India’s linguistic imperialism: Tamil Nadu resents central imposition of Hindi on them!

A memorial for those who died in the Anti-Hindi imposition agitations in Chennai

Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

There is a popular saying in Tamil Nadu which approximately says not to waste their time on unproductive things like an idling person having found no employment or work to be busy with, went on to shave a domestic animal. Similarly, some people feeling boredom kept on digging the earth and creating deep pits and holes and again filling them with the mud they have dug out – as non-sensical damage control mechanism. Or, build constructions and demolish them to reconstruct again.

While earlier, people from the South used to go to North to work and earn livelihood, today many North Indians come to South to work and earn money. They try to speak South Indian languages as a mere necessity and when they return their home that language necessity would become irrelevant.

Indian federal government at time does exactly that. Now it is eager to impose Hindi in Tamil Nadu by replacing nameplates in English by Hindi versions, angering Tamils and DNK taking up the issue seriously. New Delhi is doing his unproductive work, knowing full well that Tamils in the South oppose Hindu imposition tooth and nail. Year ago DMK spearheaded anti-Hindu agitation to earn their seats in state assembly and parliament and eventually came to power in the state. DMK is a powerful party even without Hindi issue but the Congress-BJP – strong in Hindi belt – is trying to force it to take up the issue so that central government drops its Hindiization of India once for all, for, India has several national languages with equal importance.

English or Hindi or Tamil, or Russian people learn if and when they need it. None can force a language on the people directly or by indirect techniques.

Tamils living in North or elsewhere do learn to perfect Hindi and other North or other regional Indian languages because they need to use local languages. But asking Tamils or any other regions to know and learn Hindi as a compulsory language is ridiculous.

Federal government cannot impose Hindi on Tamils

While the Congress government time and again made strenuous efforts to impose Hindi on Tamils and Kannadigas. But people objected to the central dirty designs of linguistic imposition, the Modi regime is trying impose both Hindi and Sanskrit on Tamils along with Yoga exercise a part of Hindutva ideology- and not as health exercises.

In December 2014, the political scene in Tamil Nadu saw a churning with the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by Vaiko, walking out of the National Democratic Alliance.

Among the reasons Vaiko gave for his decision was “a consistent effort by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government to impose the culture of the North on Tamil Nadu.” In particular was the fear that Tamils would be made to learn Hindi and Sanskrit through official means, something that met with violent reactions in the 1960s in the State.

When the Centre wanted government departments to use Hindi in social media, protests erupted immediately in the State. The then Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the decision was against the spirit of the Official Languages Act, 1963.

Perhaps, one of the major reasons the Congress was shunted out of power in the State in 1967 was imposition of Hindi. The State government brought in paramilitary forces and clamped down on the anti-Hindi agitators, and the party never again came to power.

Back in 1937, when the Madras Presidency government led by C. Rajagopalachari insisted on compulsory learning of Hindi in the State, the Dravidian movement, then in the form of the Justice Party, got a major campaign agenda. For three years till the policy was revoked in 1940, the agitations were sustained in almost every part of the Presidency, in the process making its leader, E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar), the tallest leader of the Dravidian movement.

In 1965, when the 15-year timeframe to make Hindi the only official language was about to expire, Tamil Nadu again led the agitations. By this time, with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) gaining ground, imposition of Hindi was part of the narrative of the Aryan-Dravidian divide — the northern Aryans attempting to invade the cultural space of the southern Dravidians. It took an assurance from the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri that English would continue as the second official language as long as non-Hindi-speaking people wanted it, to quell the protests.

Political commentators argue that years of agitations against Hindi have clearly had an impact on the psyche of the people of Tamil Nadu. A common view is that while the people of the other southern States learn Hindi along with their native language, those of Tamil Nadu are fanatical about their language choice, which is a consequence of the larger political narrative. However, while Tamil Nadu political parties have consistently opposed the “imposition” of Hindi, the State’s policy, all through the decades, has been to make learning of Tamil “compulsory” in schools.

In 2006, the DMK government passed the Tamil Nadu Tamil Learning Act, through which school students had to compulsorily learn the language from Class I. The year 2015-16 will be crucial as the first batch which began learning the language in 2006 will face the Class X public examinations, making it a test of efficiency of the policy. But some academics feel that with over two decades of globalization and the advancement in learning technology, the animosity against Hindi had mellowed on the ground. So much so that social scientists like C. Lakshmanan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies feel there is a growing interest among the people to learn multiple languages in India in all states but governments everywhere create obstacles to that. In Hindi speaking states, only Hindi alone is taught and promoted – not even English. They are totally narrow-minded and anti-nationals.

