Forget Gazetted officers, even temporary staff in Tamil Nadu’s Central government offices need to pass a Hindi exam to get regularised
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami, on Monday, agreed with his political rival and Opposition leader MK Stalin – that the three-language formula in the National Education Policy (NEP) was not acceptable to Tamil Nadu.
The Lede, however found, that imposition of Hindi is not just on paper in the NEP, but in practice in central government offices in Tamil Nadu.
This is a clear violation of the Indian Constitution.
To the extreme right side of the lobby in a spacious central government office, hung the melamine whiteboard. ‘Hindi Kaksha’ (Hindi classroom) read the visitors.
Squinting, they studied the Hindi word of the day, ‘Pahal’, written in shaky handwriting. Confused, they looked further down on the board for its English translation.
‘Pahal’ means initiative in Hindi.
“The board is there in every Central Government office in Tamil Nadu. They say it’s for our learning of the language, Hindi,” a Tamil employee at the Principal Accountant General Office in Teynampet, says.
Three days a week, the hustle begins at 11 am, said Vinod (name changed to protect identity) an employee at the Central Excise office in Chennai, even though work begins from 9:30 am with files piling up by 10 am.
In between working on the tax files, it is the alarm set on his smartphone that reminds Vinod of the ‘Hindi Language Class’. With slumped shoulders, he rushes to the Hindi Vibhag, with a few other colleagues, who speak only Tamil and English.
“I am at Prabodh level,” said Vinod, adding, “Prabodh is one of the various levels - Praveen and Pragya are the others. We are taught simple Hindi words and prepare for the 80 marks written Hindi paper and 20 marks Viva for the confirmation to a promotion. No Hindi means no promotion.”
All the employees mentioned in this report wished to keep their identity concealed to avoid Employees Conduct Action against them.
The classes, conducted by teachers with PhD level knowledge of Hindi, stretch an hour and a half, skimming off the peak working hour of their office timing. “If I do not attend this, which again, I have no option, I will miss out on increments, promotion, and my status will never change to that of a permanent employee,” says Vinod.
This initiative by the Hindi cells in Central government offices to propagate a working knowledge of the language comes under Article 343 of the Indian Constitution.
The same article, despite several amendments and recommendations, excludes the forced imposition of Hindi for the states under the C category like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal, Orissa, and north-eastern States.
In the 2004 resolutions (pages 108-113) on the implementation of the official language, Recommendation No. 11.5.13 was rejected.
This recommendation read: “The compulsory English Question Paper in all recruitment examinations should be abolished. The option of giving answers in English medium to a candidate should be given only under unavoidable circumstances. Similar rules should be applied in the interview also.”
But the recommendation to do away with English papers altogether was rejected with the following comments: “The orders regarding opting Hindi as the medium for the interviews already exist. But the recommendation with regard to dispensing with the compulsory English question paper and making Hindi as a medium of all recruitment examinations have not been accepted as this is against the spirit of the Official Language Resolution, 1968 passed by both the Houses of Parliament.”
In 2011, however, compulsory exams in Hindi was back, although in a different form. The implementation of Hindi was mentioned in the 2011 examination notification by the RBI which recognised the presence of Hindi cell and made learning Hindi mandatory, even for the C category States. The document, also, warned employees of disciplinary action, in case they failed to attend the classes prescribed.
According to senior central government officers in Chennai, the implementation existed in action from the 1990s but the mandatory feature of the Hindi implementation gained popularity, only after 2015. Post the year 2015, administrative meetings on Hindi implementation increased in frequency.
It was also then that the examination notice by the Tax Department and other central government offices in Chennai made the 100 marks test in Hindi compulsory for the direct recruitment of tax assistants.
“On paper, Tamil Nadu might have been exempt though, in reality, the teaching of Hindi is implemented, regardless,” a senior translator at the Controller of Defence Account in Teynampet said.
Under these formalised Hindi Cells, employees with no former education in the language are noted by an officer assigned. This list of potential student officers has to attend the classes.
Similarly, hugging their Hindi supplements and notebooks tight, two female Central government employees left their office in Rajaji Bhavan to a whitewashed isolated building to the back of the compound, to work on their Hindi grammar.
Adjusting her thick brown spectacles over her slender nose, one of them, said, “For administrative staff it is understandable but for technical staff, the enforcement of Hindi does not make sense. Now I have to leave my work for an hour and attend classes which I am forced to. My mother, who also worked with the central government, never had to learn Hindi. So, I didn’t know that there is a provision like this. I am learning technical words here.”
According to Ramah P Iyengar, the Assistant Director of the Hindi Cell at Rajaji Bhawan in Besant Nagar, most employees are hesitant to sit for the class. “So we introduced monetary benefits. Like for Prabodh, it varies between Rs 400 and 1600, for Praveen, it’s between Rs 600 and 1800, and for Pragya, it’s between Rs 800 and 2400.”
But one cannot get the reward just by writing the examination. The criterion of 75% attendance applies here too. Also, one needs to be a top scorer to get the cash award.
“Cash or no cash, why should I learn Hindi for my superiors’ comfort while they, who are in Chennai, will not learn Tamil?” asked Manoj (name changed to protect his identity) an employee at the GST office in Chennai.
“Things have changed,” said Manoj’s senior, referring to the year 2014.
Manoj’s superior in office, who took the oath and started working as a central government employee posted in Tamil Nadu, in the early 1990s, recalled the implementation of the Hindi language back in his starting days.
“We had separate Hindi cells back then too. But it was not a compulsion. Maybe because the number of Tamil-speaking employees were more,” a senior officer there said.
“The number of Tamil speakers has spiralled down. The coercion to learn Hindi has increased. The option to dissent against Hindi classes disappeared,” the senior officer added.
A senior officer at the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisations said, “Hindi as a language is taught at private schools in Tamil Nadu but not in government schools. It leads to unequal access to language benefit.”
As per Suresh Kumar, a junior translator at the Office of the Principal Accountant General in Chennai, the officers are nominated from each department after strict scrutiny of their educational background. “Most officers, whose name I had to put on the list for Hindi classes, come to me, persuading me to take off their names from the list. But how can I? Suresh said.
Questioning the necessity of such ‘coercion’, the employee from EPFO said, “It might be important for a Gazetted officer to have a working knowledge of Hindi but not for non-Gazetted officers as they deal with inter-office documents which are anyway bilingual.”
A retired administrative officer from the Central Government office in Chennai, though, said the implementation of Hindi was not as forceful as it seemed. “Yes, officers came complaining to me about the stress of studying Hindi while frantically finishing office work. But even they wanted to learn,” the retired officer said, adding that a working knowledge of Hindi is required to get increments and promotions too.
To be able to communicate with an increasing number of Hindi-speaking colleagues, the Tamil-speakers were asked to learn Hindi. In 2006, we also began special English classes for Hindi-speaking employees,” he explained.
The officer also stated that the number of Tamil speaking applicants was on the slide. “Last year, in a crowd of 300 applicants only five Tamil-speakers applied. I think most are opting for the state government services rather than the central,” the retired officer said.
The Lede contacted the office of the Joint Secretary of the Department of Official Language under the Home Ministry for a response to this report. There was no response. This report will be updated and as when they do reply.