Madras anti-Hindi agitation of 1965: Wikis


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The Anti-Hindi agitations of Tamil Nadu are a series of agitations that happened in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (formerly Madras State and part of Madras Presidency) during both pre- and post-Independence periods. The agitations involved several mass protests, riots, student and political movements in Tamil Nadu, and concerned the official status of Hindi in the state and in the Indian Republic.

The first anti-Hindi agitation was launched in 1937, in opposition to the introduction of compulsory teaching of Hindi in the schools of Madras Presidency by the first Indian National Congress government led by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji). This move was immediately opposed by Periyar E. V. Ramasamy and the opposition Justice Party (later Dravidar Kazhagam). The agitation, which lasted three years, was multifaceted and involved fasts, conferences, marches, picketing and protests. The government responded with a crackdown resulting in the death of two protesters and the arrest of 1,198 persons including women and children. The mandatory Hindi education was later withdrawn by the British Governor of Madras Lord Erskine in February 1940 after the resignation of the Congress Government in 1939.

Adoption of an official language for the Indian Republic was a hotly debated issue during the framing of the Indian Constitution after India's independence from Britain. After an exhaustive and divisive debate, Hindi was adopted as the official language of India with English continuing as an associate official language for a period of fifteen years, after which Hindi would become the sole official language. The new Constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950. Efforts by the Indian Government to make Hindi the sole official language after 1965 were not acceptable to many non-Hindi Indian states, who wanted the continued use of English. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a descendant of Dravidar Kazhagam, led the opposition to Hindi. To allay the fears of the opposition, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963 to ensure the continuing use of English beyond 1965. The text of the Act did not satisfy the DMK and increased their skepticism that his assurances might not be honoured by future administrations.

As the day (26 January 1965) of switching over to Hindi as sole official language approached, the anti-Hindi movement gained momentum in Tamil Nadu with increased support from college students. On 25 January, a full-scale riot broke out in the southern city of Madurai, sparked off by a minor altercation between agitating students and Congress party members. The riots spread all over Tamil Nadu, continued unabated for the next two months, and were marked by acts of violence, arson, looting, police firing and lathi charges. The Congress Government of the Madras State, called in paramilitary forces to quell the agitation; their involvement resulted in the deaths of about seventy persons (by official estimates) including two police men. To calm the situation, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave assurances that English would continue to be used as the official language as long the non-Hindi speaking states wanted. The riots subsided after Shastri's assurance, as did the student agitation.

The agitations of 1965 led to major political changes in Tamil Nadu. The DMK won the 1967 assembly election and the Congress Party never managed to recapture power in the state since then. The Official Languages Act was eventually amended in 1967 by the Congress Government headed by Indira Gandhi to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current "virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism" of the Indian Republic.



The Republic of India has hundreds of languages. According to the Census of 2001, there are 1,635 rationalized mother tongues and 122 languages with more than 10,000 speakers.[1] During the British Raj, English was the official language. When the Indian Independence Movement gained momentum in the early part of the 20th Century, efforts were undertaken to make Hindustani (an amalgam of Hindi and Urdu) as a common language to unite various linguistic groups against the British Government. As early as 1918, Mahatma Gandhi established the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha (Institution for the Propagation of Hindi in South India). In 1925, the Indian National Congress switched to Hindustani from English for conducting its proceedings.[2] Both Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were supporters of Hindustani and Congress wanted to propagate the learning of Hindustani in non-Hindi speaking Provinces of India.[3][4][5] The idea of making Hindustani or Hindi the common language, was not acceptable to Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, who viewed it as an attempt to make Tamils subordinate to North India.[6]

Agitation of 1937-40

The Indian National Congress won the 1937 elections in Madras Presidency. C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) became the Chief Minister on 14 July 1937. He was a supporter of propagating Hindi in South India. Even before the elections, he had expressed support for Hindi in a newspaper article (Sudesamithran, 6 May 1937): "Government employment is limited. All cannot get it. Therefore one has to search for other jobs. For that and for business, knowledge of Hindi is necessary. Only if we learn Hindi, the south Indian can gain respect among the others."[7] On 11 August 1937[8], within a month of coming to power, he announced his intention to introduce Hindi language teaching in secondary schools by issuing a policy statement.[7] This move followed lobbying by pro-Hindi organisations like Hindustani Seva Dal and Hindustani Hitashi Sabha. These organisations had earlier convinced many Congress led local governments to introduce compulsory Hindi in schools in the early 1930s.[2] Periyar E. V. Ramasamy and the opposition Justicy Party led by A. T. Panneerselvam immediately opposed the move. An Anti-Hindi conference was organised on 4 October 1937 to protest the announcement. On 21 April 1938, Rajaji went ahead and passed a government order (G.O) making the teaching of Hindi compulsory in 125 Secondary schools in the Presidency. Rajaji's persistence was viewed by opponents as an attempt to destroy Tamil and promote Hindi. They started state wide protests against Rajaji and Hindi. The agitation was marked by protest marches, anti-Hindi conferences, observing a anti-Hindi day (1 July[9] and 3 December 1938[10]), fasts against government policies, black flag demonstrations and picketing of government offices and institutions. It was active in Tamil speaking districts of the Presidency - Ramnad, Tinnevely, Salem, Tanjore and North Arcot.[7] The agitation lasted till the order was withdrawn in February 1940. Two persons -Thalamuthu and Natarajan - lost their lives. Around 1,200 people including Periyar were imprisoned.


