Linguistic minorities are among those sections of minorities which has a distinct language of the society. They are indigenous people and belong to a particular tribe. The language which they use is only spoken between themselves. They depict the culture and the heritage of the country. If the language which is spoken between them is forgotten, then their languages will be lost which may result in the loss of a cultural diversity of the country, which must be stopped. Mother tongue is the language in which a person speaks at his home[i] and so is comfortable in speaking. Mother Tongue also means the language of the linguistic minority in a State.[ii]
This essay argues that it is necessary to conserve linguistic minorities and one of the methods to conserve this language is imposition of mother tongue as a medium of instruction at primary stage of education which will also help in easy attainment of basic education by the child.
Need to Conserve Linguistic Minorities
Linguistic diversity, as an integral part of cultural diversity creates a rich and varied world, which increases the range of choices and nurtures human capacities and values.[iii] It is considered “as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”.[iv] The protection of cultural diversity is, in turn, an integral part of Human Rights and a sine qua non condition for the full realization and enjoyment of all Human Rights.[v] It is this double edge that makes of cultural diversity an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity[vi] and from the process of guaranteeing the survival of humanity.[vii]
Languages mediate our experiences, our intellectual and cultural environments, our modes of encounter with others, our value systems, social codes and sense of belongingness, both collectively and individually. From the perspective of cultural diversity, linguistic diversity reflects the creative adaptation of groups to their changing physical and social environments. In this sense, languages are not just a means of communication but represent the very fabric of cultural expressions; they are the carriers of identity, values and worldviews.[viii]
As per the survey by The People’s Linguistic Survey of India, India has lost nearly 250 languages in the last 50 years.[ix] More than 50 per cent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 per cent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world’s population. The loss of languages is a serious concern which affects the realization of all human rights, in particular cultural rights.[x] It also threatens entire human society with cultural extinction and severely affects the realization of the rights of persons belonging to minorities[xi] and those of indigenous peoples.[xii]
When languages fade, the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity also fades along with it. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression are the valuable resources for ensuring a better future which will also fade. That’s why it is important to save languages along with the linguistic minorities and the best way to do so is by imposition of mother tongue as a medium of instruction in primary education as if the language is taught in schools then it will never be forgotten by the people of these linguistic minorities.
Right to Conservation by Education in their Mother Tongue
The Linguistic Minorities has a Fundamental Right to conserve them under Article 29(1) of the Constitution of India. Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India confers a Fundamental Right to establish and administer educational institution of their choice; the word “their choice” includes the right to choose the medium of instruction in which they want to impart education. Article 350-(A) directs every state to provide facilities for education at the primary stage in the language of a linguistic minority for the children belonging to such a community.[xiii] Therefore the linguistic minorities have a right to conservation by education in mother tongue.
International Documents provides a specific legal framework for the protection of indigenous languages like Article 5 of UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001 specifically provides that all persons have the right to express themselves in the language of their choice, and particularly in their mother tongue. Such specific legal framework is found in the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Likewise, the different bodies and mechanisms of the United Nations human rights machinery have commented and/or made recommendations aimed at promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights associated with the use of languages by indigenous peoples as it will be stated as follows.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted on 13 September 2007 also recognizes indigenous peoples entitlements related to the protection of indigenous cultures and indigenous languages. Its Article 15 states that Indigenous peoples’ right to their cultures should be appropriately reflected in education. Its Article 14 states that indigenous people have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own language.
Further Article 28 of Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, 1989 states that the indigenous children have the right to be taught in their own indigenous language. Even Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990 gives right to the children of linguistic and cultural minorities to enjoy his or her own culture and to use his or her own language.
Duty of the State to make Regulations
As stated earlier, there is a constitutional obligation of each and every State to provide facility for primary education in mother tongue in the schools.[xiv] There is also statutory mandate on the State under Section 29(2)(f) of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 which provides that the medium of instruction shall, as far as practicable, be the child’s mother tongue. It was observed in E.M. Students Parents Association v. State of Karnataka[xv] by the Supreme Court that where the State by means of the Government Order desires to bring academic discipline as a regulatory measure it is a matter of policy. The State knows how best to implement the language policy. The State Government is entitled to formulate policy relating to medium of instruction as it considers beneficial for the students.
