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National Science Test Cannot Be In Hindi, English Alone, To Be Postponed: Madras HC

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Oct 26, 2021

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Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The Madras High Court has ordered the suspension of a national-level science aptitude test that the government scheduled to conduct in Hindi and English alone. The test in question pertained to the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) fellowship by the Department of Science and Technology of the Union government.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice M Duraiswamy, was responding to a public interest litigation that sought direction for the government to conduct the test in all the vernacular languages listed in Schedule Eight of the Constitution.

Schedule Eight lists all the official languages of India. Currently, there are 22 official languages in total.

In the present case, the court dismissed the union government’s argument that they did not have the personnel to check answer scripts in other vernacular languages.

“[N]ot having qualified personnel to appreciate the material put up by non-Hindi and non-English speaking aspirants or candidates is a deficiency of the government and young aspirants from non-Hindi or non-English speaking belts should not suffer because of it,” the Chief Justice noted.

As next steps, the court ordered the government to postpone the examination and provide information on the steps taken to acquire the requisite personnel to conduct it in multiple languages.

“Although English may not be spoken in Germany or Japan, the two countries are not deficient in technology or in the field of science. While it is possible common scientific words are used in a particular language, it cannot be said a candidate not proficient in a particular language will not be able to demonstrate his skills in the field of science,” the Chief Justice added.


Related on The Swaddle:

Hindi Isn’t India’s National Language. Why Does the Myth Continue?


This is not the first instance of language-based exclusion in national-level exams. The court heard a similar petition in September this year, where a petitioner sought direction to allow Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and Staff Selection Commission (SSC) examinations in multiple vernacular languages, rather than just English and Hindi.

Further, in 2019, there was an uproar in the Tamil Nadu Assembly following postal examinations conducted in English and Hindi. Until 2018, candidates could take the exam in 15 languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada. In 2019, however, the postal department reportedly issued fresh guidelines at the last moment, permitting the exam only in English or Hindi. Following protests, the union government canceled the exams altogether.

The changing patterns of examinations for government postings point to an effort to centralize the use of Hindi throughout the country. The Madras High Court has consistently come down upon such efforts: recently, it pulled up the Union government once again for responding to official correspondence from a Tamil Nadu minister in Hindi. “Linguistic fanaticism is more dangerous as it would give an impression that one language alone is superior and being imposed upon the people speaking different languages,” it noted in that case.

Back in 2016, over half the candidates from Tamil Nadu who wanted to join the army were disqualified for this reason.

The contention goes beyond just Tamil Nadu. Last year, the Telangana Chief Minister wrote to the Prime Minister, requesting that candidates appearing in national competitive examinations take them in multiple languages, not just Hindi or English. “It is a serious disadvantage to students who did not study in English medium or not from Hindi speaking states,” he noted.

Indeed, the trend continues a dangerous precedent, excluding millions of people from certain states in professional and educational opportunities solely due to their linguistic backgrounds. It also reflects the longstanding tensions between the union government and many southern state governments over the issue of imposing Hindi all over the country, despite proven evidence that it is not the “national” language of India. And that there is no such thing as a “national” language in India.

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Written By Rohitha Naraharisetty

Rohitha Naraharisetty is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Previously, she was a freelance writer and independent researcher working in the intersection of gender, social movements, and international relations. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.

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