[lg policy] Karnataka: Kannada can't be compulsory medium of instruction in schools: Supreme Court to Karnataka

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 6 21:18:12 UTC 2014

Kannada can't be compulsory medium of instruction in schools: SC to
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 CNN-IBN <http://ibnlive.in.com/agency/CNN-IBN.html>
May 06, 2014 at 01:40pm IST
  #karnataka <http://ibnlive.in.com/newstopics/karnataka.html> #kannada
language <http://ibnlive.in.com/newstopics/kannada-language.html> #primary
schools <http://ibnlive.in.com/newstopics/primary-schools.html> #supreme
court <http://ibnlive.in.com/newstopics/supreme-court.html>

*Bangalore:* The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement on Tuesday, struck
down a Karnataka government order imposing Kannada language as the medium
of instruction in all primary schools of the state.

A Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court said that imposing the mother
tongue as the medium of instruction violated the fundamental rights. This
highly emotive issue is likely to create more controversy across the state.

The Karnataka Government had filed an appeal against the division bench
judgment of the Karnataka High Court in the Supreme Court.

An association of private schools had been fighting against the imposition
of Kannada as a main language or medium of instruction in primary schools.
Their advocate KV Dhananjaya argued that they were not questioning the
greatness of Kannada or its primacy in the state. They maintained that the
knowledge of English is very essential and the children should not be
deprived of it. During the hearing, advocate Dhananjay, representing more
than 1,800 private unaided English medium schools in Karnataka, told the
Bench how language is not ingrained in the human brain and teaching in the
mother tongue in primary classes cannot do much to improve career

"The Government wholly errs when it assumes that a parent's preference for
English medium education is a rejection and devaluation of Kannada
language. Kannada is a language of immeasurable greatness. A child could
learn through English medium in his school and still be perfectly wedded to
Kannada culture and hold it with the greatest respect and regard,"
Dhananjay said.

Citing the example of Nagaland where 90 per cent of the population is
declared as Scheduled Tribes and English is the preferred medium of
instruction, Dhananjay said, "Today, 51 per cent of all children in India
in the primary education system are enrolled in Hindi medium. Then comes
English medium, which has 11 per cent."

"If English cannot be protected by the courts because it did not originate
in India, what about the religions of Islam and Christianity? These
religions did not originate in India. Are not these two religions entitled
to protection?" he questioned.

Countering his arguments, Karnataka Advocate General Ravi Varma Kumar
stressed that the state had the Constitutional obligation to provide
instructions to people in way of regulation.

Citing various provisions, Kumar told the Bench how important it was to
protect minority rights and institutions. "Primary school language should
be one's mother tongue and not English, for, English is an alien language,"
he said.

"The state has the power to regulate and the right to oppose restrictions
is the right of the state," Kumar said, concluding his arguments.

*Factual Background:*

According to 'Legal Junction' in 1982, Government of Karnataka issued an
order thereby prescribing that Kannada shall be the sole first language
from 1st standard of primary school itself. The order was challenged before
the High Court, which held this as unconstitutional.

Thereafter, in 1989, State Government, vide an order, made "mother tongue'
as the medium of instruction at the primary school level. Along with this,
State Government made it obligatory for one to take "Kannada" as second
language, if the same has not been chosen as the first language. The 1989
order was challenged before the Supreme Court in English Medium Students
Parents Association vs. The State of Karnataka & Ors, which consequently
upheld it.

Following this, in 1994, State Government came up with another order ("1994
Order") which, after revising the policy, made the 'medium of instruction'
from 1st to 4th standard in all schools recognised by the State Government
as either Kannada or mother tongue. Contending 1994 order as violative of
Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 21, 29(2) and 30(1) of the Constitution of India
("Constitution"), writ petitions were filed before the High Court. By its
order, full bench of the High Court quashed the disputed clause No. 2, 3, 6
and 8 of the 1994 Order with its application to schools other than the
schools run or aided by the Government. It is against this order of the
High Court that the State Government has preferred an appeal before the
Supreme Court, i.e., the present case.

*What is the issue?*

On one hand, it is the State Government that wants schools recognized by it
to impart primary education in mother tongue or Kannada. On the other hand,
there is a group which [consisting of parents and the schools] wishes to
impart such primary education in English language.

If one does not want one's wards to study in a particular language; or, if
one wants them to study in a particular language, can such wish be declined
by the State Government? This is, in fact, a very vital question.

On behalf of the State Government, arguments were made by PP Rao, Senior
Advocate and an eminent constitutional lawyer. He argued that the High
Court failed to notice the mandate behind Article 350A of the Constitution,
and further argued that the High Court ignored the decision of Supreme
Court in English Medium Students Parents Association vs The State of
Karnataka and others.

On the other hand, counsel for the respondent contended that English Medium
Students Parents Association case did not go into the question of medium of
instruction. Rather, it dealt only with question of mother tongue/Kannada
as one of the language. However, Supreme Court, in the present petition,
held that the English Medium Students Parents Association case dealt with
the question pertaining to the "medium of instruction".

Following are the significant questions decided by the Constitutional

(i) What does Mother tongue mean? If it referred to as the language in
which the child is comfortable with, then who will decide the same?

(ii) Whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a
medium of instruction at primary stage?

(iii) Does the imposition of mother tongue in any way affects the
fundamental rights under Article 14, 19, 29 and 30 of the Constitution?

(iv) Whether the Government recognized schools are inclusive of both
government-aided schools and private and unaided schools?

(v) Whether the State can by virtue of Article 350-A of the Constitution
compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as
medium of instruction in primary schools?



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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