“Neither was this war started by us nor will it end during our lifetime”, these words of Bhagat Singh aptly apply to the history of the Tamil’s struggle against Hindi imposition.
Since 1937, Tamil Nadu has been in a relentless fight against such impositions, in one form or the other.
A look back at history we realize that the Tamils have been fighting for this cause since the Sangam period.
In the 8th century AD, the rise of the Bhakti movement was against Pali Prakriti, which was nothing but an agitation against language imposition, according to the researchers.
Furthermore, when the fight for independence was on in India, Tamil Nadu was fighting its own battle against language imposition in 1937. The reason behind this was Rajaji.
In 1937, the then chief minister Rajaji introduced mandatory Hindi instructions in school. This was vehemently opposed by Periyar, K.A.P. Visvanatham, Maraimalai Adigal, and many others. Though they were ideologically poles apart, they united to fight against the Hindi imposition. In the series of protests that happened against mandatory Hindi education Natarasan was the first to die in jail. Anna carried Natarasan’s body to the moolakothalam burial ground on his shoulders and stated that the fire set on Natarasan’s pyre shall extinguish, but not the fire in our hearts. Subsequently, Thalamuthu also died in jail. Anna was deeply shocked and mourned that he lost two of his own brothers.
Agitations continued until 1940, and on 21st February 1940, compulsory Hindi education was withdrawn by the then Governor Erskine.
Even post-independence attempts were made to make Hindi education compulsory but the same was given up due to the protests.
Similarly when the Constitution was drafted, in a discussion regarding the National Language it was decided that Hindi shall not be made the National Language, but shall only remain the official language of India. Moreover, it was decided that English shall also be the official language along with Hindi for 15 years.
Consequently, Nehru, Promised that English shall remain the official language in all the non-Hindi-speaking states until otherwise desired by the people of such states. But the Union government tried to overrule the same in 1960 even when Nehru was alive. In 1960, the then-President Dr. Rajendra Prasad passed an order wherein it was stated that only Hindi shall remain the official language of India on the completion of the 15th year of commencement of the Indian constitution (i.e from the year 1965). Tamil Nadu geared up for its next level of protest. Both DK & DMK decided to hit hard. Periyar ordered all his cadres to burn the map of the union of India leaving Tamil Nadu. On the other hand, DMK got ready for the protest headed by E.V.K. Sampath.
Then Chief minister Mr.Kamarajar warned that severe actions would be taken to stop the agitation for which Annadurai countered stating that in the agitation against the Anti-Hindi imposition in 1938, 2 youngsters gave their lives but now the DMK has more than 3 lakh cadres to sacrifice their lives.
Nehru, in his letter to E.V.K. Sampath reassured that his promise would be kept and Hindi would never be imposed and as a result, the agitation came to an end. But, yet again the Union government tried to overpower Nehru.
In 1963, The Official Languages Act was passed to remove the restriction that had been placed by the Constitution on the use of English after 1965.
The Bill was introduced in Parliament on 21 January 1963. Opposition to the Bill came from Annadurai, (a member of DMK ) who objected to the usage of the word “may” instead of “shall” in section 3 of the Bill. That section read: “the English language may… continue to be used in addition to Hindi”. The DMK argued that the term “may” could be interpreted as “may not” in the future. Nehru assured the parliamentarians that, for that particular case “may” had the same meaning as “shall”. The DMK then demanded, if that was the case, why “shall” was not used instead of “may”. The three-language policy was introduced in the Tamil Nadu state legislature as well.
In 1965, Annadurai announced that on 26th January, the Republic Day of India would be observed as a day of mourning. Then chief minister Bhaktavatsalam warned that such acts would not be tolerated and strict actions would be taken against the agitators but that did not stop the agitation. Many agitators sacrificed their life by self-immolation. Chinnaswami was the first to do so in the world history of agitation against language imposition & the sacrifices continued.
The DMK advanced the “Day of Mourning” by a day. On 25 January, Annadurai was taken into preventive custody along with 3000 DMK members to preempt the agitations planned for the next day. To the shock of the government, many students jumped into the protest. On 25th January, a clash between agitating students and Congress party workers in Madurai went out of control and became a riot. Rioting soon spread to other parts of the State. Police started firing on the processions of the students of Chidambaram Annamalai University in which Rajendran, a student, lost his life and the protest got more intense. It is worth the mention that Vaiko, L.Ganesan, Aladi Aruna, and others also participated in the protest as students. Para-military forces were brought in to quell the agitation. Annadurai appealed to the students to calm down, yet the violence continued for another 50 days. M.Karunanidhi, the treasurer of DMK was arrested under the National Security Act for instigating the students.
Nonetheless, the agitation came to an end nearly after 50 days, and the Union government agreed to amend the Official Language Act. Subsequently, in 1967 the DMK came to power and made attempts to amend the bill. Finally, in 1968 the amendment bill received the president’s consent and guaranteed an indefinite bilingual policy in the official communications.
When the entire nation celebrates Republic Day on 26th of January, we tamils on 25th of January mourn and remember this day as Dravidian language day in memory of those heroes who sacrificed their lives in a protest against Hindi imposition.
To conclude, Tamil Nadu is not against Hindi or any other Language but is only against their imposition. Language symbolizes Identity. Linguistic identity and Linguistic pride are uncompromising and the realization of which has always kept the fire alive in the hearts of Tamils.
Udal Mannukku , Uyir Thamizhukku, Ithai Urakka Solvoam Ulagukku – Vaira Muthu
MY BODY WILL BE CLAIMED BY THE EARTH, BUT I SUBMIT MY LIFE TO MY LANGUAGE AND I SHALL SHOUT THAT OUT TO THE WORLD WITH PRIDE – Vaira Muthu.
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