Global Freedom of Expression

Karnataka v. Associated Management of English Medium Primary & Secondary Schools

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Speech
  • Date of Decision
    May 6, 2014
  • Outcome
    Affirmed Lower Court, Law or Action Overturned or Deemed Unconstitutional
  • Case Number
    9 SCC 485 (2014)
  • Region & Country
    India, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law
  • Themes
    Academic Freedom, Content Regulation / Censorship
  • Tags
    Children, Coerced or Compelled Speech, Students

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of India ruled that a government order that imposed a compulsory language policy for students in primary education was unconstitutional because it violated the right to receive information in the manner of one’s choice. The Court, among other things, relied on John Stuart Mill to conclude that  “choice in the matter of speech and expression [was]  absolutely necessary for an individual to develop his personality in his own way.


On April 29, 1994, the Karnataka government issued a Government Order regarding language policy to be followed in primary and high schools w.e.f. academic year 1994-1995. An important clause under this new Order stated that “[t]he medium of instruction should be mother tongue or Kannada … in all Government recognized schools in classes 1 to 4.” To enforce the same beyond Government recognized schools, the Order “directed that all unauthorized schools which do not comply with the above conditions, will be closed down.” The Associated Management of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka challenged this order before the Karnataka High Court. That Court found this policy violates Articles 19(1)(g), 26 and 30(1) of the Constitution of India. On appeal before the High Court, the case was referred to the Supreme Court.

Decision Overview

The judgment of the Court was delivered by Judge A.K. Patnaik. The Supreme Court issued five holdings. Of importance were three issues. The first question regarded the definition of “mother tongue”. The Court referred to Article 350A, the only provision in the Constitution that uses the term, to find that it means the inherited language of the individual, being the linguistic minority in a State. The mother tongue is decided by the parent or the guardian of the child and as per its constitutional meaning, it is not necessarily the language that the child is comfortable with.

The second and the most important issue dealt with the choice of a student/parent to choose a medium of instruction at primary education. The Court held that the word freedom in Article 19 means absence of control by the State, thereby affording the liberty to choose, subject only to the enumerated restrictions under Article 19(2)-(6). The Court cited the common ground reached by thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Harold J. Laski on the significance of liberty, to hold ultimately that “choice in the matter of speech and expression is absolutely necessary for an individual to develop his personality in his own way …”. [para. 29] After considering the expansionist interpretative approach adopted by the Supreme Court to the freedom of speech, the Court reiterated the proposition laid down in Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting v. Cricket Ass’n of Bengal, that Article 19(1)(a) includes the right to not just impart but also receive information and education. The Court expressly rejected the argument that the State may regulate the medium of instruction if it believes that it will be more beneficial to the child, siding on the lines of liberty of choice.

The third important issue before the Court related to the violation of various fundamental rights by the imposition of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction. Articles 29 and 30, which reference the protection of interests and educational rights of minorities, was tested on the anvils of ‘choice’ of language at such minority educational institutions. Citing D.A.V. College, Bhatinda, etc. v. The State of Punjab and Ors. and In re The Kerala Education Bill, 1957, the Court preserved the right to choose the medium of instruction in minority educational institutions. Similarly, with respect to un-aided non-minority schools, the Court found the right to choice of medium of instruction inherently grounded in Article 19(1)(g), through the words “Freedom” and “any” before the word “occupation”.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The Court expands the scope of freedom of speech and expression in India since it held that the compulsory imposition of the mother tongue as a medium of instruction violates the right to receive information in a manner that one chooses.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The decision establishes a binding precedent within its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court’s decision is binding on all courts within the territory of India.

The decision was cited in:

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