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Tongue-tied: Language and Langauge Education in the Indian Constitution

www.medium.com | March 23, 2020
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India has witnessed language politics for several years now. Arguments for a common national language is faced with strong opposition as it derails and undermines the linguistic diversity of India. Opposition to the imposition of Hindi in school curriculums, English as the first language and the proceedings of the State has also been a lasting debate. Despite this, the issue of education and medium of instruction rises its head every now and then. In response, this paper will discuss the constitutional origin of Article 350 (A) and the steps taken to address the need for vernacular medium of instruction, specifically the mother-tongue of linguistic minorities through a careful examination of the Constituent Assembly Debates.

Article 350A of the Indian Constitution states,

It shall be the endeavour of every state and of every local authority within the state to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and the president may issue such directions to any state as he considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities (Constitution of India, 2019)

This is the main constitutional provision for education in one’s mother-tongue in India. A clear-cut premise for primary education in mother tongue specifically for linguistic minorities first found its place in the Draft Constitution of the Republic of India (Socialist Party, 1948). The draft stated in Article 37 that, “In districts and towns in which a linguistic minority forms a considerable proportion of the population the state shall establish primary educational institutions for imparting general education to the children of the linguistic minority concerned through their language”. However, in the Draft Constitution that was introduced to the assembly in November 1948, the provision was missing. The section below will deal with the deliberations that followed.

Initial Constitution Debate on 8th December 1948

The most substantial and important discussion on this provision was on 8th December 1948 (Volume VII- Constitutional Assembly of India Debates Proceedings). The debate on primary education in one’s mother tongue was preceded by Damodar S. Seth’s request to move an amendment to clause (3) of Article 23 which suggested that linguistic minorities would have the right to establish, manage and control educational institutions. It gave gracious room for linguistic minorities to promote their language and literature, and enable pre/primary education through these languages. Seth firmly believed that in a secular state, religious minorities should not be considered. He suggested that the only minorities that are recognized by the state be linguistic and only for the case of preserving and promoting their language. However, this amendment was not moved by the constituent assembly.

Z H Lari asked to move an amendment that proposed the introduction of a new clause to article 23. The proposed amendment read,“Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language and script shall be entitled to have primary education imparted to its children through the medium of that language and script.” Further, Begum Aizaz Rasul and Kazi Syed Karimuddin gave supporting amendments that requested to change “section of citizens” to “Minorities” and add the phrase “in case of substantial number of students being available” respectively. While the amendment was ‘negatived’ and a division of votes declined, the discussions that followed the proposal brought forth several important aspects of language and education politics in India.

Z H Lari in support of his proposal returned to an earlier resolution published by the Government of India on August 14, 1948 which stated “The principle that a child should be instructed in the early stages of its education through the medium of the mother tongue has been accepted by the Government. All educationists agree that any departure from the principle is bound to be harmful to the child and therefore to the interests of society.”The resolution was accepted since it was acknowledged that adoption of a single medium of instruction would adversely affect inter-provincial relations (Volume VII- Constitution Assembly of India Debates Proceedings, 1948).

He also argued that the first constitution of Free India framed by Pandit Motilal Nehru had suggested as one of the fundamental rights that primary school education of minority groups be through the medium of their own language. It borrowed from the Nehru report which argued that since all provincial languages are “Indian languages”, it was necessary that every section of children were duly provided this right. Lari, to extend his argument, brought in the example of Lucknow and Allahabad where despite the presence of significant strength of students who speak Urdu, no provisions were made to establish Urdu-medium primary schools2.

A key point within this discussion was put forth by Honourable Shri K Santhanam who said that this amendment would imply that every child has an immediate right to primary education. Mr. Das Bhargava also pointed out doubts for its implementation by stating that this amendment could not be made justiciable since primary education was not made justiciable by itself and could not be enforced in a court of law (Volume VII- Constitution Assembly of India Debates Proceedings, 1948). There were a few other arguments that appear significant within the constituent debate. One of them was from Shri. R.K. Sidhwa who firmly believed that there was enough provision in the Directive Principles that a child would be given education primarily by the state. This would make it the duty of the state to ensure that education is provided in their mother tongue. Any fear otherwise, R.K. Sidhwa believed, was “out of place”. The same sentiment was subscribed to by Shri. K Santhanam who believed that the then article 23 had sufficiently assured the safety and preservation of minorities. Mr. Biswananth Das on the other hand, questioned state finances and the growing issue of refugees for the implementation of the article. He questioned if the state was going to “give them the right to perpetuate their script and their language” without considering the scale of their presence.

Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant followed the same vein of argument and suggested that if the amendment proposed by Z.H. Lari was to be moved,universal primary education would become a far-fetched dream due to financial constraints.He further suggested that since there was no religious division of language, the need for the amendment does not rise. He opined that in primary schools, elementary concepts are “ordinarily intelligible to everyone”. He firmly believed that the communal colouring or assigning it as an issue only of the “minority” (a definition that is restricted to religious terms) was problematic (Volume VII-Constituent Assembly of India Debates Proceedings, 1948).

With the aforementioned arguments discussed, a large section of the assembly agreed that primary education in the mother tongue was necessary. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, while discussing his apprehensions regarding the article and proposed amendments, too stated that it would be a hard case to find its provision as a right in the constitution. Article 23 was put to vote without the amendment proposed by Z.H. Lari mainly because the assembly could not establish it as a justiciable right (Volume VII-Constituent Assembly of India Debates Proceedings, 1948).

The present article 350A finds its place in Chapter IV- Special Directives of the Indian Constitution. It was instituted in 1956 with the seventh amendment of the constitution. The article sought to implement the State Reorganisation Commission’s important recommendation to safeguard linguistic minorities in the states post-reorganization (Ministry of Law and Justice, n.d.). With the directives provided by this, several educational policies and schemes have been introduced, which have also helped curb several issues such as high-dropout rate and material retention.

-Ankitha Kammaje is a third-year LCS major at FLAME University


1. Education minister Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad in a reply to Shri S V Krishnamurthi Rao had provisioned that as per The Central Advisory Board of Education report in 1944 on ‘Post-war development in India’ recommendation that secondary education too is in the mother-tongue of the students

2. For detailed argument, refer to 7.69.78 at https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_assembly_debates/volume/7/1948-12-08


Centre for Law and Policy Research. (n.d.). Constituent Assembly of India Debates (Proceedings)- Volume VII. Retrieved from Constituent Assembly Debates: https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_assembly_debates/volume/7/1948-12-08

Centre for Law and Policy Research. (n.d.). Draft Constitution of India, 1948. Retrieved from Constituent Assembly Debates: https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/draft_constitution_of_india__1948_21st%20February%201948

Centre for Law and Policy Research. (n.d.). Draft Constitution of the Republic of India (Socialist Party, 1948). Retrieved from Constituent Assembly Debates: https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/draft_constitution_of_the_republic_of_india__socialist_party__1948__1st%20January%201948

Ministry of Law and Justice. (n.d.). The Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1956. Retrieved from

(Source: https://medium.com/education-policy-flame/tongue-tied-language-and-language-education-in-the-indian-constitution-6d099d6f4c9a)