Anti-Hindi agitations

Anti-Hindi agitation is a term used to describe the opposition of people of Tamil Nadu against the Indian Government's attempts to adopt Hindi as the sole Official language of India during 1960s. Due to the opposition of non-Hindi speaking members during the formulation of Indian constitution, English was agreed to continue to be the official language of Indian till 1965.

Adoption of Hindi as an official language was opposed by C.N. Annadurai, Periyar E. V. Ramasamy of DMK and C. Rajagopalachari. It led to protests in Tamil Nadu including self-inflicted deaths of some youths. Fearing the unity of the country, S.Nijalingappa, Atulya Ghosh, Sanjeeva Reddy and K. Kamaraj issued an appeal to the Central Government not to impose Hindi in non-Hindi speaking areas.

All these protests and the resignation of two Union ministors from Madras forced prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to reconsider the Government's position and gave several assurances including that every state will have complete and unfetted freedom to continue to transact its own business in the language of its own choice, which may be the regional language or English. The use of Hindi by government is still opposed at times. [ agitation against use of Hindi words on milestones in national highways]


Hindi imposition in Tamil Nadu started in 1937 when the Congress Government of the Madras Presidency under C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) made Hindi a compulsory subject in schools. (The British were still the rulers of the Indian subcontinent at that time but elected local governments in the Provinces were installed under the British rule. Madras Presidency was a province that included much of present Tamil Nadu and parts of present Andhra Pradesh.) Tamils opposed Hindi imposition immediately and Sir A. T. Panneerselvam (the first non-brahmin barrister from Tamil Nadu) and E.V. Ramaswamy (later be known as Periyar or "the Elder one") organized anti-Hindi imposition protests in 1938. Mr. Thalamuthu and Mr. Natarajan were killed during the protests. Rajaji himself changed his attitude about Hindi, and started opposing Hindi imposition. In 1939 the Rajaji government quit and it was withdrawn in 1940. [ [ Hindi Imposition and Independence for Tamil Nadu from India ] ] Verify credibility|date=September 2008


Majority of people in India speak Hindi. Under British rule, English had become the language of the administration. With partition not a possibility at that time, Nehru opted for Hindustani, an amalgam of Hindi and Urdu, to replace English. He also thought Hindustani was easy to learn due to a simpler grammer and proposed that linguists could evolve a basic Hindustani which would be easier learnt by South Indians. [Jawaharlal Nehru, "The question of Language" (1937), in The unity of India: Collected writings, 1937-1940 (London:Lindsay Drummand, 1941), p241-261.]

Gandhi also thought that instead of English, Hindustani would unite North and South, Hindu and Muslim and Hindustani should be made the "rashtrabasha" (national language). [letter to Krishnachandra, 12 May 1945,in CWMG, Vol 80, p 117.] [Ramachandra Guha, "India after Gandhi", p 130]

Language and Indian constitution

The spoken language in the house and the language with which the constitution to be written and the adoption of "National" language was the most controversial subject during the formulation of the Indian constitution. On 10 December 1946, in response to the Chairman of the house who reminded him of the inability of many members not to understand Hindustani, R.V. Dhulekar of United provinces said the following before Nehru persuaded him to leave the rostrum.

The case for Hindi to be the national language of India was bitterly opposed. T.T. Krishnamachari of Madras said,

The assembly finally arrived at a compromise. "The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagiri script but for fifteen years from the commencement of the constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement"Ramachandra Guha, "India after Gandhi", p 128-131]

Role of DMK and Annadurai

After the war with China DMK had dropped its secessionism policies. It however pledged to preserve the cultural heritage of Tamil people. In 1956, the Academy of Tamil Culture passed a resolution seeking for the continuation of English as the official language. The resolution was signed by C.N. Annadurai, Periyar E. V. Ramasamy and C.Rajagopalachari.