Support for the agitation

Five men sitting in chairs around a small table. Four of them are wearing suits and one is wearing a shawl and a dhoti. The one wearing the shawl has a flowing white beard.
Seeking support for the agitation : Periyar with Jinnah and Ambedkar at Jinnah's residence in Bombay (8 January 1940)[11]

The anti-Hindi agitation was backed by Periyar's Self-Respect Movement and the opposition Justice Party. Periyar eventually became the President of the Justice Party during the course of the agitation. The agitation was also supported by Tamil scholars like Maraimalai Adigal, Somasundara Bharathi, K. Appadurai, Mudiyarasan and Ilakkuvanar. In December 1937, Tamil Saivite scholars were among the first to announce their opposition to the Hindi teaching in the Saiva Sidhandha Maha Samaja meeting at Velur.[12] Women also participated in the agitation in large numbers. Moovalur Ramamirtham, Narayani, Va. Ba. Thamaraikani, Munnagar Azhagiyar, Dr. Dharmambal, Malar Mugathammaiyar, Pattammal and Seethammal were some of the women who were arrested for participating in the agitation.[13] On 13 November 1938,[9] the Tamil Nadu Women's Conference was convened to demonstrate women's support for the movement.[14][15] Despite the anti-Brahmin sentiments espoused by the backers of the agitation a, few Brahmins like Kanchi Rajagopalachari also participated in the movement.[16] The Tamil speaking Muslims in the Madras presidency supported the agitation (as opposed to the Urdu speaking Muslims, who supported the propagation of Hindi). P. Kaliffulah, a Muslim League member representing Trichy in the Legislative Assembly, declared "I may at once say that I am a Rowther myself; my mother tongue is Tamil and not Urdu. I am not ashamed of it; I am proud of it.. We have not been told why Hindi after all has been chosen as the common language of India".[7] Acknowledging the agitation's popular support, Lord Erskine, the then Governor of Madras wrote to Viceroy Linlithgow in July 1938 that "Compulsory Hindi has been the cause of great trouble in this province and is certainly contrary to the wishes of the bulk of the population..."[7]


On 1 May 1938, a young man named Stalin Jagadeesan went on a fast demanding the withdrawal of compulsory Hindi teaching. He became a symbol for the anti-Hindi agitators. In an interview published in Periyar's magazine Viduthalai he declared that his fast was to prove that Tamil thai (lit.Mother Tamil) still had loyal sons. On 1 June, another man named Ponnusamy began a fast in front of Rajaji's house. Periyar did not approve of fasting as a form of protest. But other leaders of the agitation like C. N. Annadurai used Jagadeesan as an example. Annadurai declared in an anti-Hindi meeting that "If Jagadeesan dies, I am ready to take his place, and die along with ten others. As soon as Jagadeesan dies, you should also be prepared to die". Jagadeesan's fast was called off after ten weeks and it was reported that he had been eating regularly during the nights.[16]

Tamil brigade

In August-September 1938, a protest march was jointly organised by Periyar's Self-Respect movement and the Muslim league. It was flagged of by Periyar and Khaliffullah. The marchers who called themselves Tamilar Padai (lit. Tamil brigade), started from Trichy on 1 August 1938. They were led by Kumarasamy Pillai and Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammal. In the next 42 days, the marchers covered 234 villages and 60 towns. They addressed 87 public meetings and received widespread coverage in the Press. They reached Madras on 11 September 1938 and were arrested for picketing government offices. The march succeeded in raising anti-Hindi and pro-Tamil support in smaller towns and villages they covered.[2][7][10]

Thalamuthu and Natarajan

Two persons died during the agitation and were claimed as martyrs by the agitators. Their deaths fueled the protests further. Natarajan (a Dalit) was arrested On 5 December 1938. He was admitted to the hospital on the 30 December and died on 15 January 1939. On 13 February 1939, Thalamuthu Nadar was arrested with others for picketing the Hindu Theological High School in Madras. While imprisoned, he fell ill on 6 March and died on 11 March. The government claimed that his death was due to Cellulitis and Amoebic dysentery and he was already in poor health when he died. It dismissed their deaths and claimed they were illiterates. When the issue was raised in the Assembly, Rajaji dismissed it casually. The agitators were incensed by the government attitude and turned the dead men into martyrs. Their funeral processions in Madras were attended by hundreds of mourners and witnessed fiery speeches denouncing the government. Annadurai proclaimed that Natarajan’s name and deeds should be inscribed in gold in the history of the world. The agitators praised their sacrifices and claimed that the dead men had refused early release in exchange for ending their activities. In an interview given to the Sunday Observer on 27 January 1939, Natarajan's father K. Lakshmanan said when his son was hospitalized he refused to apologize to get an early release.[16][17][18]

