• The three-language formula has its roots back in the year 1961 and it was implemented as a result of a consensus during the meeting of various CMs of the Indian states.
  • The Three-Language Formula was supposed to be not a goal or a limiting factor in language acquisition, but rather a convenient launching pad for the exploration of the expanding horizon of knowledge and the emotional integration of the country.
  • The National Education Policy 2020 has pushed for the three-language formula, to promote multilingualism and national unity. This move has restarted the debate over suitability of three language formulas all over India. It has been rejected by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and has only reiterated the State’s unwavering position on an emotive and political issue.

A Brief History of Language Politics in India 

  • In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language of the Union by a single vote. At the same time, it gave States the liberty to independently decide their official language. 
  • However, it provided that the use of English language would continue for 15 more years, and after 15 years, Parliament can enact a law to provide for continued use of English language for specified purposes. 
  • The Constitution also asked the government to appoint a commission at the end of five and ten years respectively to make recommendation with regards to progressive use of Hindi language. 
  • As the end of the fifteen years drew closer, there were widespread protests in the southern states, particularly against promotion/imposition of Hindi Language 
  • Keeping in mind the protests, Official Language Act was enacted in 1963 which provided for continued use of English alongside Hindi indefinitely.

Three Language Formula 

  • The teaching system across various regions in the country was not uniform.  
  • Whereas Hindi was the general medium of instruction in the north, regional languages and English were the media of instruction in other parts.  
  • This led to chaos and created difficulties for inter-state communication.  
  • Therefore, in order to uniformize the system, in 1968 the New Education Policy derived a middle path called the Three-Language Formula.
  • According to the National Education Policy of 1968, the three-language formula means that a third language (apart from Hindi and English), which should belong to Modern India, should be used for education in Hindi-speaking states.
  • In the states where Hindi is not the primary language, regional languages and English, along with Hindi shall be used.
  • This formula was altered and amended by Kothari Commission (1964–66) so as to accommodate regional languages and mother tongues of the group identities. Also Hindi and English remained at the two ends of the line.
  • The First Language that students should study Mother tongue or the regional language.
  • The Second Language:
    • In Hindi-speaking states, this would be English or some other language belonging to Modern India.
    • In Non-Hindi states, this will be English or Hindi
  • The Third Language:
    • In Hindi-speaking states, this would be English or some other language belonging to Modern India, but the one that is not chosen as the second language.
    • In Non-Hindi states, this will be English or some other language belonging to Modern India, but the one that is not chosen as the second language.
  • Incidentally, the NPE 1986 made no change in the 1968 policy on the three-language formula and the promotion of Hindi and repeated it verbatim. 

Need for three-language formula

  • The committee’s report observes that learning languages are an important part of a child’s cognitive development.
  • The primary aim is to promote multilingualism and national harmony.

Concerns associated over three language formula

  • Though Three Language Formula (TLF) provides scope for mother tongue language education, the emphasis is lost due to varied implementation.
  • Amidst asserting political rights of dominant ethnic groups, this policy fails to protect various mother tongues from becoming extinct.
  • Students have to face increased burden of subjects because of the three language formula.
  • In some areas, students are forced to learn Sanskrit.
  • The draft policy’s push for Hindi seems to be based on the premise that 54% of Indians speak Hindi.
  • But according to the 2001 Census, 52 crore out of 121 crore people identified Hindi as their language, About 32 crore people declared Hindi as their mother tongue. This means that Hindi is the language of less than 44% Indians and mother tongue of only little over 25% people in India.
  • But there has been greater push for making Hindi a pan-India language, which is seen as imposition of Hindi by many states, especially that of the South.
  • The states like Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Tripura were not ready to teach Hindi and Hindi-speaking states did not include any south Indian language in their school curriculum.
  • State governments often do not have adequate resources to implement the three –language formula. The inadequacy of resources is perhaps the most important aspect of the challenge. For resource strapped state governments, it will be an extraordinarily difficult task to invest in so many language teachers in a short span of time.

What has been the progress of Three Language Formula? 

