History of Anti-Hindi Agitations in Tamil Nadu and What the Future Holds
(A Chronology of Anti-Hindi Agitations)
TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2003 (ID. 2003-01-01); Updated: 2017-02-01
[Summary: History of Anti-Hindi Agitations in Tamil Nadu - A Chronology: Over 50 events from 1938 to 1968 including the violent days of 1965 discussed.]
1. Anti-Hindi Agitation: 1938-1964
2. 1965: The Volcano Erupts
3. 1967: Year of the Election
4. 1968: Call for Independence
5. After 1965: Smoldering Years of Resentment
6. What the Future Holds
AIADMK - All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
DK - Dravidar Kazhagam
DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
TNLA - Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (Thamizh Nadu Viduthalai Padai)
TNRT - Tamil Nadu Retrieval Troops (Thamizh Nadu Meetchi Padai) or Tamil National Retrieval Troops (Thamiz Thesiya Meetchi Padai)
The term "Anti-Hindi Agitation" is a short form for "Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitation". TamilNadu (South India) has nothing against the Hindi language. Let that language live and flourish where it belongs; in Hindi lands and wherever else people want it as official language or link language or national language or lingua franca. People of TamilNadu do not want it that way and are opposed to its imposition on them. Forcing Indian Government employees from TamilNad to learn and work in Hindi (in non-Hindi areas) is Hindi imposition. Showing Hindi programmes all day in TamilNadu on Indian Government controlled television in spite of the expressed wishes of the people for more Tamil programmes is another example of Hindi imposition. These and many other forms of Hindi imposition are not acceptable to Tamil Nadu. As Pattom Thanu Pillai, former Chief Minister of Kerala, said, "Hindi is as much alien to South Indians as English is to Indians".
We are not listing here every anti-Hindi demonstration that took place in Tamil Nadu. That would run into several hundred events. We list here only some key events.
1. Anti-Hindi Agitation: 1938-1964
Hindi imposition over Tamil Nadu started even before the British rule ended. During the last decades of British rule over the Indian Subcontinent, the British rulers allowed elected local provincial government under the British Government of India. In 1937, Congress Party formed the Government of Madras Presidency (Province), consisting of most of today's Tamil Nadu, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This Congress Government under C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was the first to impose Hindi on Tamil people. This immediately started protests in Tamil Nadu.
1938: January 3
Anti-Hindi demonstrations before Rajaji's house and as it became evident that the government plans to make Hindi a compulsory subject in schools. 1271 people, including 73 women, were arrested.
1938: February 27
The first Anti-Hindi Imposition Conference was held in Kancheepuram (Kanchi, Kanchipuram). Somasundara Bharathiyar, Paventhar Bharathi Dasan and C. N. Annadurai (Arinjar Anna) were among those who addressed the conference.
1938: April 21
Government of Madras Presidency made Hindi a compulsory subject in schools.
1938: May 28
Tamil patriots from all over the Madras Presidency formed the Anti-Hindi Command. Somasundara Bharathiyar was elected President and K.A.P. Viswanatham was elected Secretary.
1938: June 3
The great Saivaite scholar Maraimalai Adikalar (Marai Malai Adigalar) chaired the Anti-Hindi Conference at Kodampakkam, Chennai (Madras).
1938: August 1
Anti-Hindi March from Thiruchirapalli (Tiruchi, Trichi) to Chennai (Madras).
1938: September 10
At the Anti-Hindi Meeting held at Thiruvallikeni Beach in Chennai (Madras), Periyar E. V. Ramaswami Naicker (EVR) declared that Tamil Nadu should be an independent country. "Tamil Nadu for Tamils", he said, amongst thunderous applause from the huge crowd.
1938 - 1939
A number of Anti-Hindi Meetings and demonstrations were held throughout Tamil Nadu. A 1939 Women's Anti-Hindi Conference was chaired by Tharumambal. Women have participated in almost all anti-Hindi protests. We make a special mention of this because it was an exclusively Women's Conference against Hindi imposition.
