Part 2: Language issue in India : Anti Hindi agitations

Part 2. Anti Hindi Agitations.

In part 1, we read about the beginnings of language issue in India which traces back to 1937 and read about events leading till 1958:

Today, lets find out what happened next.

Although committees were working out overtime to coin new words in Hindi to bring it to a suitable stage for nation-wide roll-out by 1965, within years they realized that it would take much more time.

Meanwhile, trouble was brewing in South Indian states (especially among Tamilians) with regular protests by students to oppose such imposition of Hindi language. M.Karunanidhi (under the guidance of Periyar EVR & CN Annadurai) organized regular anti-Hindi demonstrations with the help of student community.


The following factors played a major role in consolidating the movement:

1) South Indians felt that a new language was being pushed down their throats much against their wishes.

2) Since the North Indians would not have to put any effort (because they already knew Hindi), the South Indians felt that they were being enslaved into this.

3) South Indians felt that getting Govt jobs (which would use only Hindi) would almost be impossible for them. Also, if the most coveted Civil Service Examinations were only in Hindi, the South Indians would stand no chance and it would alienate them in their own country.

The need of the hour was to pacify the South Indians with certain assurances that they would still be considered for Govt Jobs even if their Hindi was not upto the mark. But what happened instead was that the fears were stoked further by the Central Govt. Signboards in South Indians languages were replaced with Hindi signboards in mid 1950s itself (much before the 15 year grace period) and the rising intolerance among those Hindi advocates who wanted to impose Hindi by 1965 at any cost created further rift which led to a huddle of South Indian politicians who led a movement against imposition of the language.

In 1958, things went out of control when Nehru called such a movement “nonsense” which instigated riots in which more than 150 people were injured.


Although the 1958 Madras riots were immediately brought under control, sentiments will still running high. Trouble brew in 1959 when the Indian Govt controlled All India Radio (AIR) started using the Hindi word “Akashwani” which led to further protests.

Such protests had become the norm throughout early 1960s and due rising pressures, Nehru passed the “Official Languages Act” in 1963 which said that the English language may continue to be in use from 1965, thereby leaving it to the future Govts to take the final call on 16 Jan 1965. This did not go down well with DMK party which was concerned that future Govt “may” or “may not” continue English and hence the act was of no use.


The protests intensified and Annadurai was arrested for 6 months which further infuriated Tamilians. In August 1963, with just 16 more months to go before Hindi would be imposed, C.N. Annadurai declared the following statement which struck the sentiments of millions of Tamilians: “It is the duty of the Tamil people to wage war on those who impose Hindi”.

In 1965, while the Central Govt was all set to declare Hindi as India’s official language on Jan 26th, student protests were building up throughout Madras state. Hindi signboards were defaced and anti-Hindi messages were chalked down on walls, trains & pulic places.


On Jan 25th 1965, large scale riots broke out in Madurai but the Congressmen in Central Govt were still divided over this issue. While Tamil leaders like Kamaraj were requesting the Govt to revert the decision, other leaders like Morarji Desai and Gulzarilal Nanda were strongly pushing for imposing Hindi.

While these pro-Hindi & anti-Hindi camps in the Central Govt were still debating, students in Madras state felt betrayed and over the next 2 weeks, several students had committed suicides by self-immolations (burning themselves with Kerosene) and consuming poison.


Army had to be called to control the riots & to prevent self-immolations.


Madras state was burning and Tamil students were committing suicides, but the Centre was still adamant.

Did the Central Govt finally relent? How long did it take to bring order? Was there a compromise?
We shall find out in the next part.

Part 3:

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