Article 46 of the Constitution of India states that the education of the Schedule Tribe must be with special care and as most of the linguistic minorities are tribal people, they must be given special care by giving facilities of education in their mother tongue. A particular State can validly take a policy decision to compulsorily teach its regional languages.[xvi] The children must be provided with facility to have primary education in their mother tongue.[xvii]
In Society for Un-aided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India[xviii] it was held that Article 21A vests the power in the State to decide the manner in which it will provide free and compulsory education to the specified category of children. Therefore the State undoubtedly has powers to prescribe any course of study which is in the interest of excellence in education. This power would certainly include the power to prescribe language or languages, as course of study in the educational institutions.[xix] The stipulation of the medium for all educational institutions alike is an integral part of such a right.[xx]
Linguistic minorities do not have the resources required to establish and maintain their own educational institutions, therefore, it is the duty of the State to provide facilities to minorities for education in their mother tongue at the primary school stage.[xxi] The learning of the regional language is necessary for peaceful co-existence of linguistic minorities with the majority of the population. The learning of different languages will definitely bridge the cultural barriers and will positively contribute to the cultural integration of the country. The resistance to learn the regional language will lead to alienation from the mainstream of life resulting in linguistic fragmentation within the State, which is an anathema to national integration.[xxii]
The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Gujarat University v. Shri Krishna Ranganath Mudholkar[xxiii] has held that if the medium of instruction has a direct bearing or impact on the determination of standards in institutions of higher education, the legislative power can be exercised by the Union to prescribe a medium of instruction. And imposition of mother tongue always helps in the determination of standard in education as it makes learning easy and effective.
Primary Education in Mother Tongue Enhances Learning
Primary education forms the base of the child, and if it is attained in a language which is comfortable for the child then the basic knowledge about the education becomes clear. The Constitution of India under Article 350-A stresses the importance of giving instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups. Just like the term ‘Life’ in Article 21 does not mean a mere animal existence but a quality life,[xxiv] Article 21-A must also not mean mere education but a quality education. It is the right of all persons to get quality education and training i.e. the education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality[xxv] and it will be possible if it is imparted in mother tongue of the child.
The Supreme Court has also observed in E.M. Students Parents Association v. State of Karnataka[xxvi] that mother tongue should be the medium of instruction from standards 1 to 5. It was held in this case that ‘All educational experts are uniformly of the opinion that pupils should begin their schooling through the medium of their mother tongue. There is great reason and justice behind this. Where the tender minds of the children are subject to an alien medium the learning process becomes unnatural. It inflicts a cruel strain on the children which makes the entire transaction mechanical. Besides, the educational process becomes artificial and torturous. The basic knowledge can easily be garnered through the mother tongue. The introduction of a foreign language tends to threaten to atrophy the development of mother tongue. When the pupil comes of age and reaches the 5th standard level, the second language is introduced.’
Therefore it is even the observation of the court that instruction in mother tongue in primary education enhances learning and leads to better and efficient learning. The energies of the child should be protected through the mother tongue. Hence if the mother tongue is imposed as a medium of instruction for linguistic minorities, it will hit two targets at the same time as it will lead to better education and will also preserve the language from getting extinct.