Anti Brahminism

The anti-Hindi movement viewed the Hindi legislation as an attempt by Brahmins to impose Hindi and Sanskrit over Tamil.[19] Rajaji's earlier attempt to translate an English Language Physics book into Tamil using Sanskrit words was viewed as proof of his preference of Sanskrit over Tamil. The anti-Hindi movement portrayed the Brahmin dominated Tamil Nadu Congress party as a stooge of "Hindi Imperialists" from the North. The resistance of the Brahmin Tamil scholars for removing Sanskrit words from Tamil was viewed by some in the agitation as proof of Brahmin complicity in the attempt to destroy Tamil.[20] Rajaji was identified as an enemy of Tamil. Dravidian movement newspapers carried cartoons depicting Rajaji hurling a dagger at Tamil Thai and disrobing her. Similar banners were displayed in the processions taken out by anti-Hindi agitators. In an anti-Hindi meeting organised in August 1938, Pavalar Balasundaram accused the Brahmin community of "killing Tamil Thai". Rajaji's dismissal of Natarasan's death in the Assembly was denounced as "Aryans laughing while Tamils shed tears for their hero".[2][21]

Government response

Articles related to
C. Rajagopalachari

The ruling Congress Party was divided on the Hindi issue. While Rajaji and his supporters stuck to their position, Sathyamurti and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan were against it. They wanted Rajaji to make Hindi optional or to provide a conscience clause for allowing parents to withhold their children from Hindi Classes. Satyamurti also disagreed with the use of Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1932 against the anti-Hindi agitators.[22] In a letter written to Mahatma Gandhi on 7 July 1938, he wrote:

I personally believe that where a parent or guardian swears an affidavit before a magistrate stating his reasons that it is against his conscience that his boy or girl should learn Hindustani compulsorily, the child may be exempted. I personally believe very few parents or guardians will claim this exemption. This will expose the hollowness of the agitation and kill it. I wish you to write to Sri. C. Rajagopalachari suggesting this to him. Moreover, I am not very happy over the use by the Madras Government of the Criminal Law Amendment Act against these picketers..[22]

Rajaji defended his action in another G.O issued on 14 June 1938:

The attainment by our Province of its rightful place in the national life of India requires that our educated youth should possess a working knowledge of the most widely spoken language in India. Government have therefore decided upon the introduction of Hindustani in the secondary school curriculum of our province. Government desire to make it clear that Hindi is not to be introduced in any elementary school whatsoever, the mother tongue being the only language taught in such schools. Hindi is to be introduced only in secondary schools and there too only in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd forms, that is to say in the 6th, 7th and 8th years of school life. It will not therefore interfere in any way with the teaching of the mother tongue in the secondary schools.…Hindi will be compulsory only in the sense that attendance in such classes will be compulsory and pupils cannot take Hindi as a substitute for Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam or Kannada, but must learn Hindi only in addition to one of these languages[2]

He refused to give in to the demands of the agitators. He claimed they were motivated by their "prejudices of anti-Aryanism" and "Hatred of the Congress".[2] He used the Criminal Law Amendment Act against the agitators. 1,198 protesters were arrested and out of them 1,179 were convicted (73 of those jailed were women and some of them went to jail with their children; 32 children accompanied their mothers to prison[13]). Periyar was sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment (he was released within six months on 22 May 1939 citing medical grounds)[9] and Annadurai was jailed for four months.[23][24] On 7 June 1939, all those arrested for participating in the agitations were released without explanation.[9] Rajaji also organised pro-Hindustani meetings to counter the agitators.[7]


On 29 October 1939, Rajaji's Congress Government resigned protesting the involvement of India in the Second World War. Madras provincial government was placed under Governor's rule. On 31 October, Periyar suspended the agitation and asked the Governor to withdraw the compulsory Hindi order.[9] On 21 February 1940, Governor Erskine, issued a press communique withdrawing compulsory Hindi teaching and making it optional.[25]

Agitations of 1940-1950

During 1940-46, there were sporadic agitations against Hindi by the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and Periyar. Whenever the government introduced Hindi as a compulsory language in schools, anti-Hindi protests happened and succeeded in stopping the move.[26] The largest anti-Hindi agitations in this period occurred in 1948-50. After India obtained independence in 1947, the Congress Government at the Centre urged all states to make Hindi compulsory in schools. The Congress Government of Madras Presidency under Omandur Ramasamy Reddiar complied and made Hindi compulsory from the academic year 1948-49. It also introduced a minimum mark qualification in Hindi for the promotion of students to higher standards (grades). Periyar once again launched a anti-Hindi agitation. The 1948 agitation was supported by former Congress nationalists like M. P. Sivagnanam and Thiru. Vi. Ka, who recanted their earlier pro-Hindi policies. On 17 July, the DK convened an all party anti-Hindi conference to oppose the compulsory Hindi teaching. As in the agitation of 1938-40, this agitation was also characterized by strikes, black flag demonstrations and anti-Hindi processions. When Rajaji (then the Governor-General of India) visited Madras on 23 August, the DK staged a black flag demonstration protesting against his visit. On 27 August, Periyar and Annadurai were arrested. The Government did not change its position on Hindi and the agitation continued. On 18 August Periyar and other DK leaders were arrested again. A compromise was reached between the government and agitators. The government stopped the legal action against the agitators and they in turn dropped the agitation on 26 December 1948. Eventually, the government made Hindi teaching optional from the academic year 1950-51. Students who did not want to learn Hindi were allowed to participate in other school activities during Hindi classes.[2][9][14][27]

