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State can't impose mother tongue on schools, says SC

New Delhi, May 6, 2014 DHNS 3:28 IST
The Supreme court today ruled that the government cannot impose mother tongue on linguistic minority for imparting primary education as it affects the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. PTI photo
In a path-breaking ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the state government does not have the right to impose the mother tongue of a child as the medium of instruction in primary education.

A five-judge Constitution bench presided by Chief Justice R M Lodha ruled that the imposition of mother tongue affected the fundamental rights under Articles 19 (freedom of speech and expression), 29 (protection of interests of minorities) and 30 (right of minorities to establish institution) of the Constitution.

The bench, also comprising Justices A K Patnaik, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and F M I Kalifullah, gave the ruling while dealing with the Karnataka government’s controversial language policy of 1994. The state government had gone on appeal against the High Court order which had struck down the language policy of 1994, which mandated the medium of instruction in government recognised schools from Class I to IV should be in mother tongue or “Kannada”.

The court said, though the experts may be uniform in their opinion that primary schoolchildren can learn better if they are taught in their mother tongue, the state cannot stipulate it as a condition for recognition as it would affect the rights of the minorities.
It also noted that the Constitution nowhere provided that the mother tongue is the language in which the child is comfortable with.

“We are of the view that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution includes the freedom of a child to be educated at the primary stage of school in a language of the choice of the child and the state cannot impose controls on such a choice just because it thinks that it will be more beneficial for the child if he is taught in the primary stage of school in his mother tongue,” the bench said.
“We, therefore, hold that a child or on his behalf the parent or guardian, has a right to freedom of choice with regard to the medium of instruction in which he would like to be educated at the primary stage in school,” the bench added.

The SC had not stayed the High Court order quashing the 1994 notification, but the government was alleged to be slow in granting any recognition to English-medium schools.

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