The HRD Ministry released the draft National Education Policy on 31 May 2019 that contained reforms to India’s education system. The NEP’s proposal of the ‘three-language formula’ has dominated public attention while its other recommendations have received scant attention. One such recommendation was to educate primary students in their ‘home language/mother tongue’ – to facilitate efficient learning. Significantly, the NEP proposal takes forward a debate in the Constituent Assembly that is worth revisiting.
During a debate around Article 29 and 30, Z.H. Lari moved an amendment to include the following clause:
“(4) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language and script shall be entitled to have primary education imparted to its children through the medium of that language and script.”
Lari wanted the Constitution to guarantee linguistic minorities the fundamental right to receive primary education in their language and script. He noted that imparting primary education in one’s mother tongue was a sound educational principle, any departure from this and an attempt to adopt a single language would lead to ‘discontentment and bitterness’. He reminded Assembly members that the Nehru Report 1928 had already contained such a right. Support also came from Begum A Rasul who reiterated the need for imparting primary education in the mother tongue instead of alien tongue and script.
Anticipating the practical challenges of implementing such a right, Kazi Syed Karimuddin wanted to qualify Lari’s proposal by adding “in case of a substantial number of such students being available”. He argued that Lari’s proposal was especially important as the Constitution had given Indians the right to settle across India.
Lari and the members who supported his proposal were Muslims and it was quite evident that the motivations behind the proposal were the protection of minority rights – particularly the Urdu language. The proposal seemed to have triggered suspicion among other Assembly members and the debate took a communal tone. Govind Ballabh Pant saw no need for the amendment and noted that the ghost of ‘Two nations’ still lingered in the Assembly. He argued that Lari’s proposal was not economically viable and would be a burden to the tax-payer unless a substantial number of students demand to be taught in a specific language. The Constituent Assembly rejected Lari’s amendment.
The NEPs proposal in 2019 revives Lari’s amendment in the Constituent Assembly. Hopefully, this proposal will get the attention it deserves as a pedagogical principle and not be buried in a communal haze.