Natarajan and Thalamuthu who were arrested for demonstrating against Hindi imposition died during imprisonment. Both fell ill in prison, were admitted to hospital and died there. Natarajan, arrested in December 1938, died next January. Thalamuthu, arrested in February 1939, died in March.
1940: February 21
Under so much opposition against Hindi, Government of Madras Presidency withdrew its order making Hindi a compulsory subject in schools. Anti-Hindi agitations abated.
Now that anti-Hindi protests had abated for two years, Government of Madras Presidency made Hindi compulsory in schools again. Anti-Hindi agitations resumed. Government backed down and again withdrew its order.
A new Congress Government was formed in Madras Presidency under T. Prakasam. Hindi was again made compulsory in schools. Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker appointed his top lieutenant C. N. Annadurai in charge of organizing demonstrations against it. Government backed down again and removed Hindi as a compulsory subject.
Once the British rule ended on August 15, 1947, Congress Party took full control of India both at the central government and at the state government levels. The Indian (central) government was hell bent on imposing Hindi on the non-Hindi peoples.
Hindi was again made a compulsory subject in schools. Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy Naickar convened an anti-Hindi Conference in Chennai (Madras) on July 17, 1948. Maraimalai Adigalar presided over the Conference. Thiru Vi Ka opened the conference. C. N. Annadurai and M. P. Sivaganam were among the speakers. Professor Ilakkuvanar presided over another Anti-Hindi Conference on August 1, 1948.
1948 - 1949:
Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) organized many anti-Hindi demonstrations in front of schools. Several thousand demonstrators were arrested and jailed. But Hindi continued to be a compulsory subject in schools.
1950: January 26
The new Indian Constitution went into effect on January 26, 1950. In spite of intense opposition from many non-Hindi leaders, especially from many Tamil leaders, Hindi was made the official language of India, relegating the other languages to a secondary status. Several years later, in 1963 Annadurai would say, "Making a language (Hindi) that is the mother tongue of a region of India the official language for all the people of India is tyranny. We believe that it will give benefits and superiority to one region (the Hindi-speaking region)... If Hindi were to become the official language of India, Hindi-speaking people will govern us. We will be treated like third rate citizens". Hindi would become the sole official language on January 26, 1965. English would also be used as an official language during the interim 15 year period.
1950: May 2
Madras State government issued an order making Hindi a compulsory subject in both middle and high schools (grades 6 to 11). Again there were massive protests. Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and the newly formed Dravida Munnetra Kazahagam (DMK), which split from DK in 1949, spearheaded the protests.
1950: July 18
Under intense opposition from Tamil people, government again removed Hindi as compulsory subject.
Indian Government put Hindi signs in all Indian (Central) Government offices in Madras State (Tamil Nadu). Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) under Periyar EVR and its offshoot Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) under C. N. Annadurai (Arinjar Anna) orgaized anti-Hindi demonstrations. Periyar painted tar over Hindi signs in Thiruchi. Annadurai did so in Coimbatore. Thousands of others did so around the state.
President of India issued an order that all efforts to make Hindi the sole official language of India by January 26, 1965 be strengthened and hastened. (According to the Indian Constitution, English would be used as a co-official language between January 26, 1950 and January 26, 1965. Then English would be removed and Hindi would become the sole official language of India.)
Indian Government controlled All India Radio (AIR) started using the Hindi word Akashwani on the air. Tamil people demonstrated against this. Tamil writers and performers refused to participate in radio programs. Indian Government decided to use the old name "All India Radio" in Tamil Nadu (Maras State) while Akashwani was used in other states. (NOTE: Indian Government started using Akashwani in Tamil Nadu again in 1982. Tamil people demonstrated and government went back to All India Radio again.)
DMK formed an Anti-Hindi Agitation Committee under E.V.K. Sampath. The Anti-Hindi Imposition Meeting held under DMK sponsorship on August 1, 1960 was a huge success; more than 1 lakh people attended (1 lakh = 100,000). Immediately Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent a letter to E.V.K. Sampath assuring that Hindi would not be imposed on TamilNad. But Hindi imposition continued and still continues. He also assured that English would continue as an official language of India as long as non-Hindi peoples want it.
