Three-language formula: History and Analysis

  • IASbaba
  • August 6, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure
  • Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions 

Three-language formula: History and Analysis

Context: Tamil Nadu has objected to the three-language formula advocated in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 

A Brief History of Language Politics in India 

  • In the Constituent Assembly, Hindi was voted as the official language of the Union by a single vote. At the same time, it gave States the liberty to independently decide their official language. 
  • However, it provided that the use of English language would continue for 15 more years, and after 15 years, Parliament can enact a law to provide for continued use of English language for specified purposes. 
  • The Constitution also asked the government to appoint a commission at the end of five and ten years respectively to make recommendation with regards to progressive use of Hindi language. 
  • As the end of the fifteen years drew closer, there were widespread protests in the southern states, particularly against promotion/imposition of Hindi Language 
  • Keeping in mind the protests, Official Language Act was enacted in 1963 which provided for continued use of English alongside Hindi indefinitely.  

Three Language Formula 

  • The teaching system across various regions in the country was not uniform.  
  • Whereas Hindi was the general medium of instruction in the north, regional languages and English were the media of instruction in other parts.  
  • This led to chaos and created difficulties for inter-state communication.  
  • Therefore, in order to uniformize the system, in 1968 the New Education Policy derived a middle path called the Three-Language Formula 
    • In Hindi-speaking states, the formula translated into learning Hindi, English and a modern Indian language (preferably south Indian).  
    • For students in non-Hindi speaking states, it mandated lessons in Hindi, English and the regional language  
  • The three functions which the three language formula sought to serve, were  
    • Accommodating group identity 
    • Affirming national unity 
    • Increasing administrative efficiency 
  • Incidentally, the NPE 1986 made no change in the 1968 policy on the three-language formula and the promotion of Hindi and repeated it verbatim. 

What has been the progress of Three Language Formula? 

  • Since education is a state subject, the implementation of the formula lay with the states. Only a few states had adopted the formula in principle. 
  • In many of the Hindi-speaking states, Sanskrit became the third language instead of any modern Indian language (preferably south Indian language).This defeated the purpose of Three Language formula to promote inter-state communications 
  • In non-Hindi speaking state such as Tamil Nadu a two-language formula was adopted and did not implement the three language formula 

Why has Tamil Nadu historically opposed Hindi Language? 

  • Language being the vehicle of Culture is protected vociferously by civil society & politicians in the State. Any attempt at diluting the importance of Tamil language is viewed as an attempt at homogenisation of culture. 
  • An important aspect of the opposition to Hindi imposition is that many in Tamil Nadu see it as a fight to retain English.  
  • English is seen as a bulwark against Hindi as well as the language of empowerment and knowledge.  
  • There is an entrenched belief in certain sections of society that the continued attempts to impose Hindi will eventually lead to elimination of English, global link language. 
  • However, voluntary learning of Hind has never been restricted in the State. The patronage for the 102-year-old Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, based in Chennai, proves this.  
  • Only compulsion is met with resistance.  

What has been the impact on India due to Language Politics? 

  • Allegation of Imposition of Hindi: In Non-Hindi speaking states Hindi is mandated as third language however, it a difficult task as at least in 20 out of 28 states Hindi is not the natural language. This leads to misconstruing promotion of Hindi as imposition. 
  • Identity Politics: Language, from the very birth of the independent India, remained a contentious issue and as a result it has become tied with the identity politics. 
  • Reactionary Policies: States have often implemented reactionary policies against the centre’s enthusiasm to promote Hindi.  
  • For example, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal made it compulsory to learn their state languages across schools in the respective states 
  • Domino Effect: Such reactionary policies have a domino effect which jeopardizes other administrative functions and center-state relations. 

What does NEP 2020 say about the Three Language Formula? 

  • Medium of Instruction: Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language. 
  • The three-language formula will continue to be implemented while keeping in mind the need to promote multilingualism as well as promote national unity. 
  • NEP also stated that there will be a greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State. 
  • The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India. 

What is the Criticism of NEP 2020 with regards to Language? 

  • As opposed to the previous policy, the current draft suggests the introduction of languages at the primary level itself. This is criticized on the ground that it will be Cognitive burden on young children to learn languages 
  • Back Door Entry for Hindi: Tamil Nadu which is having two language policy in State opposes the continuation of Three Language Policy as they fear this would eventually pave the way for Hindi to enter the State through the back door. 
  • Scarcity of Teachers of non-Hindi Languages: Several linguistic activists and educationists observed that the move would eventually end up in students being forced to learn Hindi because of scarcity of teachers in other languages 
  • Discrimination in Funds: The Centre has allotted 50 crore for development of Hindi, while no such funds are given to other languages. 

Is the Criticism valid? 

  • Out of necessity, many in the Tamil Nadu State have picked up conversational Hindi to engage with the migrant population that feeds the labour needs of society. Teaching the same in schools is thus not a threat to native language 
  • There is this counter-argument that Tamil Nadu is depriving students of an opportunity to learn Hindi, touted as a national link language.  
  • Unlike the National Education policy-1968 which mandated teaching of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking States, the latest NEP does not explicitly mention the ‘third’ language shall be Hindi. 
  • This means, apart from Tamil and English, students must learn any one of Indian languages.   


India’s federal nature and diversity demand that no regional language is given supremacy over another. 

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