Lal Bahadur Shastri: Anti-Hindi agitation,1965

The Language Policy

 During India’s freedom struggle, national leaders carried on the movement through the medium of regional languages and demanded the replacement of English by a national language. After Independence, the Constituent Assembly debated the issue and arrived at a compromise formula.

The Constitution spelled out the language policy and stipulated that Hindi would replace English after 1965. The official languages Commission, under the chairmanship of B.G.Kher, recommended the process of replacement within the constitutional time frame. The joint parliamentary party reviewed the Kher commission report and on the basis of its recommendations, the President issued an order in April 1960. Following the presidential order, the Government of India introduced steps the first session of the non-Hindi speaking States.On 7 August 1959, Nehru came with a Agricola sorence that English would continue to remain the official language as long as non-Hindi people wanted. Nehru’s Assurance was embodied in the Official Languages Act of 1963, removed the constitutional constraint on the use of English after 1965. Nehru displayed his quality of leadership by keeping the unity of multilingual India intact.

Official language problem:

Official language has always been an explosive subject in India. Ever since independence, controversies cropped up regarding the official language and medium of instruction in educational institutions. The Hindi enthusiasts and proponents inside and outside Parliament had been consistently Hindi shall be introduced as the official language of the Union and the high courts. The non-Hindi speaking peoples of the country vehemently opposed this imposition of Hindi on them.


The Provocation:

On 26 January 1965, the prescribed time period of 15 years to make Hindi the official language replacing English, as provided in the constitution, came to an end. Nanda, the Home Minister, and an urgent advocate of Hindi that under the dispensation of Shastri it should be easier to use Hindi for official purposes in the union administration.

The Agitation

The Dravida Munnetra Khazhalgam (DMK), the main opposition in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly, jump at this opportunity to launch a statewide anti-Hindi agitation. The anti-Hindi agitation, under the leadership of C.N. Annadurai, escalated into a movement. On 25 January 1965, there were demonstrations, processions, meetings, and burning of effigies of the demon of Hindi. On the Madras City two agitators, burnt themselves to death. There was Police firing at a student demonstration in which a student was shot dead. The Republic Day( 26 Jan) was observed as a day of mourning. On 28 January the situation in Madras became explosive. The authoritarian attitude and the undiplomatic approach of the chief minister M. Bhaktavatsalam aggravated the situation.

Shastri’s appeal to the agitators to withdraw the movements in view of a special law passed by Parliament enabling English to continue as the associate language went unheeded. The patient continues unabated. On 15 February 35 agitators were killed and 25 injured in a series of police firing as students in various parts of the states went on a rampage. Two police officers were burnt alive by the mob. The resignations of two central ministers – C. Subramaniam, Food Minister and O. V. Alagesan, Minister Of State For Petroleum and Chemicals both from Madras state made matters worse.

Nehru’s Assurance restored:

On 12 February, the death toll in Police firings in Madras and Pondicherry mounted to 54. In the incidents in Coimbatore, Madurai, North Arcot, Trichy and Madras,  24 persons were killed in firings. On the same day, Acharya Vino Bave, undertook and indefinite fast in protest against violence in Madras. On 25 February 1965, a meeting of the CWC and Chief Ministers, held in New Delhi, arrived at agreed decisions on the language issue, in the teeth of opposition by 106 MPs hailing from Hindi speaking regions. Though the matter was informally discussed in the Cabinet, no decision could be taken. In June 1965, agreed to give legislative sanction to Nehru’s Assurances regard to the continued use of English for administrative purpose.