Language and Indian constitution

The Indian Constituent Assembly was established on 9 December 1946, for drafting a Constitution when India became independent. The Constituent Assembly witnessed fierce debates on the language issue. The adoption of a "National Language", the language in which the constitution was to be written in and the language in which the proceedings of the assembly were to be conducted were the main questions debated by the framers of the Constitution.[28] On one side were the members from the Hindi speaking provinces like Algu Rai Sastri, R.V. Dhulekar, Balkrishna Sharma, Purushottam Das Tandon, (all from United Provinces), Babunath Gupta (Bihar), Hari Vinayak Pataskar (Bombay) and Seth Govind Das (Central Provinces and Berar). They moved a large number of pro-Hindi amendments and argued for adopting Hindi as the sole National Language.[29][30] On 10 December 1946, Dhulekar declared "People who do not know Hindustani have no right to stay in India. People who are present in the House to fashion a constitution for India and do not know Hindustani are not worthy to be members of this assembly. They had better leave."[28][31]

The pro-Hindi block was further divided into two camps: 1) The Hindi faction comprising Tandon, Govind Das, Sampurnanand, Ravishankar Shukla and K. M. Munshi and 2)the Hindustani faction represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad.[32] The adoption of Hindi as the national language was opposed by members from South India like T.T. Krishnamachari, G. Durgabai, T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar, N. G. Ranga, N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar (all belonging to Madras) and S. V. Krishnamurthy Rao (Mysore). This anti-Hindi block favoured retaining English as official language.[32][33] Their views were reflected in the following pronouncement of Krishnamachari:

We disliked the English language in the past. I disliked it because I was forced to learn Shakespeare and Milton, for which I had no taste at all. If we are going to be compelled to learn Hindi, I would perhaps not be able to learn it because of my age, and perhaps I would not be willing to do it because of the amount of constraint you put on me. This kind of intolerance makes us fear that the strong Centre which we need, a strong Centre which is necessary will also mean the enslavement of people who do not speak the language at the centre. I would, Sir, convey a warning on behalf of people of the South for the reason that there are already elements in South India who want separation..., and my honourable friends in U.P. do not help us in any way by flogging their idea of "Hindi Imperialism" to the maximum extent possible. So, it is up to my friends in Uttar Pradesh to have a whole India; it is up to them to have a Hindi-India. The choice is theirs.[28][34]

After three years of debate, the assembly arrived at a compromise at the end of 1949.[4][35] It was called the Munshi-Ayyangar compromise (after K.M. Munshi and Gopalaswamy Ayyangar) and it struck a balance between the demands of all groups.[36][37] Part XVII of the Indian Constitution was drafted according to this compromise. It did not have any mention of a "National Language". Instead, it defined only the "Official Languages" of the Union:[33][38]

Hindi in Devanagari script would be the official language of the Indian Union. For fifteen years, English would also be used for all official purposes (Article 343). A language commission could be convened after five years to recommend ways to promote Hindi as the sole official language and to phase out the use of English (Article 344). Official communication between states and between states and the Union would be in the official language of the union (Article 345).English would be used for all legal purposes - in court proceedings, bills, laws, rules and other regulations (Article 348).The Union was duty bound to promote the spread and usage of Hindi (Article 351).

India became independent on 15 August 1947 and the Constitution was adopted on 26 January 1950.

The language commission

The adoption of English as official language along with Hindi was heavily criticized by pro-Hindi politicians like Jana Sangh's founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who demanded that Hindi should be made National language.[30] Soon after the Constitution was adopted on 26 January 1950, efforts were made to propagate Hindi for official usage. In 1952, the Ministry of Education launched a voluntary Hindi teaching scheme. On 27 May 1952, use of Hindi was introduced in warrants for judicial appointments. In 1955, in-house Hindi training was started for all ministries and departments of the central government. On 3 December 1955, the government started using Hindi (along with English) for "specific purposes of the Union"[39]

