India: Court speaks up for language right

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jul 5 14:17:44 UTC 2008

Court speaks up for language right
Bangalore, July 3: Karnataka High Court has struck down a government
order that had made Kannada the compulsory medium of instruction in
unaided primary schools. The court order came as a relief to more than
3,000 schools that were threatened with closure by the government last
year for violating rules by teaching in English. The state had in 1994
issued a directive that the medium of instruction in all new schools,
including unaided ones, should be in Kannada only. As new
English-medium schools were not being allowed to open, many school
bodies had secured permission to start Kannada-medium institutions but
continued to teach in English.

The government last year warned these schools and threatened to close
them down. The court's order now has come as a reprieve as it held
that such laws were against the fundamental rights of parents and
children. A bench of Chief Justice Joseph Cyriac and Justices Manjula
Chellur and N. Kumar termed the 1994 order unconstitutional and ruled
that parents had the right to choose the language of instruction for
their children. "The parents' decision to impart education in a
well-known international language like English cannot be bypassed. The
government can make Kannada or (the) mother tongue compulsory in
schools run or aided by the government," the bench said.

K.S. Krishna Iyer, secretary-general of the Associated Managements of
English Medium Schools in Karnataka, one of the petitioners, said the
association fought for parents' right to choose the medium of
instruction for their child. "When the Supreme Court upheld Tamil Nadu
High Court's order quashing a similar notification giving primacy to
Tamil in Tamil Nadu, we were confident that we would win our case
here," he added. After the verdict, people from the rival camp, like
Kannada Development Authority chairman M. Chandru, said they hoped the
government would take steps to promote the language.

Basavaraj Horatti, the minister who had taken action against schools
violating the government order, said authorities would find it
difficult to monitor mushrooming English private schools. Primary
education minister V.H. Kageri hinted they might move the apex court.
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