Mother Tongue can't be compulsory medium of instruction in schools: SC [Read the Judgment]

Mother Tongue can






After a long battle extended for the past 20 years between Karnataka Government and Schools in State of Karnataka over the medium of teaching, Supreme Court today struck down the decision of the Karnataka Government,which made it mandatory for all primary schools in the State to teach in Kannada language.

Constitution Bench comprising of Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice A. K.Patnaik, Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Ibrahim Kalifulla today held that imposing the mother tongue as the medium of instruction violated the fundamental rights.

Government of Karnataka by a Government Order dated 19.06.1989 prescribed that mother tongue will be the medium of instruction from 1st standard to IVth standard. The order was challenged before the Supreme Court and a Division Bench in its judgment dated 08.12.1993 in English Medium Students Parents Association v. State of Karnataka & Ors held that the order of the Government of Karnataka was constitutionally valid.

Subsequently Government issued another order dated 29.04.1994 which provided that medium of instruction should be mother tongue or Kannada with effect from the academic year 1994-1995 in all Government recognized schools in classes I to IV. Schools challenged this order before Karnataka High Court and the Court quashed the said order, which was subsequently carried to Supreme Court.

An ordinary  Bench of Supreme Court on 05.07.2013, referred the following questions for consideration by a Constitution Bench:

1.      What does Mother tongue mean? If it referred to as the language in which the child is comfortable with, then who will decide the same?

2.      Whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage?

3.     Does the imposition of mother tongue in any way affects the fundamental rights under Article 14, 19, 29 and 30 of the Constitution?

4.Whether the Government recognized schools are inclusive of both government-aided schools and private and unaided schools?

5.     Whether the State can by virtue of Article 350-A of the Constitution compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as medium of instruction in primary schools?

Advocate General for the State of Karnataka, submitted that the medium of instruction and examination in the junior basic stage must be the mother tongue of the child and that the mother tongue of the child will be the language declared by the parent or guardian to be the mother tongue. He also contended that Article 350A has been introduced in the Constitution providing that it shall be the endeavor 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 a linguistic minority group.

Counsels appeared for the Petitioners submitted that mother tongue is the language in which the child is the most comfortable. Further they submitted that under Article 350A of the Constitution, the State has no power to compel any educational institution to adopt mother tongue as the medium of instruction.

Holding that the government can’t impose mother tongue on linguistic minority for imparting primary education the Bench struck down the impugned order imposing Kannada language as the medium of instruction in all primary schools of the state.

Court has observed as follows;

“We are of the considered opinion that though the experts may be uniform in their opinion that children studying in classes I to IV in the primary school can learn better if they are taught in their mother tongue, the State cannot stipulate as a condition for recognition that the medium of instruction for children studying in classes I to IV in minority schools protected under Articles 29(1) and 30(1) of the Constitution and in private unaided schools enjoying the right to carry on any occupation under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution would be the mother tongue of the children as such stipulation. We accordingly answer question No.(iii) referred to us and hold that the imposition of mother tongue affects the fundamental rights under Articles 19, 29and 30 of the Constitution”.

“Article 350A therefore cannot be interpreted to empower the State to compel a linguistic minority to choose its mother tongue only as a medium of instruction in a primary school established by it in violation of this fundamental right under Article 30(1). We accordingly hold that State has no power under Article350A of the Constitution to compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as a medium of instruction in primary schools”

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