Move to shift from English to Hindi in HE divides India

English as a predominant language for higher education in India could become a thing of the past if recommendations are implemented to allow Hindi as a medium for higher education, including in some of its Indian Institutes of Technology and top universities such as Delhi University.

The Committee of Parliament on Official Language headed by Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah has suggested making the use of English optional as the medium of instruction. The committee, in its report presented to India’s President Droupadi Murmu last month, recommended local languages should be given preference over English in all states.

But the recommendations have already faced vehement opposition from some non-Hindi speaking states, some of them ruled by opposition parties, particularly in southern India.

The parliamentary committee has recommended that Hindi-medium higher education should be offered in technical institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and non-technical institutions such as central universities in Hindi-speaking states.

In other parts of the country, the local official language rather than English should be the medium in higher education institutions, it said. Currently the medium of instruction in higher education institutions in the country is mostly English.

The committee said English should be the medium of instruction only where “absolutely essential” and that English should be progressively replaced with Hindi in those institutions.

“Use of Hindi as a medium of instruction and other activities should be in Hindi in all technical and non-technical institutions in the country and use of English should be made optional,” the committee proposed in its report, which has still not been publicly released.

End of compulsory English tests

The committee also suggested Hindi-medium instruction in training institutes and the elimination of compulsory English-language test papers in recruitment examinations.

The move could be particularly problematic for many IITs, Indian Institutes of Management, medical schools and top universities like Delhi University, which attract students as well as top faculty from all around the country. But others see it as more inclusive as higher education expands, as many students do not come from English-medium secondary schools.

A report in May showed that the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for Undergraduates (NEET-UG), sat by some 1.8 million aspirants this year to qualify for entry to medical schools, showed a 274.3% increase in the number of candidates taking the exam in 12 Indian languages over the past five years. The number taking the exam in Hindi more than doubled during the same period.

Hindi is only widely spoken mainly in the north of the country, with nine out of 28 states, including the capital region of Delhi, having Hindi as the official language – often referred to as the Hindi belt. An additional four states use Hindi as a secondary language. Most southern and north-eastern states prefer English as a secondary language.

Gradual replacing of English with Hindi

Bhartruhari Mahtab, deputy chairman of the language committee and a member of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), a regional political party in the southern state of Odisha, said the committee recommendations were in accordance with the new National Education Policy which recommends “mother tongue” instruction in higher education.

Mahtab suggested to reporters in Delhi that Hindi is being used “20% to 30%” of the time (ie, in a minority of programmes or lectures) in major higher education institutions like Banaras Hindu University, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. “The committee has stressed for 100% of Hindi in these universities.”

He said: “English is not our language” but a foreign language, adding: “We should end this colonial practice.”

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