The progressive National Education Policy (NEP) was in headlines recently when an old controversy reappeared in its document.
‘Balkanisation’ is a geo-political term used to explain the fragmentation of a large sovereign territory into smaller units due to social, political or cultural differences. The optimal examples of countries that surrendered themselves to this phenomenon are Yugoslavia and USSR. There are other failed attempts of segregation where states could not attain sovereignty because of compromise or suppression. Among others, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is an astute example. The unflattering and relentless opposition of Tamilians towards the Hindi language has an 80-year-old history. It has led to violent protests, polarization and demand for a separate nation at different epochs of 20th century.
The current draft of the NEP is progressive in many ways. Orchestrated by noted scientist K. Kasturirangan, it promises to revitalize the ailing education system of India. Among other reforms, it changes the focus group for imparting education from 6-14 to 3-18 years. It also brings accreditation system in schools and envisions that by 2035, the gross enrolment ratio in schools will increase to 50% compared to the current 25%. But these amendments did not grab the eyeballs as much as a paragraph in the policy to implement the Three Language Formula did.
The Formula first appeared in the NEP in 1968. The clause suggests that along with Hindi and English, any Modern Indian Language be taught to students in Hindi-speaking states and the regional language be taught in non-Hindi speaking state. The formula resurrected the long running resistance against Hindi imposition in South Indian states, especially Tamil Nadu. Tamilians, in order to conserve their identity and culture, have been protesting against compulsory Hindi education since 1937. Leaders like Periyar, who formed the Dravidar Kazhagam, initiated this anti-Hindi agitation when the then Indian National Congress government made teaching of Hindi compulsory in schools of Madras Presidency. The anti-Hindi sentiment has given genesis to the idea of Dravida Nadu, a hypothetical sovereign country comprising the non-Hindi speaking states of Southern India. E.V Ramasamy (Periyar) and C.N Annadurai, who were the initial proponents of Dravida Nadu, made an attempt to Balkanise India as they feared the hegemony of Hindi would repress their native languages.
But the fear is not inappropriate either. One of the most controversial subjects in the Constitutional Assembly debate was selection of India’s official language. Noted historian Ramachandra Guha writes that when R.Dhulekar, a member of the house from United Provinces stood up to move an amendment, he started speaking in Hindustani. When the chairman reminded him that many people do not know the language, he replied, “People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India.” The amount of chauvinism reflected in his majoritarian perspective makes it evident why our dear ones in the South are sceptical about compulsory Hindi education.
Following backlash from political parties in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the government officially amended a portion of the NEP. In the new draft, students will have the choice of changing any language they want to. The war of language has been very sensitive and controversial in India. It has fabricated the politics of Tamil Nadu in such a drastic way that the implicit advocate of Hindi imposition, the Congress party has never come back to power after 1967 following the anti-Hindi agitation of that year.
The ship of Unity in diversity sails only when there’s unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation. Imposing uniformity by enclosing a country like India will bring consequences that we don’t need or deserve.
Feature Image Source: NCERT