Diversity of languages is one of India’s unique strengths. Unlike many western countries, India was never monolingual. There was no war on languages. Until foreign languages and alien thoughts were thrust upon this land, all the Indian languages coexisted harmoniously and had some common vocabulary, common sources and common inspiration contributing to the cultural and emotional unity of the nation. There were many tongues, but the expression was one and aspiration was the same. But the contemporary efforts to break the lingua cultural civilisational continuum of several millenniums are disturbing.
The three-language formula, which is in force for the last five decades, divides the country on the basis of language. If the linguistic reorganisation of states in 1956 was the first linguistic division of the country, the three-language formula (adopted in 1968, reiterated in 1986, 1992, 2005, and though continued as it was, but has aptly been tweaked in Draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019) was the second.
The very basis of the three-language formula was Hindi-speaking states and non-Hindi-speaking states. Language should engender unity and harmony, not division and hatred. But unfortunately the above mentioned two painful language divisions still rub the wounds time and again. Over enthusiasm to promote a language or over indulgence in divisive politics by making language a pawn—both are condemnable.
We neither undermine the great need for an Indian Official Language for the Union of India, nor want to hinder Hindi’s present natural growth in all the states of India. There are many ways to popularise a language. The question is how best Hindi could be promoted without creating any heartburns and also how best the development of other languages could be achieved at the same time.
But a larger and serious destruction of the social fabric and cultural foundation of India is going on unnoticed and unabated through the three-language formula. English, the only option as a second language in the three-language formula, is a compulsory language by default throughout India. First and third languages have options of mother tongue, regional language or 8th Schedule languages, but not second language English. Hence English is the only language compulsorily learnt all over the country till today. This fact is seldom discussed. Opposing English is one thing and opposing the idea of making one language compulsory is another.
The Draft NEP 2019 in P4.5.4, elaborately speaks about the dominance of English language in the country and the need to break it: “.. this power structure of language (English - supplied) must be stopped at the earliest”. A careful study of all the NEPs and all the National Curriculum Frameworks (NCFs) till date including this Draft NEP 2019 suggest that the root cause for English language hegemony in India is English being the only compulsory language in the three-language formula.
This de facto ‘Compulsory English’ is either not understood or was quietly accepted by the educationists and the people who are at the helm of policy making. We understand the importance of English as a language and have no hatred towards it. The question is whether we should make only one language compulsory, that too a foreign tongue.
Though the NEP and the NCF clearly state that the three-language formula should be implemented “till the last year of secondary education” i.e. Standard 10, it is not implemented uniformly in the country. There were three patterns in implementing it till recent years except TN and Puducherry; 1) From Standard 6 to 10 in most state boards; 2) Standard 8 to 10 in a few of the state boards; 3) Standard 6 to 9 in two national boards under MHRD, i.e. CBSE and NIOS and one private board CISCE.
The greatest irony is that the MHRD did not implement in toto—the Act itself got passed in Parliament i.e. NEP and NCF—in the very boards directly under MHRD. Since CBSE is the trendsetter, state boards have started following CBSE pattern i.e. two languages in Standard 9 and 10 to overcome the unfair disadvantage their students face in the Class X Board Exam. This has resulted in the discontinuation of study of many languages in Standards 11 and 12 and in UG and PG. Hence the three-language formula should continue till the last year of secondary education, i.e. till Class X, irrespective of when it starts.
The story repeats in higher secondary, i.e. Standard 11 and 12 of CBSE. While all the state boards have two languages in Class 11 and 12 as per NEP and NCF, only the three national boards, CBSE, NIOS and CISCE have not complied with the policy. They have only one language—English. Hence no Indian language is studied in the plus-two level. This is one of the root causes for the decline of Indian languages in universities.
Since today’s children and parents are intelligent enough to decide which languages to choose, making any language compulsory by default or by design would be counterproductive. There are numerous attractive ways to promote a language to the desired extent. So, instead of prescribing a set of languages, Draft NEP 2019 should give the freedom to choose “any three languages of 8th Schedule of the Constitution or official languages of the Union of India” as offered in the scheme of studies by the Boards of Secondary Education. This is a win-win solution for all.