Rajasthan to Have Only One Third Language in Schools, Minorities Fear Sanskrit Imposition

An earlier 2004 policy allowed any school that had a certain number of minority-language-speaking students to offer that language as a medium of instruction.

Jaipur: The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan has overhauled its policy on minority languages taught as third language in schools. (Apart from Hindi and English, a third language is also taught at the primary level – usually the mother tongue.)

In an administrative order issued by the state’s director of primary education Sourabh Swami on September 2, it has been declared that only one third language will be taught from classes six to eight.

Although the order has not specified what this sole third language will be and what criteria will be followed to select it, the changes made through the recent order are contrary to the 2004 state policy that has been governing primary education in minority languages (Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi and Gujarati) as a medium of instruction and as a third language.

Based on recommendations of the I.K. Gujral committee for safeguarding Urdu-speaking minorities, the 2004 policy had coined a formula under which primary schools with at least 10 minority students in a class and a total of 40 minority students in the school were eligible to facilitate education in minority languages, either as the medium of instruction or as a third language, depending on students’ preferences.

The schools, as per this policy, maintained a register that listed the third language opted for by students of minority groups.

When students’ inputs match the prescribed formula (10 minority students in a class and total 40 in school), the schools write to the district education officer for providing teachers for the selected minority languages.

The September 2, 2020 administrative order on Rajasthan’s third language policy.

The power to administer primary education in minority languages was vested in the district education officers, according to the 2004 policy. However, the latest order has withdrawn this arrangement.

“It has come to our notice that district education officers are permitting more than one third language in primary schools. This is against the rules. Any such permission given is withdrawn,” reads the September 2 order.

Fuss over the 2004 policy

The administration is divided over the enforcement of the 2004 policy. The education department in Rajasthan says that the 2004 policy was overhauled many years ago.

Speaking to The Wire, Swami said, “The order has not overstepped the 2004 policy. There have been several orders issued in the past by which the policy was overhauled. This order just reiterates the staffing pattern.”

However, as per the information provided by the primary education department under the Right to Information Act last year, the department specified that the 2004 policy is still in place. Earlier this year, Rajasthan education minister Govind Singh Dotasara while responding to a question in the state assembly too accepted that the 2004 policy for minority languages is still effective.

“The education department put us under immense pressure to withdraw the 2004 policy as they think it is an unnecessary financial burden in facilitating education in a third language,” an official at the minority affairs department in Rajasthan told The Wire, on the condition of anonymity.

While the 2004 policy provides power to district education officers to have a final say in matters related to the third language at the primary level, the primary education department has chargesheeted district education officers who had taken decisions in this regard.

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“The decision to appoint a third language teacher is to be taken by the finance department, something that is logical, but it came to our notice that at a few places, district education officers were taking steps to appoint third language teachers. This was a clear case of insubordination and such officers have been chargesheeted too,” added Swami.

On asking if a school could have two languages (say, Urdu and Sindhi) as a third language, based on the preferences of the students enrolled, Swami replied, “The third language marks are not added to the final score. Due to financial constraints, it is not possible for any state to have an arrangement that can accommodate more than one third language but despite this, we ensure that there is an additional teacher for any other third language opted for by students, again it depends on the circumstances.”

Imposing Sanskrit?

Several minority groups in Rajasthan are looking at this development as a plan to eliminate minority languages from the curriculum. They claim that the provision of having just one third language is actually meant to impose Sanskrit on linguistic minorities.

“This order is an implementation of the national education policy (NEP) 2020 which has prioritised Sanskrit over minority languages. The government may not have explicitly mentioned that this sole third language would be Sanskrit, but this is supposed to make Sanskrit the only third language by default,” Ameen Kayamkhani, president of the Rajasthan Urdu Teachers’ Association, told The Wire.

Gradual elimination of Urdu

Over the years, Urdu-medium schools in Rajasthan have come down to seven from 32 and the publication of Urdu textbooks for classes one to eight in the state ceased after 1997.

The Wire had earlier spoken to the Rajasthan State Textbook Board (RSTB), entrusted with the responsibility of printing and distributing textbooks approved by the state government. An official, on the condition of anonymity, had said that the board has not received approval for Urdu textbooks after 1997.

Kayamkhani says the Rajasthan government’s official textbook website “shaladarpan” mentions that Urdu textbooks are meant only for “students studying in madrassas”.

In 2014, the Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janta Party government in Rajasthan had merged thousands of linguistic-minority schools, on the grounds of avoiding underutilisation of public resources.

Linguistic-minority schools in Pahadganj, Mahawatan, Mehran, Kamnigaran, Dawavkhana, Pano ka Dariba, Nilgaran, Maulana Sahab, Motikatla, Jallupura and Naharbada colonies of Jaipur, with over 1,500 students in total, were merged with Hindi-medium schools.

An old Urdu social science textbook (L) and the new Hindi environment education textbook. Credit: Shruti Jain

An old Urdu social science textbook (L) and the new Hindi environment education textbook. Photo: Shruti Jain

Following the merger, the staffing policy was also altered to shrink the posts for minority language teachers. In fact, no Urdu teacher for the primary level (classes one to five) has been appointed after the merger.

“The government had already eliminated Urdu as a medium of instruction at the primary level by not appointing language teachers and publishing books, and now, they have targeted classes six to eight where Urdu was being taught as a third language,” said Kayamkhani.

“If one looks at both the Congress’s and the BJP’s moves over the years, it can be easily understood that this a design to eliminate Urdu,” he adds.

He further says that having only one third language will not endanger just Urdu, but also other minority languages.

Dilly-dallying on permission for Urdu as third language

Meanwhile, this year, many government schools have sent proposals to the education department asking to provide Urdu language teachers. However, these requests have not been processed yet.

The delay in permitting schools to initiate Urdu or other minority languages as a third language has raised suspicion.

“Sending proposal for minority languages as third language based on the number of students opting for them it is a regular procedure to kick start a session. The proposal was sent in February, then in September, but there has been no response from the department,” a staff member in a public school in Rajasthan’s Dudu told The Wire, on the condition of anonymity.

Constitutional provision

Instruction in a child’s mother tongue at the primary stage of education is a constitutional right enshrined under Article 350A of the Indian Constitution.

“It shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and the President may issue such directions to any State as he considers necessary or proper for securing the provision of such facilities,” Article 350A reads.