Such parochial sentiments on the part of the governments in the country are bad.

Hindi chauvinism and parochialism

Indian government is bent upon making the Hindi compulsory language thought the nation so that Hindi politicians can claim upper hand in Parliament and they could impose one language formula in the parliament as well as in all state assemblies.

No state in India promotes other languages as central government is interested only in Hindi promotion all over India. While he is opposed to the idea of “imposing” a language, Lakshmanan says the Tamil Nadu’s government’s policies have made it difficult for people to get access to other languages. So even if someone is willing to learn other languages and foreign languages, the system discourages them.

He says that while the political rhetoric on Tamil has been strong, many had preferred English to Tamil in education, thus helping them join the mainstream without the need for Hindi. This was sometimes to the detriment of Tamil. “Hindi, spoken widely in the country, is a means to power, and even politicians let their children learn Hindi. In that sense, the BJP will gain if it facilitates learning of the language without imposing it.

Writer A. Marx says politically, the Tamil language issue has ceased to be an electoral issue, though it continues to be an emotive issue. In 1965, the DMK was the only face of the anti-Hindi agitations, giving it the full benefit of the anti-Congress mood. In 2014, all Tamil parties have a common policy on the language issue, giving no one a clear advantage. Marx says the anti-Hindi mood is actually more vigorous in the North than in the South at the moment. “It is people speaking non-Hindi languages in the North who have come down heavily on the BJP this time,” he says.

While the Dravidian parties opposed Hindi, he says, they had a logical language policy nevertheless with the constant emphasis on learning English, ensuring that Tamils were not left behind in the development story.

Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa challenged a Union home ministry circular seeking to make Hindi the primary language in universities in the southern state, saying the circular is not “legal”. “At a time when I have been emphasizing to the central government that Tamil should be made an official language, and to use Tamil in the Madras high court, they are trying to impose to teach law and commerce in Hindi in Tamil Nadu universities, which is neither right nor legal,” said the chief minister in a press statement published in Tamil.

Hindi –Hindutva nexus

BJP and Congress parties make Hindi a part of their Hindutva agenda.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) sent a circular to Anna University and Aliquippa University on Tuesday saying Hindi should be their main language. “The decision taken by the Central Hindi Committee in July 2011 would not bind the universities of Tamil Nadu. Chief Secretary Mohan Varghese Chunkath has been directed to advise the government-run universities to inform the UGC in this regard,” Jayalalithaa said.

Earlier, two local constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that rules at the Centre—Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK)—had protested against the circular. They called it an attempt by the central government to impose Hindi and sought its immediate withdrawal. The Official Languages Act, 1963, states that English shall be used for purposes of communication in states that have not adopted Hindi as their official language. According to the Official Languages (Use for Official Purpose of the Union) Rules, 1976, Tamil Nadu and a few other states fall in what has been categorized as “Region C”. Communication from the central government to non-central government offices or persons in these states shall be in English, according to the rules. The states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab, and the Union territories of Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli come under “Region B”, and any communication from the central government office to them shall be in Hindi. If any communication is issued to any of them in English, it shall be accompanied by a Hindi translation. “Therefore, the UGC circular sent to Tamil Nadu universities will not be applicable,” Jayalalithaa said.

  1. Ramadoss, founder of PMK, said just because many universities, including those in Tamil Nadu, received UGC grants, they cannot be used as “tools of Hindi imposition”. He said it was not clear if the Centre had consulted the states on this issue and urged the Centre to “drop” its efforts to “impose Hindi”. MDMK leader Vaiko alleged that besides the advisory to the universities, central departments including the railways and insurance companies have been asked to promote Hindi. “The Centre’s decision to impose Hindi… will have its own repercussions,” he said while demanding the withdrawal of the latest order. Hindi is a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu, with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party under its founder C.N. Annadurai successfully having led a major anti-Hindi agitation in 1965.

Tamil Nadu government said it won’t impose Sanskrit and Hindi on students.

The Tamil Nadu government would not impose Sanskrit and Hindi on students studying in the state, said higher education minister K P Anbalagan in the assembly on Tuesday. Anbalagan was replying to DMK legislator and former school education minister Thangam Thennarasu who wanted to know what steps the state government had taken to prevent the new education policy of the Centre. “The Centre has not released the entire policy but only a part of the draft policy has been uploaded for suggestions. The draft says that Sanskrit and Hindi will be compulsory for students, and what is the state government’s position on this,” Thennarasu wanted to know. He said according to the new policy all students would be promoted only up to Class 4, instead of the present system of promoting them till they reach Class 8. This would affect students in rural areas, he said and wanted the government to pass a resolution in the assembly against the policy. Leader of the Opposition M K Stalin also wanted the government to pass a resolution in the assembly.