As provided for by Article 343, Nehru appointed the First Official Language Commission under the chairmanship of B. G. Kher on 7 June 1955. The commission delivered its report on 31 July 1956. It recommended a number of steps to eventually replace English with Hindi (The report had dissenting notes from two non-Hindi members - P. Subbarayan from Tamil Nadu and Suniti Kumar Chatterji from West Bengal[40]).[41] The Parliamentary Committee on Official Language, chaired by Govind Ballabh Pant was constituted in September 1957 to review the Kher commission report. After two years of deliberations, the Pant Committeee submitted its recommendations to the President on 8 February 1959. It recommended that Hindi should be made the primary official language with English as the subsidiary one. The Kher Commission and the Pant Committee recommendations were condemned and opposed by from non Hindi politicians like Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Frank Anthony and P. Subbarayan. The Academy of Telugu opposed the switch from English to Hindi in a convention held in 1956. Rajaji, once a staunch supporter of Hindi, organised a All India Language Conference (attended by representatives of Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Assamese, Oriya, Marathi, Kannada and Bengali languages) on 8 March 1958 to oppose the switch and declared "Hindi is as much foreign to non-Hindi speaking people as English is to the protagonists of Hindi."[32][40][42]

As the opposition to Hindi grew stronger, Nehru tried to reassure the concerns of non-Hindi speakers. Speaking in the parliamentary debate on the Pant committee report Nehru gave an assurance to them (in September 1959)[39]:

For an indefinite period - I do not know how long - I should have, I would have English as an associate, additional language not because of facilities and all that but because I do not wish the people of Non-Hindi areas to feel that certain doors of advance are closed to them because they are forced to correspond - the Government, I mean - in the Hindi language. They can correspond in English. So I could have it as an alternate language as long as people require it and the decision for that - I would leave not to the Hindi-knowing people, but to the non Hindi-knowing people[32][43]

This assurance momentarily allayed the fears of the South Indians.[44]

DMK's anti-Hindi policies

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which split from the Dravidar Kazhagam in 1949, inherited the anti-Hindi policies of its parent organisation. DMK's founder Annadurai had earlier participated in the anti-Hindi agitations during 1938-40 and in the 1940s. In July 1953, the DMK launched an agitation for changing the name of a town - Dalmiapuram - to Kallakudi. They claimed that the town's name (after Ramakrishna Dalmia) symbolised the exploitation of South India by the North.[45][46] On 15 July 1953, M. Karunanidhi (later Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) and other DMK members erased the Hindi name in Dalmiapuram railway station's name board and lay down on the tracks. In the altercation with the Police that followed the protests, two DMK members lost their lives and several others including Karunanidhi were arrested.[47]

In the 1950s DMK continued its anti-Hindi policies along with the secessionist demand for Dravidistan. On 28 January 1956, Annadurai along with Periyar and Rajaji signed a resolution passed by the Academy of Tamil Culture endorsing the continuation of English as the official language.[48][49] On 21 September 1957 the DMK convened a anti-Hindi Conference to protest against the imposition of Hindi. It observed 13 October 1957 as "anti-Hindi Day".[50][51] On 31 July 1960, another open air anti-Hindi conference was held at Kodambakkam, Madras.[52] In November 1963, DMK dropped its secessionist demand in the wake of the Sino-Indian War and the passage of the anti-secessionist 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution. But the anti-Hindi stance remained and hardened with the passage of Official Languages Act of 1963.[53] The DMK's view on Hindi's qualifications for official language status were reflected in Annadurai's response to the "numerical superiority of Hindi" argument: "If we had to accept the principle of numerical superiority while selecting our national bird, the choice would have fallen not on the peacock but on the common crow."[54][55]

Official languages act of 1963

As the deadline stipulated in Part XVII of the Constitution for switching to Hindi as primary official language approached, the Central Government stepped up its efforts to spread Hindi's official usage. In 1960, compulsory training for Hindi typing and stenography was started. The same year, India's president Rajendra Prasad acted on the Pant Committee's recommendations and issued orders for preparation of Hindi glossaries, translating procedural literature and legal codes to Hindi, imparting Hindi education to government employees and other efforts for propagating Hindi.[39]

To give legal status to Nehru's assurance of 1959, the Official Languages Act was passed in 1963.[56] In Nehru's own words :

This is a Bill, in continuation of what has happened in the past, to remove a restriction which had been placed by the Constitution on the use of English after a certain date i.e. 1965. It is just to remove that restriction that this is placed.[32]

The bill was introduced in Parliament on 21 January 1963. Opposition to the Bill came from DMK members who objected to the usage of the word "may" instead of "shall" in section 3 of the bill ("the English language may, as from the appointed day, continue to be used in addition to Hindi"). DMK 's argument was that the term "may" could be interpreted as "may not" by future administrations. They feared that minority opinion will not be considered and non Hindi speakers' views would be ignored. On 22 April, Nehru assured the parliamentarians that, for that particular case "may" had the same meaning as "shall". The DMK then demanded, if that was the case why "shall" was not used instead of "may". Leading the opposition to the bill was Annadurai (then a Member of the Rajya Sabha). He pleaded for the indefinite continuation of the status quo. He argued for the continuation of English as official Language as it "distributes advantages or disadvantages evenly". The Bill was passed on 27 April without any change in the wording. As he had warned earlier, Annadurai launched state wide protests against Hindi.[32][53][57][58] In November 1963, Annadurai was arrested along with 500 DMK members for burning part XVII of the Constitution at an anti-Hindi Conference.[59]