1963: August 25
At the Thanjavoor Anti-Hindi Conference, C.N. Annadurai said, "It is the duty of the Tamil people to wage war on those who impose Hindi."
1963: October 6
Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Conference was held in Thiruchirapalli (Thiruchi or Trichi). This was the first major anti-Hindi conference by students. Students would play a major role in just less than 16 months.
1963: October 13
DMK's Anti-Hindi Protest Conference was held in Chennai (Madras). Party General-Secretary C.N. Annadurai asked volunteers to burn 17-th Part of the Indian Constitution. This is the part that makes Hindi the official language of India. In the subsequent months DMK leaders and cadres burnt the constitution all over TamilNadu. They were arrested and jailed.
2. 1965: The Volcano Erupts
2.1 Black Flags over Tamil Nadu
Hindi was to become the sole official language of India on January 26, 1965. January 26 is the Republic Day of India, the day on which the Indian Constitution went into force (in 1950). DMK announced January 26 as a Day of Mourning and asked volunteers to raise black flags all over Tamil Nadu. Police took many DMK leaders into preventive custody the previous night. It would have been big news but for the Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitation on January 25 and January 26, 1965. We provide a brief discussion of the Students Agitation in Sections 2.3 to 2.5.
2.2 Self Immolation
Before we go into the Students' Agitation, we wish to discuss the ultimate sacrifice of some Tamil patriots who poured petrol (gasoline) over their bodies, lit there bodies with fire, and offered their lives and bodies to Tamil in protest against Hindi imposition (self immolation).
These were the first instances of self-immolation in Tamil Nadu. In fact, these were the first instances of self-immolation anywhere in the world except for Vietnam where, a few years before, some Buddhist monks did the same to protest the dictatorial rule there. These are the names of the brave Tamil patriots who offered themselves as burnt sacrifices (If I left out someone please write to TAMIL TRIBUNE so their names could be added to this Honour Role of Tamil Patriots.):
More details about these martyrs may be found in Reference 1. Tamil Nationalist Poet Perunchiththiranar sang of them thus: "Have you anointed yourself with black oil (petrol) and showered in fire?" (kan-nei muzuki kanal kuliththanaiyo?).
2.3 Student Protests: January 25
Since January 26 was a holiday, University of Madras students went on a one-day strike on January 25. (University of Madras has now been split into a number of universities to reflect the growth in colleges and student population. In 1965 there were only two universities in Tamil Nadu, namely, University of Madras and Annamalai University.)
Both university and school students mobilized in protest against Hindi imposition all over Tamil Nadu. Virtually all stores closed in support. This was the largest mass protest ever in the history of Tamil Nadu (with the possible exception of the protests held two days later on January 27). There was nothing like that before and there has been nothing like that since then with the possible exception of January 27.
There were protest marches in most towns and cities in Tamil Nadu. Over 50,000 people marched in Madras City (Chennai); this includes students as well as some general public who joined the march. The marches were peaceful. There were colorful placards and banners against Hindi imposition. There were slogans against Hindi imposition. In some cities students beat drums and blew bugles as they marched through the main streets. At least in one city (Coimbatore) "pall bearers" carried the "dead body" of Hindi demon, accompanied by "wailing" students, to signify the "death" of Hindi imposition in Tamil Nadu. The marches were colorful. The marches were noisy. The marches were huge. It was all peaceful. The students wanted it that way. The students did it that way.
The peaceful demonstrations turned bloody at the end in Madurai. Some members of a ruling party affiliated trade union attacked the students with small swords (arival). Tamil blood was spilled again in the protest against Hindi imposition. Many towns and cities in Tamil Nadu would be painted red with the blood of Tamil martyrs in the next two weeks.
2.4 Student Protests and first police shooting death
Annamalai University is located in Chidamparam (Chidhambaram or Chithamparam). Annamalai University students also demonstrated against Hindi imposition. There were banners, placards, slogan shouting, drums and bugles. Students marched towards the center of Chidhamparam. All was peaceful. Police asked the students to stop the march. Students refused. Police opened fire on the unarmed students. All that the students wanted was to show the world their opposition to Hindi imposition. But police fired on them. One student died (Rajendran) and another was wounded seriously (Nedumaran).
