www.medium.com | March 23, 2020
The complex nature of promoting the medium of instruction of primary education to be in the mother tongue can be revealed after studying various court cases and understanding the judicial interpretation around Article 350 (A). By means of looking at two cases in particular i.e. the General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka (1989) and State of Karnataka v. Associated Management of English Medium Primary & Secondary Schools (2014), one can understand the government’s conflations around regional language and the mother tongue, and how such confusions have been interpreted and resolved by taking support of various components of the Indian Constitution, such as Article 14 i.e. right to equality, Article 21 i.e. right to livelihood, and Article 30 i.e. right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
The case of General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka (1989) argued in the Karnataka High Court, deals with a Government Order (GO) that made the study of Kannada, the official language of the state, in addition to the mother tongue of children from linguistic minorities, compulsory, at the level of primary education. The GO also made the study of Kannada compulsory in non-Kannada schools as well as for children whose mother-tongue was not Kannada. Ten petitions were filed against the GO on the grounds that it was discriminatory in nature and violated the right to equality as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, as it made non-Kannada speaking students compete against students who spoke Kannada. It was also argued to be violative of fundamental rights enshrined under Article 29 (1), which guarantees every citizen’s right belonging to a linguistic minority to preserve their language, and Article 30 (1), which guarantees the right to establish educational institutions to all linguistic minorities, and hence their right to choose “which…languages should be studied as the First language”.
One of the main arguments brought out through this case was that the GO was a “clear breach of the obligation cast upon the State under Article 350 (A)” of the Constitution. The State of Karnataka argued against this claim and went on to say that given that Kannada was declared to be the official language of the state, it was the state’s duty to ensure the development of Kannada by means of making it compulsory at the level of primary education “to give Kannada primacy in the affairs of this State”. Since there is nothing to restrict the imposition of the official/regional language in primary education, the State of Karnataka argued that the GO was not in violation of Article 350 (A). On the other hand, the Petitioners pointed to the diversity of India and its people as the premise of their argument. While there is bound to be a majority of a certain population and therefore an official language in every state, there is an equally large number of people from linguistic minorities living in Karnataka just like in every other state in India, and “each State, therefore, is a miniature India”. This renders the imposition of one particular language, in this case Kannada, arbitrary and invalid, for the diverse nature of Indian society makes it impossible to recognize one single language as the dominant one (General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka, 1989).
The final verdict, in this case, was given in favour of the Petitioners, and the GO was found to be violative of the articles mentioned above. This case points to the fact that language is not just a means of communication, but a powerful instrument in shaping one’s cultural, social and economic identity. Therefore, it is a matter of important concern with reference to children’s education. At the same time, it raises important questions of how the government must go about dealing with the diversity of India and its people in terms of creating a balance between administering the regional language versus several other mother-tongues spoken in the same state.
The case of State of Karnataka v. Associated Management of English Medium Primary & Secondary Schools (2014) also deals with a similar GO which involved compulsorily imposing Kannada or one’s mother tongue as the medium of instruction at the level of primary education. As opposed to the previous case wherein issue was taken with the imposition of Kannada on every child, in this case the Petitioners raised issues with the manner in which this GO infringed upon individual’s rights to choose their own medium of instruction. While issuing Kannada or one’s mother-tongue in primary education was considered valid if taken independently, compelling these two as the only options for medium of instruction was seen as unconstitutional.
This case raised important questions regarding what the definition of mother-tongue really is — if it is a language that the child is comfortable with, then who is to objectively decide which language that is?; whether the child or parents have any right to decide the medium of instruction primary education should be in, and whether this has any relation to Articles 14, 19, 29 and 30 of the Constitution?; and whether the medium of instruction can be imposed by the State through such a GO simply by the virtue of Article 350 (A) of the Constitution? (State of Karnataka v. Associated Management of English Medium Primary & Secondary Schools, 2014)
In the arguments that followed it was concluded that the mother tongue, within the framework of the Constitution, is the language of a linguistic minority in that particular State, and it is up to the parents or guardian of the child to decide their mother tongue. As opposed to the colloquial understanding of the mother-tongue being a language that the child is comfortable in, it was argued that within the pretext of Article 350 (A) the concept of ‘mother-tongue’ may not necessarily imply the same, and thus could not be used to “either expand the power of the State or restrict a fundamental right”. It was also argued that the GO was violative of Article 19 (a) which preserves the right to freedom of speech and expression as well as the right to choose the medium of one’s expression which is implicit in the right to education under Article 21 and 21 (A) of the Constitution. It was also found to be violative of Article 29 (1) and 30 (1) on the same grounds as in General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka (1989). Most importantly, it was argued that while Article 350 (A) provides that it shall be the “endeavour of the State” to facilitate the promotion of the mother tongue at the stage of primary education, it by no means implies that the State has the right to compel a linguistic minority to only choose their mother tongue as the medium of instruction. Thus, the GO was struck down by the Supreme Court (General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka, 1989). This case too, much like the first one, raises important questions. As it was held that the application of Article 350 (A) in this case was unconstitutional since it does not permit the imposition of the study of one’s mother-tongue by the State, it raises questions about the future of languages of linguistic minorities.
While both the cases mentioned are specific to the State of Karnataka, it raises important points and questions of concern pertaining to primary education in the mother-tongue versus the regional language, which can be generalized to the entire nation given its diversity, and the presence of a multitude of languages and communities within each state.
(Isha Doshi is a third-year BA in public policy major at FLAME University)
General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka (High Court of Karnataka 1989).
State of Karnataka v. Associated Management of English Medium Primary & Secondary Schools (Supreme Court of India 2014).