In his reply, the minister said, “The Centre has now asked Tamil Nadu government’s suggestions on the new policy. Only after seeking suggestions from the people in the state we will reply to the Centre. But anyway, Sanskrit and Hindi will not be imposed on Tamil Nadu students, and the government will not in any way help it impose the new policy,” he said.

The reply from Tamil Nadu would be based on factors like local education, culture and state’s powers. The government would ensure that the new policy would not affect education followed in the state, he added.

Hindi imposition and anti-Hindi movement

DMK opposes imposition of Hindi on Tamil Nadu

DMK has repeatedly declared that none has the right force Hindi into the throat of people who are not interested in Hindi. They asked the Federal government o first make North Indian states to let their people learn some South Indian languages before expecting the South Indians to accept Hindi as one of their tongues.

Tamils are not opposed to Hindi but they hate that language being pushed into their throats.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which split from the Dravidar Kazhagam in 1949 inherited the anti-Hindi policies of its parent organisation. DMK’s founder Annadurai had earlier participated in the anti-Hindi imposition agitations during 1938–40 and in the 1940s. In July 1953, the DMK launched an agitation for changing the name of a town – Dalmiapuram – to Kallakudi. They claimed that the town’s name (after Ramkrishna Dalmia) symbolised the exploitation of South India by the North.

On 15 July 1953, M. Karunanidhi (later Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) and other DMK members erased the Hindi name in Dalmiapuram railway station’s name board and lay down on the tracks. In the altercation with the Police that followed the protests, two DMK members lost their lives and several others including Karunanidhi and Kannadhasan were arrested.

In the 1950s DMK continued its anti-Hindi policies along with the secessionist demand for Dravidistan. On 28 January 1956, Annadurai along with Periyar and Rajaji signed a resolution passed by the Academy of Tamil Culture endorsing the continuation of English as the official language. On 21 September 1957 the DMK convened an anti-Hindi Conference to protest against the imposition of Hindi. It observed 13 October 1957 as “anti-Hindi Day”.

On 31 July 1960, another open air anti-Hindi conference was held at Kodambakkam, Madras. In November 1963, DMK dropped its secessionist demand in the wake of the Sino-Indian War and the passage of the anti-secessionist 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution. But the anti-Hindi stance remained and hardened with the passage of Official Languages Act of 1963. The DMK’s view on Hindi’s qualifications for official language status were reflected in Annadurai’s response to the “numerical superiority of Hindi” argument: “If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow

The Anti-Hindi imposition agitations of Tamil Nadu were a series of agitations that happened in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (formerly Madras State and part of Madras Presidency) during both pre- and post-Independence periods. The agitations involved several mass protests, riots, student and political movements in Tamil Nadu concerning the official status of Hindi in the state.

The first anti-Hindi imposition agitation was launched in 1937, in opposition to the introduction of compulsory teaching of Hindi in the schools of Madras Presidency by the first Indian National Congress government led by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji). This move was immediately opposed by E. V. Ramasamy (Periyar) and the opposition [Justice Party (India)|Justice Party] (later Dravidar Kazhagam). The agitation, which lasted three years, was multifaceted and involved fasts, conferences, marches, picketing and protests. The government responded with a crackdown resulting in the death of two protesters and the arrest of 1,198 persons including women and children. Mandatory Hindi education was later withdrawn by the British Governor of Madras Lord Erskine in February 1940 after the resignation of the Congress Government in 1939.


Overdoing anything just because there is no objection could be dangerous. South Indian languages are in fact far removed from Hindi and Sanskrit. There is no connection.

Union is joint and wiling operation and Indian Union should not impose its will on nations. When Hindi is imposed on an unwilling nation within Indian Union, that is opposed vehemently by the people. Federal government is expected roll back its plan forthwith if v faced opposition. Bt Indian government seems to be adamant in pursuing its illegal goals.

