Can't impose mother tongue in primary schools: Supreme Court

By Pti

Can't impose mother tongue in primary schools


New Delhi: The Supreme court has ruled that the government cannot impose mother tongue on linguistic minority for imparting primary education as it affects the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said the state has no power under Article 350A of the Constitution to compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue as the only medium of instruction.

It also said the state cannot force choice of language on the ground that it would be more beneficial to the child.

"Prescribing the medium of instruction in schools to be mother tongue in the primary school stage in classes I to IV has, however, no direct bearing and impact on the determination of standards of education, and will affect the fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution".

"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. The bench, also comprising justices A K Patnaik, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and F M I Kalifulla, also said the children and their parents have right to choose the language for instruction in primary school".

"We are of the view that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution includes the freedom of a child to be educated at the primary stage of school in a language of the choice of the child and the State cannot impose controls on such choice just because it thinks that it will be more beneficial for the child if he is taught in the primary stage of school in his mother tongue. We hold that a child or on his behalf his parent or guardian, has a 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," the bench said.

The bench said the Karnataka High Court's order to choose a medium of instruction is implicit in the right to education under Articles 21 and 21A of the Constitution was not right.

The issue had come before the constitution bench as the two Karnataka government orders of 1994 making mother tongue or regional language compulsory for imparting education from class I to IV had come under challenge. In July last year, a two-judge bench of the apex court had said its Constitution Bench will examine whether government can impose mother tongue or regional language as the medium of instruction at the primary education stage as it has a far-reaching significance on the development of children.

The court, which was of the opinion that it was a fit case for consideration by a larger bench, had said that the issue involved in this case concerns the fundamental rights of not only the present generation but also the generations yet to be born.

It had said that the issue had to be referred to a larger bench as a two-judge bench of the court in 1993 had refused to interfere with a Karnataka government order specifying mother tongue Kannada as the medium of instruction at the primary school level and making it mandatory for every child.


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