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For Dravidian parties, anti-Hindi protests a way to re-assert Tamil identity

Chennai: Tamil Nadu, time and again, has witnessed anti-Hindi agitations since the early 20th century and often these demonstrations have turned into mass protests carried out by student and political movements in the state.

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The first such agitations in the state were carried in 1937 after Hindi teaching was made compulsory in the erstwhile Madras presidency by the first Congress government of the state led by C. Rajagopalchari.

This move was opposed by E.V.S. Ramasamy Periyar or Thanthai Periyar considered as the father of the Dravidian movement.

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The major opposition party of those days, Justice Party also commenced its opposition to the imposition of Hindi teaching.

The agitation continued for a period of three years and was multifaceted with conferences, fasts, protests on the streets and picketing. In the agitation that often turned violent, two protestors died and 1,198 people, including women and children, were arrested.

The mandatory imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu was later withdrawn by the British Governor of Madras Presidency, Lord Erskine in February 1940 after the Congress government had resigned in 1939.

After Independence, Hindi was made the official language of the country and English continuing as an associate official language for 15 years.

This was to come into being on January 26, 1965 and when the day of switching over to Hindi as sole official language approached, agitations broke out in Tamil Nadu.

On January 25, 1965 a full-scale riot broke out in Madurai. Meanwhile, riots also spread across Tamil Nadu for the next two months and were marked by violence, arson, looting, police firing and lathi charges.

Paramilitary forces were called and in the ensuing shoot out 70 people lost their lives, including two policemen.

The agitations came to an end after the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri gave an assurance that English would continue as the official language as long as non-Hindi speaking states wanted.

Interestingly, the riots of 1965 led to major political changes in the state and in the Assembly elections of 1967, the DMK government came to power and after this Congress could never return to power in the state of Tamil Nadu.

In 1986, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced the new National Education Policy which led to the setting up up of Navodaya schools across the country.

The DMK, which was in opposition then, stated that the Navodaya Schools would again lead to imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu.

The AIADMK, led by actor-turned-politician M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), was in power and the DMK was in opposition.

On November 17, 1986, the DMK called a major agitation and 20,000 party members, including M. Karunanidhi, was arrested.

Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister who was then the leader of opposition, was sentenced to rigorous punishment for 10 weeks.

Twenty-one people died by self immolation and DMK members were expelled from the Assembly, including senior leader K. Anbahazhagan.

Rajiv Gandhi assured the MPs from Tamil Nadu that Navodaya Schools would not be established in Tamil Nadu. To this day, Tamil Nadu is the only state in India without a Navodaya school.

The next bout of protests came in 2014 when the Union Home Ministry ordered that all government employees and officials of all ministries, departments, corporations or banks who have made official accounts on social networking sites should use Hindi or both Hindi and English.

This faced stiff opposition from Tamil Nadu with then Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa terming the move as being against the letter and spirit of the Official Language Act.

She had also said that this would lead to disquiet to the people of Tamil Nadu who were very much passionate and proud about their linguistic heritage.

The Chief Minister asked the Prime Minister to suitably modify the instructions to ensure that English was the language of communication on social media. The protests led to the continuing official use of English language.

In 2022, the DMK youth wing announced stiff protests against the announcement by a parliamentary panel led by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to make Hindi the medium of instruction in central educational institutions.

The DMK leaders said that the move was against the feelings of the non-Hindi speaking states and claimed that in all Union recruitment examinations, there was a recommendation to provide preference for Hindi over English. 

The leaders also said that this would lead to a situation wherein only people who knows Hindi alone participate in such tests.

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin even warned the Central government to remember the old days of anti- Hindi agitation carried out in Tamil Nadu and said that the government would learn lessons from the anti-Hindi agitations of the past.

Stalin has said that the DMK was not against any language but imposing Hindi on a society would be stiffly opposed.

The Chief Minister said that the Central government was trying to impose Hindi and the DMK will try to raise the issue again in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections if there is any move on the part of the government of India to foist Hindi.

Dr R. Aravindan, a social scientist and retired professor in political science from Tiruchy, told IANS: “Tamil identity is different which the policy makers must first understand. We are not against Hindi but against the forceful imposition of the language which we will never accept.

“Tamil Nadu will oppose any move from the Central government to impose Hindi on the people of our state and for that, all the Dravidian parties are in unison.”

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