Apex court warns Karnataka govt against imposing one language

Apex court warns Karnataka govt against imposing one language

The Supreme Court on Wednesday warned against imposing one language on people saying that it is an emotive issue and could have far-reaching consequences.

Hearing a reference to decide validity of a Karnataka government’s notification mandating Kannada language or mother tongue as medium of instruction for Class I to IV in all schools, a five-judge Constitution bench favoured dropping this proposition in larger public interest as people want to retain this choice to themselves.

“Suppose, tomorrow, somebody says Hindi will be medium of instruction, the whole of south India and Bengal would revolt. The people would not accept it. Language is the most emotive issue. Assam got exploded into several parts when Assamese was tried to be imposed,” the bench presided over by Justice R M Lodha said.

“In case, Oriya community people want to run an institution and they believe the medium of instruction should be English, though it is not their mother tongue, should they not have the choice,” the court asked Advocate General Ravivarma Kumar, appearing for Karnataka government.

The bench, also comprising Justices A K Patnaik, Dipak Misra, S J Mukhopadhaya and F M I Kalifullah, also referred to the north-east students in Delhi who had to learn Hindi and English to survive in the city.

Resuming his arguments, the top law officer of the state submitted that the only way to ensure equality is to impart education in mother tongue.

“Only mother tongue can usher in quality of education. There can’t be second opinion about it. Equality in education can be ensured by imparting education in mother tongue,” Advocate General Kumar contended.

To this, the court asked him if he wanted others to come down to his level.
Kumar retorted by saying that this argument pre-supposed English medium was better. The bench said that the state government had ample power under the Constitution so far as primary education was concerned but it was subjected to reasonable restriction.

“For example, you can impose prohibition but you can’t impose restriction on drinking,” the bench said, observing the government’s notification did not allow one community’s children to study in another language school.

Senior advocate K N Bhat, representing some Kannada literary figures, including M Chidananda Murthy, defended the 1994-95 notification, submitting that it did not take away rights of minorities to run schools in their own language.

“This notification does not impose Kannada, it only talks about mother tongue in which one is comfortable with,” he said. During the hearing, the court also expressed concern over higher drop-out rate of students after the Advocate General submitted that overall, 70 per cent of the students who dropped out of school midway belonged to scheduled caste category.

The day-long hearing remained inconclusive and would continue on Thursday.

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