Move to shift from English to Hindi in HE divides India

English as a predominant language for higher education in India could become a thing of the past if recommendations are implemented to allow Hindi as a medium for higher education, including in some of its Indian Institutes of Technology and top universities such as Delhi University.

The Committee of Parliament on Official Language headed by Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah has suggested making the use of English optional as the medium of instruction. The committee, in its report presented to India’s President Droupadi Murmu last month, recommended local languages should be given preference over English in all states.

But the recommendations have already faced vehement opposition from some non-Hindi speaking states, some of them ruled by opposition parties, particularly in southern India.

The parliamentary committee has recommended that Hindi-medium higher education should be offered in technical institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and non-technical institutions such as central universities in Hindi-speaking states.

In other parts of the country, the local official language rather than English should be the medium in higher education institutions, it said. Currently the medium of instruction in higher education institutions in the country is mostly English.

The committee said English should be the medium of instruction only where “absolutely essential” and that English should be progressively replaced with Hindi in those institutions.

“Use of Hindi as a medium of instruction and other activities should be in Hindi in all technical and non-technical institutions in the country and use of English should be made optional,” the committee proposed in its report, which has still not been publicly released.

End of compulsory English tests

The committee also suggested Hindi-medium instruction in training institutes and the elimination of compulsory English-language test papers in recruitment examinations.

The move could be particularly problematic for many IITs, Indian Institutes of Management, medical schools and top universities like Delhi University, which attract students as well as top faculty from all around the country. But others see it as more inclusive as higher education expands, as many students do not come from English-medium secondary schools.

A report in May showed that the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for Undergraduates (NEET-UG), sat by some 1.8 million aspirants this year to qualify for entry to medical schools, showed a 274.3% increase in the number of candidates taking the exam in 12 Indian languages over the past five years. The number taking the exam in Hindi more than doubled during the same period.

Hindi is only widely spoken mainly in the north of the country, with nine out of 28 states, including the capital region of Delhi, having Hindi as the official language – often referred to as the Hindi belt. An additional four states use Hindi as a secondary language. Most southern and north-eastern states prefer English as a secondary language.

Gradual replacing of English with Hindi

Bhartruhari Mahtab, deputy chairman of the language committee and a member of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a regional political party in the southern state of Odisha, said the committee recommendations were in accordance with the new National Education Policy which recommends “mother tongue” instruction in higher education.

Mahtab suggested to reporters in Delhi that Hindi is being used “20% to 30%” of the time (ie, in a minority of programmes or lectures) in major higher education institutions like Banaras Hindu University, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. “The committee has stressed for 100% of Hindi in these universities.”

He said: “English is not our language” but a foreign language, adding: “We should end this colonial practice.”

Opposition in the South

However, several states, particularly those in non-Hindi speaking southern India ruled by non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opposition parties, oppose the move.

Describing mandatory Hindi in higher education as “insensitive” and an insult to cooperative federalism, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a social media post: “Union Government’s Hindi imposition move is an onslaught on India’s cherished ideal, unity in diversity. It will disadvantage a vast majority of Indians in matters of education and employment.”

The official language of Kerala is Malayalam, with English widely used.

Vijayan said the use of all the national languages specified in the Constitution should be encouraged and Hindi couldn’t be imposed as the main language of instruction. The committee’s suggestions were contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and the country’s linguistic diversity, he said.

Similarly, KT Rama Rao, a minister in the southern state of Telangana, where Telegu is the official language and English is widely used, tweeted: “India does NOT have a national language and Hindi is one among the many official languages. To impose Hindi by way of mandating in IITs and central government recruitments, the NDA government [ruling National Democratic Alliance government led by BJP] is flouting the federal spirit. Indians should have a choice of language and we say No to #HindiImposition.”

Sitaram Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is part of ruling alliances in Kerala, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, said: “All 22 official languages listed in the eighth schedule of the Constitution must be treated and encouraged equally.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin also said imposing Hindi was “against the integrity of India”. He said any attempt to make Hindi mandatory would force another “language war upon us”, a reference to past attempts by governments to replace English with Hindi which led to street riots, including in the capital Delhi.

Mahtab said the reaction of the chief ministers of Kerala and Tamil Nadu appeared to be based on misleading information, noting that those states were exempt.

The committee divides states into three groups on the basis of usage of Hindi, namely Hindi-speaking states, states where a large proportion of the population speak Hindi alongside their regional languages such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab, and the rest such as the southern Indian states.

Hindi would not be imposed on the last category.

New medical course in Hindi

The central state of Madhya Pradesh is set to launch medical studies taught in Hindi from the 2022-23 academic year. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that from the new academic year, the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree would be taught in Hindi at the Bhopal-based Gandhi Medical College to first-year students.

Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah will launch this course on 16 October. Currently, medical education is imparted only in English. Chouhan said medical education in Hindi will “liberate us from slavery” of English, describing it as a move to “break the shackles” of the English language.