A cartoon is meant to tickle one’s funny bone. But the choice of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in reproducing an R K Laxman cartoon, caricatured at the height of the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965, in the CBSE Plus Two textbook has failed to amuse those who had actively participated in the agitation.
“This caricature (which implied that the protesting students did not know English either) has undermined our commitment to the cause and has made a crude joke of it,” says an indignant octogenarian Kovai Mu Ramanathan, a former DMK MLA.
The veteran of anti-Hindi agitation, who is a member of the DMK’s high level executive council, questions if the present generation even know about the sufferings that those like him had undergone to ensure that the non-Hindi speaking populace do not become subservient to the north Indian language. “I have been jailed over 20 times in the anti-Hindi protests and have spent six-and-a-half years in the prison,” he recalls.
Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam general secretary K Ramakrishnan, who is active in Coimbatore, points out that “it is these very same student agitators of the yesteryears who are in some of the top positions in the Indian bureaucracy and political system today.”
In this backdrop publishing a cartoon that portrays the anti-Hindi agitators as being ignorant violent demonstrators was deplorable.
“It is a grave affront to portray the students as violent protestors. The caricature has portrayed that students from the State do not know English. This is an insult to the entire student community. The person’s commitment to the cause should be respected,” Ramakrishnan insists. Former Vice Chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education A Ramasamy, who had participated in the student protests in Madurai, argues that caricatures are meant to illustrate texts and not to humiliate others.
“The text (in the caricature) should not give a skewed account of the agitation, instead give an impartial version. If that were the case, the student could have been expected to view the cartoon analytically. However, now the text holds one viewpoint and the cartoon represents something entirely different,” he points out. However, Ramasamy says the choice of learning a language or not should be left to the students.
“I was a part of the students’ movement of the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 and we only opposed the imposition of Hindi. If one voluntarily opted to learn the language, we never raised an objection. One should take pride in one’s mother-tongue. If that is lacking, even if one is eloquent in all other languages, it would be immaterial,” he adds.
Tirupur Periyasamy, another pro-Tamil activist who took part in the protests, rues that the cartoon would have an adverse effect on what the future generations think of those veterans who laid their life. “We had fought only against imposition of one language over another so that Hindi does not rule the roost and the Dravidians leaders are not tongue-tied at the national level,” he recounts.