Part 3: Language issue in India : Reconciliation

Language issue in India : Reconciliation

In part 2, we read about the Anti Hindi Agitations of 1965:

Today, lets find out what happened next.

While several dozens of students were committing suicides protesting against the imposition of Hindi language, the Central Govt ruled by Congress Party was adamant but internally divided over the issue. On one side, there were South Indian Congress leaders like Kamaraj requesting the Govt to revert the decision. On the other side pro-Hindi Congress leaders like Morarji Desai were adamant and wanted it to be imposed at any cost inspite of the riots & suicides. Morarji Desai was visibly upset and blamed the Tamil Congressmen for “failing to convince the people of their mistake (in opposing Hindi) and get them around”, and regretted that it should have been made compulsory back in 1950s itself.

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was himself a staunch promoter of Hindi, but the riots & student suicides had deeply hurt him due to which he immediately retracted his stand. On February 11, two prominent Tamil leaders of the Union Cabinet (Subramaniam & Alegasan) who were disturbed by the rising intolerance of Hindi leaders, tendered their resignations. When the resignation letters were forwarded to Dr Radhakrishnan (The President of India), he rejected them outright and asked both the sides (North Indian ministers & South Indian ministers) to find ways to come up with a solution rather than stalling the Govt itself.

On the same day, Lal Bahadur Shastri went on air (All India Radio) and assured South Indians that English would continue to be in use, and highlighted that the coveted Civil Service Examinations would continue to be conducted in English. The student community responded by calling off the protests.



Throughout the agitation, an interesting pattern was observed within the student community. The DMK party which was the torchbearer of the movement, had successfully created a propaganda that the Congressmen were the Brahmins who were trying to enslave Tamil Dravidians by imposing Hindi. The State Govt ruled by Congress party showed no mercy in imposing the language (so that it could remain in the good books of the Party High Command at Delhi) and in the process was digging its own grave. This strengthened DMK’s propaganda of portraying Congress as enemies of Tamil.

Over the next few months, the 5 year old DMK party continued to strengthen its presence in every nook & corner of Tamil Nadu by banking on the language issue. In the 1967 state elections, Congress was wiped out and the young DMK party (just 8 years old) emerged victorious with a clear majority. That was the beginning of the end of Congress which has never been able to come back to power in Tamil Nadu.


The result of 1967 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections had conveyed its message loud and clear: “Not just the students but even the common man was against the language imposition and hence voted Congress out of power”.
Pressure again started mounting on the Central Govt to turn those verbal assurances into a written law in Dec 1967.


The Central Govt obliged and passed the “1968 Official Language Resolution” which allowed English to continue, and identified 15 languages including Hindi as “Official languages” but there was no National language.

Although the issue was put to rest, there were several attempts by the Centre to impose Hindi in Tamil Nadu, but in vain. For example, in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi Govt tried to introduce Hindi, it was met with wide scale protests in Tamil Nadu and more than 3000 were arrested. Fearing severe backlash, the Govt withdrew it immediately.


Again in 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi tried to introduce Hindi through a “New Education Policy”, there were state-wide protests in which more than 20,000 were arrested and 21 students committed suicides (mostly self-immolation).

In the last 2-3 decades, the language issue has taken a backseat and Indians have moved on to much more important issues like corruption and focus on economy, development etc. As on today, India has 22 Official languages but no National language. Compared to the situation in 1960s, the nation today seems to have reached a stage of maturity where all languages are respected and treated equally without perceiving any particular language as superior over another.

Although there have been some misinterpretations about National language, Courts have clarified that India does not have any National language.

News Link:

To receive updates and insightful articles like these in future, subscribe by entering your email address and confirming it from your inbox.

  • Enter your email id