Annadurai was a recognised leader of DMK. In his opinion, Hindi was a regional language like any other. It had "no special merit"; in fact, it was less developed than other Indian languages and less suited in a time of rapid advances in science and technology. To the argument that more Indians spoke Hindi than other Indian language, Anna sarcastically answered,

1965 protests

The constitution of India came into existence on January 26, 1950. Enshrined in the constitution was the status of Hindi and English to be the "Official Languages" of the Central Government of India till 1965 (for a period of 15 years), after which Hindi was expected to take up the pre-eminent position as the sole "National and Official Language" of India irrespective of the state or central government. Hindi and English were the "Official Languages" in every department controlled by the Central Government, which is why Hindi and English are prominent in Railways (except the State of Tamil Nadu) [] and nationalised banks.

As January 26, 1965 neared, non-Hindi speakers started voicing their apprehensions openly. Between 1948 and 1961, on an average, every year close to 24% of Central Government Officials were selected from the state of Madras (present day Tamil Nadu). The next best was Uttar Pradesh with about 16%. The idea of making Hindi the sole National language was blasphemous to the students as it was combined with the complete removal of English — even as a medium of education was detrimental to their future. Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.(1973) The Riots in Tamilnad: Problems and Prospects of India's Language Crisis. "Asian Survey". University of California Press.] This would mean that the Northern regions with their Hindi proficiency would dominate the government posts and also education. Since government jobs were the most lucrative positions before 1991 liberalization, this was seen by South Indians as an indirect means to lose these jobs to natural Hindi speakers. The non-Hindi-speaking people in South India feared that they would be discriminated against in government employment and in other ways. The pro-Hindi fanatics in Jan Sangh prowled the streets of New Delhi, blackening out any English sign. [cite web
url =,9171,839301,00.html
title = Retreat to English
publisher = TIME
date = March 5, 1965
accessdate = 2007-08-30
] . Annadurai said you can speak Tamil and English and still be a good Indian. The anti-Hindi agitations also led to the demand for creation of Dravidistan, a separate state for the speakers of Dravidian languages. [cite book
last = Stein
first = Burton
title = A History of India
publisher = Blackwell Publishing
year = 1998
isbn = 0631205462
pages = 402

On republic day in 1965, two men from Madras set themselves on fire. One left a note saying that he did so for the cause of Tamil. Three days later, a man in Tiruchi killed himself by swallowing insecticide. [Ramachandra Guha, "India after Gandhi", p 394]


The intensity of anti-Hindi protests created concern among the Congress leaders. On 31 January 1965, a group of leaders including S.Nijalingappa, Chief minister of Mysore, Atulya Ghosh, Bengal Congress leader, Sanjeeva Reddy, Union Minister and K. Kamaraj, the Congress president met in Bangalore and issued an appeal not to force Hindi on non-Hindi speaking areas as they believed it might endanger the unity of the country.

Congress leader Morarji Desai said that by learning Hindi, Tamil people will increase their influence in India. He regretted that Hindi was not made official before the anti-Hindi protests crystallised. He said Congress leaders in Madras should convince people there and no regional sentiments should come in the move to forge the integration of the country.

On 11 February 1965, after the resignation of two Union ministers from madras, Lal Bahadur Shastri announced in All India Radio that he would fully honour Nehru's assurances that English would be used as long as people wanted. He also gave the following assurances.

Cquote|Every state will have complete and unfetted freedom to continue to transact its own business in the language of its own choice. which may be the regional language or English.

Communications between one State to another will either be in English or will be accompanied by authentic English translation.

The non-Hindi states will be free to correspond with the Central Government in English and no change will be made in this arrangement without the consent of the non-Hindi States.

In the transaction of business at the Central level English will continue to be used.

All India Civil Services examination would continue to be conducted in English rather than in Hindi alone. [Ramachandra Guha, "India after Gandhi", p 395-396] [cite web
url =
title = Hindi against India
author = Ramachandra Guha
publisher = The Hindu
accessdate = 2007-08-30


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