A Slice of Anti-Hindi Agitation History (1938- 1939)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2002 (ID.2002-01-02); Updated 2017-02-01
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The very first anti-Hindi imposition agitation took place in January 1938 and continued throughout the year and beyond, with several protests/demonstrations. Though the British still ruled their South Asian colony, there was a Provincial Government of the Madras Presidency (Madras Province) headed by Congress Party (with limited powers and under the British rule). It was this Congress government that was responsible for initiating Hindi imposition in the Madras Presidency that included the current Tamil Nadu State. The Provincial government planned to make Hindi a compulsory subject in schools. This was the first step to make Hindi the official language of India when the British rule end over South Asia.

Protests against this Hindi-imposition move was organized by Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy (EVR). Some notable leaders of this agitation were Sir A. D. Panneerselvam, Maraimalai Adigal, Somasundara Bharathiyar, Paventhar Bharathi Dasan, K. A. P. Viswanatham and C. N. Annadurai. Some of them were arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned along with a number of rank and file protesters, by the Congress government. The Congress Party that would cry foul when their members were arrested by the British for their participation in anti-British protests had no qualms in imprisoning anti-Hindi imposition protestors. As far as I know, Mahatma Gandhi did not condemn the Provincial Government headed by his Congress Party for arresting over a thousand protesters in 1938 alone for exercising their civil right of organizing protest demonstrations against Hindi imposition.

Two of the arrested protesters, Natarajan and Thalamuthu, died during their imprisonment. Natarajan was arrested in December 1938 and died in January 1939. Talamuthu was arrested in February 1939 and died in March 1939. Both fell ill in prison and died after admission to hospital. It is reported, and we accept, that it is due to natural causes (illness).

A young boy, just 14 years old, participated in this agitation. It was his first taste of protest against Hindi imposition. In subsequent years he would participate in many agitations against Hindi imposition. Twenty nine years later, he was one of those elected to Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly in the landslide victory of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1967 following the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation and the suppression of the agitation by the ruling Congress Party. He became a cabinet minister in 1967 in the first DMK state-government of Chief Minister C. N. Annadurai. On the latter's death in 1969, he became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1969. That 14-year old boy who jumped into the anti-Hindi agitation in 1938 is none other than Mr. Muthuvel Karunanidhi. His long and successful political career started with the first anti-Hindi agitation of 1938.

An extensive history of anti-Hindi agitations spanning from 1938 to 1968 may be found in Reference 1.


1. History of Anti-Hindi Agitations in Tamil Nadu and What the Future Holds (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2003 (33 KB) (h)


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