Bangalore: The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement on Tuesday, struck down a Karnataka government order imposing Kannada language as the medium of instruction in all primary schools of the state.
A Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court said that imposing the mother tongue as the medium of instruction violated the fundamental rights. This highly emotive issue is likely to create more controversy across the state.
The Karnataka Government had filed an appeal against the division bench judgment of the Karnataka High Court in the Supreme Court.
An association of private schools had been fighting against the imposition of Kannada as a main language or medium of instruction in primary schools. Their advocate KV Dhananjaya argued that they were not questioning the greatness of Kannada or its primacy in the state. They maintained that the knowledge of English is very essential and the children should not be deprived of it. During the hearing, advocate Dhananjay, representing more than 1,800 private unaided English medium schools in Karnataka, told the Bench how language is not ingrained in the human brain and teaching in the mother tongue in primary classes cannot do much to improve career prospects.
"The Government wholly errs when it assumes that a parent's preference for English medium education is a rejection and devaluation of Kannada language. Kannada is a language of immeasurable greatness. A child could learn through English medium in his school and still be perfectly wedded to Kannada culture and hold it with the greatest respect and regard," Dhananjay said.
Citing the example of Nagaland where 90 per cent of the population is declared as Scheduled Tribes and English is the preferred medium of instruction, Dhananjay said, "Today, 51 per cent of all children in India in the primary education system are enrolled in Hindi medium. Then comes English medium, which has 11 per cent."
"If English cannot be protected by the courts because it did not originate in India, what about the religions of Islam and Christianity? These religions did not originate in India. Are not these two religions entitled to protection?" he questioned.
Countering his arguments, Karnataka Advocate General Ravi Varma Kumar stressed that the state had the Constitutional obligation to provide instructions to people in way of regulation.
Citing various provisions, Kumar told the Bench how important it was to protect minority rights and institutions. "Primary school language should be one's mother tongue and not English, for, English is an alien language," he said.
"The state has the power to regulate and the right to oppose restrictions is the right of the state," Kumar said, concluding his arguments.
According to 'Legal Junction' in 1982, Government of Karnataka issued an order thereby prescribing that Kannada shall be the sole first language from 1st standard of primary school itself. The order was challenged before the High Court, which held this as unconstitutional.
Thereafter, in 1989, State Government, vide an order, made "mother tongue' as the medium of instruction at the primary school level. Along with this, State Government made it obligatory for one to take "Kannada" as second language, if the same has not been chosen as the first language. The 1989 order was challenged before the Supreme Court in English Medium Students Parents Association vs. The State of Karnataka & Ors, which consequently upheld it.
Following this, in 1994, State Government came up with another order ("1994 Order") which, after revising the policy, made the 'medium of instruction' from 1st to 4th standard in all schools recognised by the State Government as either Kannada or mother tongue. Contending 1994 order as violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 21, 29(2) and 30(1) of the Constitution of India ("Constitution"), writ petitions were filed before the High Court. By its order, full bench of the High Court quashed the disputed clause No. 2, 3, 6 and 8 of the 1994 Order with its application to schools other than the schools run or aided by the Government. It is against this order of the High Court that the State Government has preferred an appeal before the Supreme Court, i.e., the present case.
What is the issue?
On one hand, it is the State Government that wants schools recognized by it to impart primary education in mother tongue or Kannada. On the other hand, there is a group which [consisting of parents and the schools] wishes to impart such primary education in English language.
If one does not want one's wards to study in a particular language; or, if one wants them to study in a particular language, can such wish be declined by the State Government? This is, in fact, a very vital question.
On behalf of the State Government, arguments were made by PP Rao, Senior Advocate and an eminent constitutional lawyer. He argued that the High Court failed to notice the mandate behind Article 350A of the Constitution, and further argued that the High Court ignored the decision of Supreme Court in English Medium Students Parents Association vs The State of Karnataka and others.
On the other hand, counsel for the respondent contended that English Medium Students Parents Association case did not go into the question of medium of instruction. Rather, it dealt only with question of mother tongue/Kannada as one of the language. However, Supreme Court, in the present petition, held that the English Medium Students Parents Association case dealt with the question pertaining to the "medium of instruction".
Following are the significant questions decided by the Constitutional Bench:
(i) What does Mother tongue mean? If it referred to as the language in which the child is comfortable with, then who will decide the same?
(ii) Whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage?
(iii) Does the imposition of mother tongue in any way affects the fundamental rights under Article 14, 19, 29 and 30 of the Constitution?
(iv) Whether the Government recognized schools are inclusive of both government-aided schools and private and unaided schools?
(v) Whether the State can by virtue of Article 350-A of the Constitution compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as medium of instruction in primary schools?