It is acknowledged all over the world, that it is the mother tongue alone which is more suitable to the child to have education at the initial stage.[xxvii] The first language is essential for the initial teaching of reading, and for comprehension of subject matter. It is necessary foundation for cognitive development upon which acquisition of the second language is based.[xxviii] It is increasingly obvious that the language of instruction at the beginning of one’s education, at such a crucial moment for future learning, should be the mother tongue.[xxix] There is much research which shows that the students learn to read more quickly when taught in their mother tongue.[xxx] Students who have learnt to read in their mother tongue learn to read in a second language more quickly than those who are first taught to read in second language. In terms of academic learning and skills as well, student taught to read in their mother tongue acquires such skills more quickly.[xxxi]
Where the language of instruction is the language other than mother tongue of the learner, it is likely that initial learning will be slower and achievement will be lower. For this reason, educators have long advocated the benefits of offering, wherever possible, initial instruction in the mother tongue.[xxxii]
Worldwide Examples of Successful Implementations
A research study was done worldwide and was indicated in the newsletter of Education Today Newsletter July-September, 2003 – The Mother Tongue Dilemma[xxxiii] and the research observed that there are many countries in the world which follows the mother tongue as medium of instruction in primary education. The examples of the countries covered and indicated in this newsletter are as follows-:
- Most primary school education in Hong Kong is in the mother tongue. Starting with the 1998 school year, 307 government and government-aided secondary schools in Hong Kong were required to adopt mother-tongue teaching, while 114 schools were allowed to continue with English medium instruction because of their previous high achievement. In spite of the initial opposition from parents, students, teachers and administrators after a year, findings from the above studies appear to show that mother-tongue teaching has provided a positive, non-threatening learning environment for students. Students in Chinese-medium programs appear to be more active, appear to learn more subject matter and, enjoy school more.
- In New Zealand, a recent study showed that Maori children who received basic education in their own language performed better than those educated in English.
- In United States, a research unit at George Mason University in Virginia has monitored results at twenty-three primary schools in fifteen States since 1985. Four out of six different curricula involved were partly conducted in the mother tongue. The survey showed that, after eleven years of schooling, there is a direct link between academic results and the time spent learning in the mother tongue. Those who were doing best in secondary school have had a bilingual education in mother tongue.
- Papua New Guinea (PNG) has over 830 languages, and at least 434 local languages are used for initial instruction in schools. Popular demand for the use of local languages is spearheaded a remarkable reform story that has had broader implications for the primary school system.
- In the late 1970s and early 1980s village vernacular schools were introduced in Bougainvillea province, where parents felt strongly that their language and culture should figure more prominently in education to counter evidence of alienation and social problems among young people.
There is now a strong body of evidence. The mother tongue is used in the early years of schooling so that children can acquire and develop the literacy skills that enable fuller participation in learning activities. Therefore, studies worldwide show that the Children learn better in their mother-tongue. In a growing number of countries, after four or five years (earlier in some cases) there is a transition to learning and using the second or foreign language as the medium of instruction. In this way initial literacy is acquired more easily, facilitating the acquisition of the second language that will become the medium of instruction for the rest of the school years.
By considering these studies some countries have already responded which are also indicated in the above stated newsletter. They include the Australian State of Victoria, where bilingualism has been steadily introduced in all primary schools over the past twenty years. In 2002, compulsory courses in “a language other than English” involved forty-one languages in primary and secondary schools. Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, German and French are the most popular. After independence in Africa, one of the first steps by the new governments was to rehabilitate local languages. Swahili became Kenya’s official language in 1963 and Guinea launched a linguistic desalinization by proclaiming the country’s eight most widely used languages to be official ones and launching literary campaigns. The situation in South-East Asia and China illustrates the diversity of languages and of patterns of language used in school. In this part of the world there is a general trend towards more widespread use of local languages in the first few years of primary education.
By considering these examples provided by the research study done by this newsletter it seems that imposition of mother tongue as medium of instruction in primary education enhancing the learning of a child as this language policy is adopted by many countries. And if this experiment was successful in so many countries, it will also be successful in India and it is very pertinent that it must also be adopted and implemented in India.
Right of the Parent and the Child to choose the Medium of Instruction
The parents have the right to determine to which school or college their children should be sent for education.[xxxiv] They have a duty to send their children to school.[xxxv] And so the parents in every virtue are entitled to direct and educate their children in every possible manner they consider best and to guide thereby his/her future prospects. The choice must be of the students and their parents.
