Hindi ‘imposition’: Why the postal entrance exam triggered protests in Tamil Nadu

Arun Janardhanan
Until last year, candidates appearing for examinations to fill vacancies in various grades in the postal department could take the test in 15 languages, including Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. (File Photo)

Protests by political parties from Tamil Nadu in both the state Assembly and in Rajya Sabha earlier this week forced the Centre to cancel an examination held on July 14 to fill vacancies in the postal department.

The Centre’s decision was announced by Union Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament Tuesday. The Minister said that the fresh examination would be held in all regional languages, including Tamil.

The controversy around the July 14 exam

Until last year, candidates appearing for examinations to fill vacancies in various grades in the postal department could take the test in 15 languages, including Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The notification for this year’s examination, released on May 10, did not deviate from this system.

However, three days ahead of the exam, on July 11, the postal department issued fresh guidelines, laying down that candidates would have to take the exam only in Hindi or English.

The decision triggered resentment and protests. No official explanation was given for the eleventh-hour decision taken by the postal department.

A senior official close to the recruitment process told The Indian Express that the exam was cancelled "for many reasons", including the protests from Tamil Nadu.

"Even though only Tamils protested against the decision, it was cancelled also because of the fact that not only Tamil Nadu, but states like Maharashtra and Gujarat too would be affected by the new system. The average candidate from many states would have found it difficult to take the test in English or Hindi, especially for the lower and middle-grade jobs," the official said.

Traditionally, Class III and Class IV employees are considered a "regional requirement" in government services, including in central government services.

Thus, employees selected from, say, Tamil Nadu for those grades of jobs have usually been appointed in Tamil Nadu itself to ensure efficient delivery of services, because these employees have the advantage of being able to communicate in the language spoken by beneficiaries in the state.

This trend has, however, started to change of late as new practices have been adopted by the government.

Many central government departments have, for example, started to transfer staff in batches from one state to another, or insist on mandatory Hindi literacy in several government job selections, or on the use of Hindi on highway name boards or similar public utility services, or even in file notings.

Recruitment tests: a history of problems

Two years ago, in 2016, a similar postal recruitment test turned out to be a massive scam after it was discovered that candidates from Haryana, Maharashtra, and Punjab had scored higher marks in the Tamil exam than Tamil candidates themselves. This case is currently being investigated by the CBI.

In another case, the Madras High Court had pulled up the Centre and Railways recently on a petition that Railway authorities had been facilitating the appointment of non-Tamil speaking candidates by rejecting lakhs of applications by Tamil Nadu candidates on flimsy grounds such as absence of self-attestation.

Allegations of imposition of Hindi

The protests by Tamil Nadu parties was linked to the longstanding apprehension in the state about the imposition of Hindi on the state and its people. A key component of the political history of Tamil Nadu since the 1930s is the consistent resistance to the alleged attempts by "North India" to thrust "one language" upon the nation and to ensure the supremacy of Hindi.

These apprehensions have escalated in the light of the perceived attempts by the BJP-RSS to impose a Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva ideology on Tamil Nadu.

DMK MP Kanimozhi recently attacked the government for naming many government schemes in Hindi. "I would like to ask you how will a villager in my district understand what it is? I have seen signboards in Thoothukudi saying PM Sadak Yojana, with no translation. I do not understand it," she said in Parliament.