‘Don’t speak in Malayalam’ order to Keralite nurses withdrawn after outrage

GIPMER medical director Dr Anil Agarwal quickly withdrew the controversial circular and even disassociated the Delhi government and himself from the order. Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi had tweeted to 'stop language discrimination'

Out of the 20 lakh registered nurses in India, 18 lakh are from Kerala. Withdrawing the controversial order, GIPMER medical director Dr Anil Agarwal said it was the fundamental right of the nurses to speak in their own language

Out of the 20 lakh registered nurses in India, 18 lakh are from Kerala. With that kind of statistics, you may want to think twice before you mess with Keralite nurses. A nursing superintendent of a Delhi government hospital learnt this the hard way as her face-off with her Malayali nursing staff almost turned into a major national north vs south or Hindi vs Malayalam language issue.

On Saturday (June 5), the nursing superintendent of the Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research in New Delhi dashed off a circular forbidding her nursing staff to converse in Malayalam in the hospital following a complaint and ordered that only Hindi and English should be used to communicate or else “serious action will be taken”.

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This was like asking actor Kangana Ranaut to stop posting on social media. An overt operation got underway as the Malayali nursing officer representatives from various Delhi hospitals including AIIMS, LNJP and GTB hospitals formed an ‘action committee’ the same night and condemned the order. And, they decided to vociferously fight back by launching an effective social media campaign against the order.


Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and Rahul Gandhi rushed to their defence. While Gandhi tweeted that Malayalam is as Indian as any other Indian language. Stop language discrimination!” . Tharoor was more eloquent as always and took to Twitter to condemn the order, stating that it boggled his mind that in a democracy, a government institution can tell its nurses not to speak in their mother tongue to others who understand them.

“This is unacceptable, crude, offensive and a violation of the basic human rights of Indian citizens. A reprimand is overdue!” Other leaders tweeted that it was highly discriminatory and needed to be withdrawn. The outrage that was stirred up by this circular quickly forced the GIPMER management to act and they hastily withdrew it.

The next day, on Sunday (June 6) morning itself, the GIPMER medical director, Dr Anil Agarwal quickly cancelled the circular and even disassociated himself from the order.

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According to an Indian Express report, Dr Anil Agarwal said the circular was not from the Delhi government or the hospital’s administration, and that he had been unaware that such a circular had been issued. It seems to have been an internal communication within the nursing staff, said Dr Agarwal, adding that he was stepping in to “rectify” the issue. And, he even promised to pull up the people responsible for this fracas.

Dr Agarwal however admitted that somebody had complained in the hospital but he also added that it is the “fundamental right” of the nurses to converse amongst themselves in their language. And criticised that there was no need for this kind of an order.

In the circular which had become controversial, the superintendent had written: “A complaint has been received regarding Malayalam language being used for communication in working places in GIPMER. Whereas maximum patient and colleagues do not know this language and feel helpless causing a lot of inconvenience. So it is directed to all Nursing Personnel to use only Hindi and English for communication otherwise serious action will be taken.”

South Indian languages have become a thorny issue of late. For example, in the second season of the popular The Family Man series, which is set in Tamil Nadu, a lot of the dialogue happens in Tamil and Sri Lankan Tamil to boot. This has caused a lot of chatter on social media because viewers from other parts of the country have found the Tamil language extremely distracting. (Though OTT platforms are full of foreign language serials which are otherwise lapped up with enthusiasm)

The Manoj Bajpayee-helmed serial too makes fun of how Delhiites and North Indians are clueless about south Indian languages and for them everyone in the south speak Madrasi! Well, that says it all, doesn’t it?