The Fundamental Rights including the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and other rights under Article 19 of the Constitution cannot be appreciated and fully enjoyed unless a citizen is educated and is conscious of his individualistic dignity.[xxxvi] The opening words of Article 19 of the Constitution refer to rights regarding Freedom of Speech. Article 19(1)(a) declares that all citizens shall have the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. It is a basic human right and a natural right.[xxxvii] It is a right one gets by birth. It includes right to impart and receive information.[xxxviii] And as education is a medium through which we receive a bundle of knowledge and information, so Article 19(1)(a) will include freedom to receive education the way a citizen wants, which includes imparting of education in their mother tongue.
In the recent landmark case of State of Karnataka v. Associated Management of Primary & Secondary Schools[xxxix] the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court has held that a child or on his behalf his parent or guardian, has a Fundamental Right to freedom of choice with regard to the medium of instruction in which he would like to be educated at the primary stage in school under Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution of India. So, as it is the Fundamental Right of the parent and the child to choose the medium of instruction, they even have a right to choose their mother tongue as a medium of instruction at primary stage of the education.
It is also universally recognized that the child and the parental right to have primary education of their children in the school and language of their choice. The parents have the right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. This parental right is recognized by the United Nations as is clear from Article 26(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 which was duly accepted by the Government of India on 11th December 1992 and it states that the parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Article 13 of Convention on Rights of Child, 1990 gives the freedom to child to impart information and ideas in media of his own choice. Article 14 of the above stated convention further provides that: it is the right of the parent to give direction to their children with the evolving capacity of the child, which must be respected by the child.
Further, Article 19 of International Convention for Civil and Political Rights, 1976 also provides that there must be freedom to impart information and hold opinions without interference. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides the right to freedom of expression without interference by the public authority.
No one can claim to know the child’s best interest than their parents and to decide as to what the child requires in the sphere of education and such a decision is taken by them keeping in mind their inherent duty to shape the career and destiny of their children. Thus the choice of medium of instruction is a prime requisite to be decided by the parents.
State cannot make it Mandatory for Linguistic Minorities
Like everything, even this duty of the state has some restrictions as the state cannot make it mandatory for the children to study in their mother tongue as then it would violate the above stated rights of the parent and the children as if they have a Fundamental Right to choose their mother tongue as a medium of instruction they also have Fundamental Right in not choosing the mother tongue. Even Article 3 of Convention on Rights of Child, 1990 states that before taking a legislative measure for the benefit of the child the state shall take into account the rights of the parents. The Supreme Court has quashed a Government Order in which there was an element of compulsion for the use of medium of instruction.[xl] There is no scope for discretion of competent authority to make one language compulsory as medium of instruction.[xli]
The State’s duty is only to provide and create an atmosphere, where the child can have education in a medium of its choice. State has no power under Article 350A of the Constitution to compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as a medium of instruction in primary schools.[xlii]A regulation making the regional language as the sole first language would be an unreasonable regulation.[xliii] It follows that the educational institution or the students studying in those institutions must have the option to select the first language.[xliv]
It is very essential to conserve linguistic minorities and conserving them is a part of Human Rights. Even these linguistic minorities have a right to conserve themselves including Fundamental Right under Article 29 of Constitution of India apart from various Human Rights. State has constitutional as well as statutory obligations to provide facilities for the linguistic minorities to study their mother tongue as a medium of instruction in elementary schooling. Another advantage of education in mother tongue is that it makes the learning easy and effective if provided at primary stage of education and will lead to increase in the level of standard of education which is attained by the students. Even parent and child have a Fundamental Right as well as Human Rights to choose the medium of instruction which means that they can choose their mother tongue as a medium of instruction. But as this also means that they have a right to not to choose mother tongue as the medium of instruction, so the state cannot compulsorily impose mother tongue as a medium of instruction at primary stage, and it ultimately falls upon these linguistic minorities whether they want to study in mother tongue and conserve their minority or not.