Nehru died in May 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister of India. Shastri and his senior cabinet members Morarji Desai and Gulzari Lal Nanda were strong supporters of Hindi being the sole official language. This increased the apprehension that Nehru's assurances of 1959 and 1963 will not be kept despite Shastri's assurances to the contrary.[58] Concerns over the preference of Hindi in central government Jobs, civil service examinations and the fear that English will be replaced with Hindi as medium of instruction brought students into the Anti-Hindi Agitation camp in large numbers.[60] On 7 March 1964, the chief minister of Madras State, M. Bhaktavatsalam at a session of the Madras Legislative Assembly recommended the introduction of Three-language formula (English, Hindi and Tamil) in the state.[61] Apprehension over the Three-language formula increased student support for the Anti-Hindi cause[44]

Agitation of 1965

 five men and a boy sitting in chairs. Four of the men are middle aged and one is in his seventies. One of the middle aged men is leaning toward and speaking to the old man.
DMK leaders K. A. Mathialagan, V. P. Raman, C. N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi with Rajaji

Events leading up to January 26

As January 26, 1965 approached, the Anti Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu grew in numbers and urgency. The Tamil Nadu Students Anti Hindi Agitation Council was formed in January as an umbrella student organisation to coordinate the Anti Hindi efforts.[32][62] The office beares of the council were student union leaders from all over Tamil Nadu including P. Seenivasan, K. Kalimuthu, Na. Kamarasan, Seyaprakasam, Ravichandran, Tiruppur. S. Duraiswamy, Sedapatti Muthaiah, Durai Murugan, K. Raja Mohammad, Navalavan, M. Natarajan and L. Ganesan.[63] Explaining the anxiety of the students, The Indian Express noted in its editorial on 6 February 1965:

It was inevitable that the Madras students should have taken the lead in opposing the elevation of Hindi. After all a decision whether Hindi or English is to be the official language of the country affects them much more than any other section of the population. It is the students of the South who stand to lose most, when Hindi alone becomes the official language.[64]

Several student conferences (sponsored by industrialists like G. D. Naidu and Karumuttu Thiagarajan Chettiar) were organised throughout the state to protest against Hindi imposition.[44]. On 17 January, The Madras State Anti-Hindi Conference was convened in Trichy. Participants included Rajaji (Swatantara Party), V. R. Nedunchezhiyan (DMK), P. T. Rajan (Justice Party), G. D. Naidu, Karumuthu Thyagaraja Chettiar, S. P. Adithan (We Tamils Party) and Muhammad Ismail (Muslim League)[32][65] In the Conference Rajaji declared that the Part XVII of the Constitution should "be heaved and thrown into the Arabian Sea."[55] On 16 January, Annadurai announced that 26 January (also the Republic Day of India) would be observed as a day of mourning. He wrote to Shastri asking for the language transition to be postponed by a week so that Tamils could celebrate Republic Day with the rest of the country. Shastri refused and the stage was set for the confrontation.

"Day of mourning"

Madras State’s Chief Minister M. Bhaktavatsalam warned that the state government would not tolerate the sanctity of the Republic day blasphemed and threatened the students with "stern action" if they participated in politics. The DMK advanced the "Day of Mourning" by a day. On 25 January, Annadurai was taken into preventive custody along with 3000 DMK members to forestall the agitations planned for the next day.[66]

Madurai incident

In the morning of 25 January, students in Madurai took out a procession toward the Thilagar thidal (lit. Grounds) at the centre of the city. Their intention was to stage a public burning of Part XVII of the constitution. They burned a huge effigy of "Hindi Demoness" and shouted slogans against Hindi like "Down with Hindi" and "Hindi Never, English Ever" . As the procession approached the Congress Party district office at North Masi Street, some Congress "volunteers" who had arrived in a Jeep shouted insults and obscenities at the students. A volley of sandals from the students returned the insult. The provoked Congress volunteers, who ran back into the Party’s office, returned with knives and attacked students, wounding seven. As the riot broke out, students set fire to the pandal in the Congress office, constructed for the Republic day celebrations. When news of the attack spread riots broke out in Madurai and other parts of the State. In retaliation for the attack, students cut down flag poles of the Congress party all over Madurai.[44][63]

Two months of riots

As the riots spread, police responded with lathi charges and firing on student processions. This further inflamed the situation. Acts of arson, looting and damage to public property became common. Railway cars and Hindi name boards at railway stations were burned down. The Bhaktavatsalam Government considered the situation as a law and order problem and brought in para military forces to quell the agitation. Incensed by police action, violent mobs killed two police men. Five agitators (Sivalingam, Aranganathan, Veerappan, Muthu, and Sarangapani) committed suicide by pouring gasoline and setting themselves on fire and three more (Dandapani, Muthu, and Shanmugam) died by consuming poison. In two weeks of riots, around 70 people were killed (by official estimates). Some unofficial reports put the death toll as high as 500. A large number of students were arrested. The damage to property was assessed as one Crore (1,00,00,000) Rupees.[16][44][58][60][63][67][68][69]