There were other student processions and demonstrations all over Tamil Nadu too. These are described in Section 2.5.
2.5 Killing Fields of Tamil Nadu: January 27 to February 13
Violence against students by pro-Government trade union members in Madurai and arrests of anti-Hindi imposition demonstrators angered the students all over Tamil Nadu. Massive protest rallies were held on January 27 all over TamilNadu. These rallies rivaled those of January 25. The public was with the students. Many stores closed in sympathy. People observed in silence as students marched through the streets. Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Agitation Committee announced an indefinite strike. There was public support for the strike. A rebellion was brewing in Tamil Nadu.
The mass participation in the Anti-Hindi Imposition Protests and the extent of public support to the students sent chills through the veins of Hindi politicians who dominated the Indian Parliament and thus the Indian Government. Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda and the subservient Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam (who also belonged to the same Congress Party) decided to put down the anti-Hindi protests with brute force. Indian Army soldiers, Central Reserve Police and out-of-state police were rushed into Tamil Nadu. Soldiers and police shot indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed demonstrators killing "uncounted number" of protesters, maiming many and otherwise wounding many more. Many towns and cities had the blood of Tamil martyrs spilled on their streets. This went on until February 13. Unable to stop the demonstrations, even with such brute force, Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam and Indian Government Minister Subramaniam (from Tamilnadu) promised that they would work for the enactment of laws to prevent Hindi imposition. Students called off the strike. Student leaders announced the end of the agitation in the late hours of February 12 but there were demonstrations in a few places on February 13 because word did not reach those students. Indian Parliament passed a lukewarm Language Act on August 1, 1968. It did not meet the expectations of the Tamil people. Hindi imposition continued and continues [Reference 2].
2.6 Death Count
The exact number of people killed, maimed and wounded is not available. That
is why we used the phrase "uncounted number" in the second paragraph
of Section 2.5. Professor Alfred Stepan of Columbia University (USA) writes,
"Police and army troops opened fire in twenty-one towns in the state,
arrested over 10,000 people, and probably killed over 100 people".
Thinathanthi (daily newspapers) added up the death counts published in that
paper to 63. However, reading Thinathanthi, it is clear that these 63 were the
ones who died at the shooting or in the hospital or on the way to hospital that
day. It does not seem to include anyone who died in hospital after a day or more
from the shooting. Because of the fast moving events and so many deaths
occurring, newspapers did not seem to follow up the fate of the injured.
Remember, over 55 of the 63 deaths were in just 5 days between February 8 and
12, 1965; thirty one deaths were reported on February 12 alone. Ages of those
killed range from 13 to 50.
3. 1967: Year of the Election
In the 1967 general election, Tamil voters expressed their opposition to Hindi imposition with their votes. The Congress Party, which people associated with Hindi imposition, was defeated thoroughly; the Chief Minister, every cabinet minister and the party president all lost the election. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which people associated with opposition to Hindi imposition, won a landslide victory and formed the state government. But the state government could do little to stop Hindi imposition. That power rested with the Indian Government.
4. 1967-1968: Call for Independence
In spite of the massive 1965 demonstrations and the telling vote against Hindi in the 1967 general election, Hindi imposition continued. So Tamil Nadu Students demonstrated against continued Hindi imposition in late 1967 and early 1968. It was nothing of the size of the 1965 agitation. (People have learned that these protests fall into deaf years of the Indian Government). One event during this protest was worth noting. The protest march in Coimbatore City culminated at the V. O. C. Park in the centre of the city. Addressing the students, chairman of the Coimbatore Students Anti-Hindi Agitation Committee said that the only way to get rid of Hindi is for Tamil Nadu to become an independent country. He then hoisted the "Independent Tamil Nadu National Flag" and saluted it. Students stood in attention. Then the students disbursed. The flag fluttered in the gentle breeze of Coimbatore City. Police came and took down the flag.