[i] Jessica Ball, Enhancing Learning of Children from Diverse Language Backgrounds: Mother Tongue-Based Bilingual or Multilingual Education In The Early Years, Analytical Review Commissioned by The UNESCO Education Sector
available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002122/212270e.pdf lat accessed at 14/11/2014
[ii] State of Karnataka v. Associated Management of Primary & Secondary Schools, Decided on 06/05/2014 by Supreme Court of India, judgment delivered by Justice A.K. Patnaik
[iii] Preamble, UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, 2005
[iv] Art. 1 of UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001
[v] Art. 5 of UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001
[vi] Art. 4 of UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001
[vii] Koichiro Matsuura, The cultural wealth of the world is its diversity in dialogue, Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001, available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001271/127160m.pdf last accessed 10/11/2014
[viii] UNESCO World Report; Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue: Published in 2009 by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization. Available at
[ix]Available at https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/780-languages-spoken-in-India-250-died-out-in-last-50-years/2013/07/16/article1686663.ece last accessed at 03/11/2014
[x] Supra note v
[xi] Ibid. Also see International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27; Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, inter alia, Articles 2.1, 4.2 and 4.4; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 30.
[xii] bid, Also see Human Rights Committee, General Comment 23; Convention on the rights of the Child, Article 30; ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in independent countries, inter alia, Articles 28.1-3 and 30.2; United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, inter alia, Articles 13.1, 14.1 and 16.1.
[xiii] Report of National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, 2004
[xiv] General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee. v. State of Karnataka, AIR 1989 Kant 226
[xv] AIR 1994 SC 1702
[xvi] Usha Mehta v. State of Maharashtra, (2004) 6 SCC 264
[xvii] General Secretary case, supra note xiv
[xviii] AIR 2012 SC 3445
[xix] General Secretary case, supra note xiv
[xxi] Fazal Ali Commission, States Reorganization Commission, p. 774.
[xxii] Usha Mehta case, supra note xvi.
[xxiii] AIR 1963 SC 703
[xxiv] Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi, (1981) 1 SCC 608. Also see Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1877)
[xxv] Article 26(2) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also see, Article 27 of Convention on the rights of the child.
[xxvi] Supra note xv
[xxvii] Supra note v. Also see Article 4 of Declaration on the Rights of the Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, 1992.
[xxviii] The use of first and second languages in Education: a review of educational experience Washington D.C. World Bank. Country Department III
[xxix] International Conference on Education 46th Sessions 2001: Final report.
[xxx] Supra note i
[xxxi] Mehrota. S. (1998) Education for All: Police lessons from High-Achieving Countries: UNICEF staff working papers. New York.
[xxxii] The Delhi Declaration and Framework for Action, Education for all Summit (1993)
[xxxiii] Available at https://www.unesco.org/education/education_today/ed_today6.pdf last accessed on 01/11/2014
[xxxiv]Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society v. State of Gujarat, (1974) 1 SCC 717
[xxxv] Article 51-A (k) of the Constitution of India
[xxxvi] Miss Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, AIR 1992 SC 1858, (1992) 3 SCC 666
[xxxvii] Article 18 and 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
[xxxviii]Unni Krishnan J.P. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1993 SC 2173. Also see Indian Express v. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 578 and PUCL v. Union of India, (2003) 4 SCC 399.
[xxxix] State of Karnataka case, Supra note ii
[xl] Usha Mehta case, supra note xvi.
[xli] Krishnagiri District and Krishnagiri, Rep. by its Secretary D. Soundara Raju v. State of Tamil Nadu, W.P. No. 855/2010
[xlii] State of Karnataka case, Supra note ii
[xliii] General Secretary, Linguistic Minorities Protection Committee v. State of Karnataka, AIR 1989 Kant 226.
[xliv] State of Bombay v. Bombay Education Society, AIR 1954 SC 561, and in DAV College v. State of Punjab, AIR 1971 SC 1731.
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