual growth … In the immediate future, therefore, the greatest emphasis should be placed on the learning of one’s own language, and the study of additional languages has to be kept at the minimum” (p 340, para 8.41).

Fast forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Seen from the Education Commission’s perspective, the system of education has changed beyond recognition, and in a manner Kothari and Naik could not have predicted or considered desirable. A swelling private sector riding on the wave of parental disenchantment with government schools and the urge to educate the child in the English medium, the acute shortage of teachers and institutionalised vulnerability in the appointment of teachers, and the vastly commercialised training of teachers are some of the systemic growths that Kothari, Naik, and their colleagues in the Education Commission would have faced with shock and disbelief. They would also have noticed how irrelevant planning had become in education and other areas. In their state centric frame of reference, political compulsions needed to be accepted and negotiated, but market compulsions were marginal. The situation has now reversed. Market pressures are at the centre stage now while political compul­sions are important mainly as gestures, to be orchestrated in the ­variegated media space. Far from being a matter of any substance, the promotion of Hindi is a posture. By mentioning the role of Hindi in the three-language formula, the new policy draft offered a token of continued faith in an early model of ­nationalism. When objection arose from a familiar source, a quick denial of any intention to impose Hindi rearticulated an old negotiated settlement.

Successive official statements on language-related issues in education have criticised the growing popular preference for English medium education from the earliest stage. The current draft does the same, recommending that mother tongue or home language should be the medium “when possible.” This clause signals a tolerant understanding, deeper than what can be openly articulated, of a flawed but firmly established systemic condition. The policy discourse of education serves mainly as a platform for an exchange of gestures between the old and new elites. As for Hindi, the nationalist fervour that the language once signified now seems to have waned even as other means of emotional integration of the nation have proved efficacious.

Updated On : 15th Jun, 2019


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