  • Since education is a state subject, the implementation of the formula lay with the states. Only a few states had adopted the formula in principle. 
  • In many of the Hindi-speaking states, Sanskrit became the third language instead of any modern Indian language (preferably south Indian language).This defeated the purpose of Three Language formula to promote inter-state communications 
  • In non-Hindi speaking state such as Tamil Nadu a two-language formula was adopted and did not implement the three language formula 

Why has Tamil Nadu historically opposed Hindi Language? 

  • Language being the vehicle of Culture is protected vociferously by civil society & politicians in the State. Any attempt at diluting the importance of Tamil language is viewed as an attempt at homogenisation of culture
  • An important aspect of the opposition to Hindi imposition is that many in Tamil Nadu see it as a fight to retain English.  
  • English is seen as a bulwark against Hindi as well as the language of empowerment and knowledge.  
  • There is an entrenched belief in certain sections of society that the continued attempts to impose Hindi will eventually lead to elimination of English, global link language. 
  • However, voluntary learning of Hind has never been restricted in the State. The patronage for the 102-year-old Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, based in Chennai, proves this.  
  • Only compulsion is met with resistance.  

What has been the impact on India due to Language Politics? 

  • Allegation of Imposition of Hindi: In Non-Hindi speaking states Hindi is mandated as third language however, it a difficult task as at least in 20 out of 28 states Hindi is not the natural language. This leads to misconstruing promotion of Hindi as imposition. 
  • Identity Politics: Language, from the very birth of the independent India, remained a contentious issue and as a result it has become tied with the identity politics. 
  • Reactionary Policies: States have often implemented reactionary policies against the centre’s enthusiasm to promote Hindi. For example, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal made it compulsory to learn their state languages across schools in the respective states 
  • Domino Effect: Such reactionary policies have a domino effect which jeopardizes other administrative functions and center-state relations. 

What does NEP 2020 say about the Three Language Formula? 

  • Medium of Instruction: Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language. 
  • The three-language formula will continue to be implemented while keeping in mind the need to promote multilingualism as well as promote national unity. 
  • NEP also stated that there will be a greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State. 
  • The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India. 

Way forward for Three language formula in India

  • Language is primarily a utilitarian tool.
  • While acquisition of additional tools can indeed be beneficial, compulsory learning should be limited to one’s mother tongue.
  • Besides, English, as the language that provides access to global knowledge and as a link language within India, could be a supportive language.
  • Given this, not everyone is satisfied by the changes, and the three-language formula itself is seen as an unnecessary imposition.
  • Even if there is intent all around, implementing the three-language formula is not really doable in the current situation. Moreover, the two-language formula, or a shoddy version of the three-language formula has not undermined national harmony.

The three language formula is well intended to bring about national unity by bridging the linguistic gap between the states. However, it is not the only option available to integrate the ethnic diversity of India. States like Tamil Nadu with their own language policy have managed not only to enhance the education standard levels but also promote national integrity even without adopting the three language formula. Hence, providing the states autonomy in the language policy seems to be a much more viable option than homogenous imposition of three language formula all over India.

Constitutional provision
  • Article 29 of the Constitution of India protects the interests of minorities. The Article states that any section of the citizens who have a “…distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.
  • Article 343 is about the official language of the Union of India. According to this Article, it is to be Hindi in Devnagri script, and numerals should follow the international form of Indian numerals. This Article also states that English will continue to be used as an official language for 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution.
  • Article 346 is about the official language for communication between the states and between a state and the Union. The Article states that the “authorised” language will be used. However, if two or more states agree that their communications shall be in Hindi, then Hindi may be used.
  • Article 347 gives the President the power to recognise a language as an official language of a given state, provided that the President is satisfied that a substantial proportion of that state desires that the language be recognised. Such recognition can be for a part of the state or the whole state.
  • Article 350A facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at the primary stage.
  • Article 350B provides for the establishment of a Special Officer for linguistic minorities. The Officer shall be appointed by the President and shall investigate all matters relating to the safeguards for linguistic minorities, reporting directly to the President. The President may then place the reports before each house of the Parliament or send them to the governments of the states concerned.
  • Article 351 gives power to the union government to issue a directive for development of the Hindi language.
  • Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India contains a list of 22 languages recognised schedule languages.

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