DTNext traces the emotionallycharged issue of Tamil language, spearheaded by Dravidian politicians, that still shows no signs of flagging
The anti-Hindi agitations in 1965 saw an unprecedented surge of student power sweeping through Tamil Nadu and was so powerful that it swept away the powerful Congress from power and carried the Dravidian movement to Fort St George.
The chants of ‘Hindi Ozhiga, Tamil Vaazhga’ (Down with Hindi and long live Tamil) rent the air everywhere. Hundreds of youth unflinchingly faced the cannons of the Army, which was called in to quell the agitation, even as many attempted self-immolation. It all began when the Union government set January 26,1965 as the official date for switching over to Hindi as the sole official language.
The DMK, under CN Annadurai, decided to launch a series of protests against the move and announced that January 26 would be observed as a day of mourning. The then Chief Minister, M Bhaktavatsalam, warned that the state government would not tolerate the sanctity of the Republic Day, blasphemed and threatened stern action.
The DMK decided to advance the day of mourning by a day, but its leader Annadurai was taken into preventive custody on January 25 and thousands of DMK workers and leaders, including M Karunanidhi, the leader of the anti-Hindi struggle committee, were jailed, leaving the agitation in the hands of students who carried it forward, rewriting the political history of the state.
Madurai leads from front
The protests originated in Madurai, where college students went on a procession against Hindi, when a group of Congress workers attacked them. As the news spread, students from all parts of the state boycotted their classes and began to protest.
In Chennai, the Beach Road became the epicentre of anti-Hindi agitation, with over one lakh students carrying out a procession from Napier Park (now known as May Day Park) to Fort St George. The police were unable to control the surging students who poured out of all the lanes and bylanes of the city.
The state government indefinitely closed down all the colleges and schools from January 28 and raided the college hostels to arrest the students.
Railway stations and other central government offices bearing nameboards in Hindi were targeted by the protestors, who burnt them, cut the telegraph poles and damaged the railway tracks. When the situation got out of hand, the Congress government called in the paramilitary forces.
About 500 protesters, including school students, were killed in firing in many parts of the state in the two weeks of agitations, although the official figures put the toll at 70.
Prime Minister intervenes
Union Ministers from Tamil Nadu C Subramaniam and OV Alagesan resigned their posts in protest, leading to a rift in Congress. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was firm on Hindi imposition, backed down after President S Radhakrishnan refused to go by the Prime Minister’s recommendation to accept the resignations of ministers from Tamil Nadu.
Finally, the agitations subsided after Shastri’s assurance that English would be used as the official language as long as the non-Hindi speaking states wanted it to be so. The subsequent government under Indira Gandhi amended the Official Languages Act on December 16, 1967, to guarantee ‘virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism (English and Hindi) in official transactions.
Prior to the 1965 protests, the state saw anti-Hindi agitations in 1937 under the leadership of Dravida Kazhagam founder EVR Periyar, opposing the introduction of compulsory Hindi teaching in the schools of Madras Presidency by the government led by C Rajagopalachari. The call for the protests started in the Madras Presidency Tamils Conference in Tiruchy convened by Periyar.
The next conference of Anti-Hindi Agitationists was held in Kancheepuram on February 27, 1938. The agitations started on June 31 and the state turned into a battlefield. As the protests continued for the next five months, the government arrested its leader Periyar and imprisoned him for three years.
However, this only swelled the ranks of the protesters, forcing the government to withdraw its order on Periyar’s prison term and released him in six months. Tamil scholars like Maraimalai Adigal contributed to the struggle in a big way.
His family members took part in the protests and spent several months in prison. Other Tamil scholars like Navalar Somasundara Bharathiar, Thiru Vi Kalyanasundaram, and MC Poornalingam, Saivaite savants like Arunagiri, Shanmugananda, Eelathadigal and Vimalanandha took active part in the agitations which lasted three years.
The protests intensified after two of the agitators Thalamuthu and Natarajan, died after self-immolation. The Congress government was forced to resign in 1940 and the then Madras Governor Erskine withdrew the compulsory Hindi order.
From politicians to academics, the fight for Tamil was unflagging, with prominent faces carrying the crowd with them
He was the first to voice his protest against the compulsory Hindi Education Act introduced in 1938 by the government in the Madras Presidency under C Rajagopalachari. Periyar mobilised the support of youth for massive protests and was arrested. The Rajaji government had to reduce his jail term and was also forced to resign.
Involved in both the anti-Hindi agitations in 1938 and 1965, the DMK founder launched the 1965 anti-Hindi protests through a call to observe the day of shifting to Hindi as the official language as a day of mourning. He rode to power on the anti-Hindi wave in the next Assembly elections and passed the Two- Language Act in the state.
Karunanidhi, appointed as the leader of the anti-Hindi protest committee by his leader Anna, was a fiery orator and field worker in the 1965 anti-Hindi agitations. He was jailed in Palayamkottai as the government felt that the protest would be crippled without his presence. Through his daily Murasoli , he published news related to Hindi agitations.
- APRIL 13, 1963: Union Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri tables the Official Languages Act, making Hindi compulsory for Union and state governments
- JUNE 8,9,10, 1963: DMK general council meets for three days to discuss Hindi imposition, decides to mobilise people’s support through public meetings, cultural programmes, posters and pamphlets
- OCTOBER 13, 1963: DMK holds anti-Hindi conference, announces dates for stir
- NOVEMBER 17, 1963: DMK begins anti-Hindi agitations in the form of rallies, picketing and black flag demonstrations
- JANUARY 25, 1965: DMK observes it as a day of mourning and the first self immolation in the 1965 agitation occurs in Tiruchy when DMK cadre Chinnasamy of Kizhapazhavur burnt himself. State-wide students stir begins
- JANUARY 26, 1965: Massive demonstration by students at Beach road in Chennai
- JANUARY 28, 1965: All the schools and colleges indefinitely closed
- FEBRUARY 10, 1965: Indian army units brought in to suppress the agitations-students killed in army firing at Kumarapalayam, Pollachi and Tirupur
- FEBRUARY 11, 1965: Union Ministers C Subramanian and OV Alagesan resign against Hindi imposition
- FEBRUARY 11, 1965: Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri through a speech in AIR assures that English would continue as official language
- FEBRUARY 12, 1965: Students council temporarily withdrew agitations
- MARCH 14, 1965: The students council totally dropped the agitations
- DECEMBER 16, 1967: Union government under Indira Gandhi amended Official Languages Act to ensure continuation of English as official language