The major opposition party Indian National Congress advised prudence, expressing fear that such directions may result in a backlash in non-Hindi states, especially Tamil Nadu and also said that the “Government would be well-advised to proceed with caution,”. These protests ensured the continuous official usage of English

The anti-Hindi imposition agitations of 1937–40 and 1940–50 led to a change of guard in the Madras Presidency. The main opposition party to the Indian National Congress in the state, the Justice Party, came under Periyar’s leadership on 29 December 1938. In 1944, the Justice Party was renamed as Dravidar Kazhagam. The political careers of many later leaders of the Dravidian Movement, such as C. N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi, started with their participation in these agitations. The agitations stopped the compulsory teaching of Hindi in the state.

The agitations of the 1960s played a crucial role in the defeat of the Tamil Nadu Congress party in the 1967 elections and the continuing dominance of Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu politics. Many political leaders of the DMK and ADMK, like P. Seenivasan, K. Kalimuthu, Durai Murugan, Tiruppur. S. Duraiswamy, Sedapatti Muthaiah, K. Raja Mohammad, M. Natarajan and L. Ganesan, owe their entry and advancement in politics to their stints as student leaders during the agitations, which also reshaped the Dravidian Movement and broadened its political base, when it shifted from its earlier pro-Tamil (and anti-Brahmin) stance to a more inclusive one, which was both anti-Hindi and pro-English. Finally, the current two-language education policy followed in Tamil Nadu is also a direct result of the agitations.

Hindi not the sole official language

Every language in India is an official language not just the Hindi just because Indian government stays in the Hindi belt.

The adoption of an official language for the Indian Republic was a hotly debated issue during the framing of the Indian Constitution after India’s independence from the United Kingdom. After an exhaustive and divisive debate, Hindi was adopted as the official language of India with English continuing as an associate official language for a period of fifteen years, after which Hindi would become the sole official language. The new Constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950. Efforts by the Indian Government to make Hindi the sole official language after 1965 was not acceptable to many non-Hindi Indian states, who wanted the continued use of English. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a descendant of Dravidar Kazhagam, led the opposition to Hindi.

To allay their fears, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963 to ensure the continuing use of English beyond 1965. The text of the Act did not satisfy the DMK and increased their skepticism that his assurances might not be honored by future administrations.

As the day (26 January 1965) of switching over to Hindi as sole official language approached, the anti-Hindi movement gained momentum in Madras State with increased support from college students. On 25 January, a full-scale riot broke out in the southern city of Madurai, sparked off by a minor altercation between agitating students and Congress party members. The riots spread all over Madras State, continued unabated for the next two months, and were marked by acts of violence, arson, looting, police firing and lathi charges. The Congress Government of the Madras State called in paramilitary forces to quell the agitation; their involvement resulted in the deaths of about seventy persons (by official estimates) including two policemen. To calm the situation, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long as the non-Hindi speaking states wanted. The riots subsided after Shastri’s assurance, as did the student agitation.

The agitations of 1965 led to major political changes in the state. The DMK won the 1967 assembly election and the Congress Party never managed to recapture power in the state since then. The Official Languages Act was eventually amended in 1967 by the Congress Government headed by Indira Gandhi to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current “virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism” of the Indian Republic. There were also two similar (but smaller) agitations in 1968 and 1986 which had varying degrees of success.

In 2014, the Home Ministry ordered that “government employees and officials of all ministries, departments, corporations or banks, who have made official accounts on social networking sites should use Hindi, or both Hindi and English but give priority to Hindi”. This move was immediately opposed by all the political parties in Tamil Nadu. Terming the move on use of Hindi as being “against letter and spirit” of the Official Languages Act the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa cautioned that this direction may “cause disquiet to the people of Tamil Nadu who are very proud of and passionate about their linguistic heritage,” and asked the Prime Minister of India to suitably modify the instructions to ensure that English was the language of communication on social media.


As per federal system, every language in India is national. Tamil is as important as Hindi or any other Indian language.

The Modi government that now feels comfortable with secured majority in both Houses of Parliament for the first time in its political history should comprehend the predicament of and apprehensions by the Tamils and Tamil state over other languages being pushed into curriculum of schools or colleges in the state.

Of course, RSS and BJP are deadly seeking to impose their will on the nation just because they have own elections, while people voted for them in order to avoid the corrupt Congress and in the absence any credible national opposition.

Central government, which has failed time and again, should stop trying to create problems of the unity of the nation.

While smartness may not be a bad idea, over smartness on the part of the federal government in imposing its pet hidden agenda would have devastating consequences for the nation, its real integrity beyond the official declarations.

End linguistic mischief!

Image source: Wikipedia Commons – A memorial for those who died in the Anti-Hindi imposition agitations in Chennai