On 28 January, classes in Madras University and Annamalai University were suspended indefinitely. Within the Congress, opinion was divided - On 31 January , a group of Congress leaders including Mysore Chief minister S.Nijalingappa, Bengal Congress leader Atulya Ghosh, Union Minister Sanjeeva Reddy and Congress president K. Kamaraj 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. Morarji Desai refused their demands regretting that Hindi was not made official before the anti-Hindi protests crystallized. 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.[58] Union Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda agreed with Bhaktavatsalam's handling of the agitation and commended him for standing "hard as a rock".[70][71]

Rioting continued through out the first week of February. On February 6, student representatives met Bhatavatsalam to find a compromise. But the talks failed and violence continued unabated. Processions, fasts, general strikes, burning of Hindi books, destruction of Hindi name boards, agitations in front of Post offices became commonplace. In a Union cabinet meeting on 11 February, C. Subramaniam, the Minister for Food, demanded statutory recognition for English as official Language. When he was voted down, he resigned along with another minister from Tamil Nadu (O. V. Alagesan).[32][60][68]

Impact of 1965 agitation

Immediate impact

Faced with open revolt in his cabinet, Shastri buckled down and made a broadcast through All India Radio on February 11. Expressing shock over the riots, he promised to honour Nehru's assurances. Further he made four assurances of his own:[58]

Every state will have complete and unfettered 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.

Later he added a fifth assurance: The All India Civil Services examination would continue to be conducted in English rather than in Hindi alone.[58]

His assurances calmed down the volatile situation. On 12 February, the students council postponed the agitation indefinitely[72] and on 16 February, C. Subramaniam and O. V. Alagesan withrew their resignations. Sporadic acts of protests and violence continued to happen throughout February and early March. On 7 March, the administration withdrew all the cases filed against the student leaders and on 14 March, the Anti-Hindi Agitation Council dropped the agitation.[73]. Shastri's climbdown angered the pro-Hindi activists in North India. Members of Jan Sangh went about the streets of New Delhi, blackening out English signs with tar.[74]

Impact on 1967 election

After dropping the agitation in March 1965, the Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Agitation council continued to push for the scrapping of the Three Language formula and for a constitutional amendment to drop part XVII. On 11 May, a three-person delegation of the student council met with Prime minister Shastri to press their demands.[75] The Anti-Hindi agitation slowly changed into a general anti-Congress organisation with the goal of defeating the congress in the 1967 election.[63] On 20 February 1966, the first statewide conference of the council was held. It was attended by Rajaji, who asked the students to work toward defeating the Congress.[76] In the 1967 elections, student leader P. Seenivasan contested against Kamaraj in the Virudunagar constituency. A large number of students from all over Tamil Nadu campaigned for him and ensured his victory: the Congress party was defeated and DMK came to power for the first time in Tamil Nadu.[33][77][78]

Offical Languages (Amendment) Act of 1967

Amendment efforts in 1965

Efforts to amend the Official Languages Act according to Shastri's assurances given in February 1965 faced stiff resistance from the pro-Hindi lobby. On 16 February, 55 MPs from 8 different states publicly expressed their disapproval of any change in the Language policy. On 19 February, 19 MPs from Maharashtra and Gujarat voiced their opposition for change and on 25 February, 106 Congress MPs met the Prime Minister to request him not to amend the Act. However, Congress MPs from Madras did not debate the issue on the Parliament floor but met the Prime Minister on 12 March. Congress and opposition parties hesitated to debate the issue in Parliament as they did not wish to make their bitter divisions on public. On 22 February at a meeting in Congress Working Committee, K. Kamaraj pressed for the amendment to Official Languages Act, but received instant opposition from Morarji Desai, Jagjivan Ram and Ram Subhag. The Congress working committee finally agreed to a resolution which amounted to slowing down of Hindi-isation, strong implementation of three language formula in Hindi and non-Hindi speaking states, conduction of public services exam in all regional languages. These decisions were agreed upon during the Chief Minister meeting which was held on February 24.[56]

The three language formula was not strictly enforced either in South or Hindi-speaking areas. The changes to public services exams were impractical and not well received by government officials. The only real concession to the south was the assurance that the Official Languages Act would be modified. However, any effort to follow through with that pledge received stiff resistance. In April 1965, a meeting of a cabinet sub-committee comprising Gulzari lal Nanda, A. K. Sen, Satyanarayan Sinha, Mahavir Tyagi, M. C. Chagla and S. K. Patil and but no southern members debated the issue and could not come to any agreement. The sub-committee recommended the continuation of English and Hindi as joint link languages and was not in favour of either quota system or use of regional languages in public services exams. They drafted an amendment to Official Languages Act incorporating Nehru's assurances explicitly. This bill guaranteeing the use of English in inter-state and state-Union communications as long as desired by Non-Hindi states was approved for discussion by the Speaker on August 25. But it was withdrawn after a bitter debate citing inopportune time due to the ongoing Punjabi Suba movement and Kashmir crisis at that time.[56]