5. After 1965: Smoldering Years of Resentment
The 1965 Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Agitation was a landmark in Tamil people's opposition to Hindi imposition. Until 1965, Tamil people had hope that peaceful protests would stop Hindi imposition. A peaceful people could do no more than what they did in 1965--a mass protest rivaling anything ever seen not only in Tamil Nadu but in the Indian subcontinent as a whole. Result was "uncounted number" of peaceful protesters killed, maimed and wounded, and a watered-down Language Act of 1968; an Act that means nothing much in view of the continuing Hindi imposition to this day. (The exact number of people killed, maimed and wounded is not available. That is why we used the phrase "uncounted number" here. More discussion of the number of people killed is in section 2.6.) Tamil people are no fools to hit their heads against a brick wall again and again hoping that it would give way. Neither are they fools to organize mass rallies again and again against Hindi imposition hoping that it would stop. Unlike before and during 1965, neither the general public nor the students participated in the rather small anti-Hindi demonstrations organized by political parties and Tamil organizations after 1965. (The 1968 one-day students strike was an exception. See Section 4.) Those who organized these demonstrations include the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and Thalai Nagar Tamizh Sangam (Capital City Tamil Association). There were a few dozen such demonstrations during these years. We will not list them here. In addition to these demonstrations, DMK and AIADMK also hold meetings throughout Tamil Nadu every year on January 25 in remembrance of those who were killed by Indian security forces during the 1965 Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Agitation. Initially, in the 1960s, it was the students who held these meetings on January 25 but later DMK and AIADMK started holding their own meetings. January 25 is called "Neeththaar Ninaivu Naal" (day of remembering those who died).
The absence of much public enthusiasm for anti-Hindi demonstrations should in no way be construed as Tamil people have accepted Hindi. Absolutely not. You cage a lion, beat it and starve it until it does its circus tricks. That does not mean it accepted it. One day it may strike its trainer and kill him/her. May be, may be not. No one knows. Talk to the Tamil people. You will learn their resentment against Hindi broadcasts on Indian Government run television. Talk in private to Tamil employees working for the Indian Government and its undertakings. You will learn their resentment on being forced to learn Hindi. (All non-Hindi employees of Indian Government and its undertakings must attend Hindi classes and pass Hindi examinations). If the Indian Government is to question my statement, I challenge it to conduct a poll during the next general election whether Tamil people want Hindi as the official language of India. If they vote for Hindi, I swear that I would spend the rest of my life chanting the praise of Hindi in Hindi in the streets of Tamil Nadu.
One day the pent up anger of the Tamil people would burst in some form or other. Will the circus lion tear apart its cruel trainer?
6. What the Future Holds
The simmering grudge and resentment against Hindi imposition in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people will one day burst like a volcano. In what form will it materialize? There is already some indication.
In 1968, representatives of Tamil Nadu Students Anti-Hindi Agitation Committee met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Chennai Airport (Madras Airport) and handed her a letter. It said that if Hindi imposition continued, they would have to fight for independence (freedom) for Tamil Nadu. The same year, at the end of an Anti-Hindi Imposition Rally, Coimbatore students hoisted the "Independent Tamil Nadu National Flag" saying that independence for Tamil Nadu is the only way to end Hindi imposition (see Section 4). Several years later, in in the mid-1980s, a former Coimbatore student (Thamizharasan) co-founded the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) (Thamizh Nadu Viduthalai Padai) to wage armed struggle for the liberation (freedom) of Tamil Nadu from Indian rule. Hindi imposition and economic discrimination are two of the reason he cited for launching the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA).
There is a good possibility that the simmering resentment of Hindi imposition could result in wider support for Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) (Thamizh Nadu Viduthalai Padai), Tamil Nadu Retrieval Troops (TNRT) (Thamizh Nadu Meetchi Padai) and other emerging groups like "Thamizhaka Makkal Viduthalai Padai" that are fighting for the liberation of TamilNadu from Indian rule. Even if a small percentage of those who resent Hindi-imposition were to actively support organizations that fight for Tamil Nadu independence, such organizations would become a formidable force for the Indian Government to reckon with. This is our opinion; it may or may not happen. Time will tell.
1. Burnt Offerings Against Hindi Imposition: Self Immolation of Tamil Martyrs in Tamil Nadu, 1965 (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2004 (20 KB)
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