Amendment in 1967

Shastri died in January 1966 and Indira Gandhi became prime minister. The election of 1967 saw Congress retaining power with a reduced majority. In Tamil Nadu, Congress was defeated and DMK came to power. In November 1967, a new attempt to amend the bill was made. On 27 November,[60] the bill was tabled in parliament; it was passed on 16 December (by 205 votes to 41 against[79]). It received presidential assent on 8 January 1968 and came into effect.[80] The Amendment modified[81] section 3 of the 1963 Act to guarantee the "virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism"[79] (English and Hindi) in official transactions.[82]

Agitation of 1968

The Anti-Hindi activists from Tamil Nadu were not satisfied with the 1967 Amendment, as it did not address their concerns about the Three language Formula. However with DMK in power, they hesitated to restart the agitation. The Tamil Nadu Students' Anti-Hindi Agitation council split into several factions. The moderate factions favored letting Annadurai and the government to deal with the situation. The extremist factions restarted the agitations. They demanded scrapping of the three language formula and an end to teaching of Hindi, abolishing the use of Hindi commands in the National Cadet Corps (NCC), banning of Hindi films and songs and closure of the Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachara Sabha - the Institution for propagation of Hindi in South India.

On 19 December 1967, the agitation was restarted. It turned violent in 21 December and acts of arson and looting were reported in the state. Annadurai defused the situation by accepting most of their demands.[60][83] On 23 January 1968, a resolution was passed in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. It accomplished the following:[84]

The Three-Language policy was scrapped and Hindi was eliminated from the curriculum. Only English and Tamil were to be taught, the use of Hindi commands in NCC was banned, Tamil was to be introduced as medium of instruction in all colleges and as the language of administration within five years, the Central Government was urged to end the special status accorded to Hindi in the Constitution and treat all languages equally, It was urged to provide financial assistance for development of all languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. These measures satisfied the agitators and normality returned by February 1968.[60]

Agitation of 1986

In 1986, Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced the "National Education Policy".[85] This education policy provided for setting up Navodaya Schools, where the DMK claimed teaching of Hindi would be compulsory.[86] The Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) led by M. G. Ramachandran (which had split from the DMK in 1972), was in power in Tamil Nadu and the DMK was the main opposition party. Karunanidhi announced an agitation against the opening of Navodaya Schools in Tamil Nadu. On 13 November, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution demanding the repeal of Part XVII of the constitution and for making English the sole official language of the union.[87][88][89]

On 17 November 1986, DMK members protested against the new education policy by burning Part XVII of the Constitution.[87] 20,000 DMK members including Karunanidhi were arrested.[89] 21 persons committed suicide by self immolation.[90] Karunanidhi was sentenced to ten weeks of rigorous imprisonment. Ten DMK MLAs including K. Anbazhagan were expelled from the Legislative Assembly by the speaker P. H. Pandian.[87] Rajiv Gandhi assured Members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu that Hindi would not be imposed.[91] As part of the compromise, Navodhaya schools were not started in Tamil Nadu. Currently, Tamil Nadu is the only state in India without Navodhaya schools.[92]


The anti-Hindi agitations of 1937-40 and 1940-50 led to a change of guard in the Madras Presidency. The main opposition party to the Indian National Congress in the state, the Justice Party, came under Periyar's leadership on 29 December 1938.[93] In 1944, the Justice Party was renamed as Dravidar Kazhagam. The political careers of many later leaders of the Dravidian Movement, such as C. N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi, started with their participation in these agitations. The agitations stopped the compulsory teaching of Hindi in the state.[2][16] The agitations of the 1960s played a crucial role in the defeat of the Tamil Nadu Congress party in the 1967 elections and the continuing dominance of Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu politics.[33] Many political leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, like P. Seenivasan, K. Kalimuthu, Durai Murugan, Tiruppur. S. Duraiswamy, Sedapatti Muthaiah, K. Raja Mohammad, M. Natarajan and L. Ganesan, owe their entry and advancement in politics to their stints as student leaders during the agitations, which also reshaped the Dravidian Movement and broadened its political base, when it shifted from its earlier pro-Tamil (and anti-Brahmin) stance to a more inclusive one, which was both anti-Hindi and pro-English. Finally, the current two-language education policy followed in Tamil Nadu is also the direct result of the agitations.

In the words of Sumathi Ramaswamy (Professor of History at Duke University),[94]

[The anti-Hindi agitations knit] together diverse, even incompatible, social and political interests... Their common cause against Hindi had thrown together religious revivalists like Maraimalai Atikal (1876-1950) with avowed atheists like Ramasami and Bharathidasan (1891-1964); men who supported the Indian cause like T.V. Kalyanasundaram (1883-1953) and M.P. Sivagnanam with those who wanted to secede from India like Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi (b.1924); university professors like Somasundara Bharati (1879-1959) and M.S. Purnalingam Pillai (1866 -1947) with uneducated street poets, populist pamphleteers and college students.[40][95]

The anti-Hindi agitations ensured the passage of Official Languages Act of 1963 and its amendment in 1967, thus ensuring the continued use of English as an official language of India. They effectively brought about the "virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism" of the Indian Republic.[40][96]

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