Secretary of the Union ministry of AYUSH Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha has landed in a controversy after he said on camera that he would speak only in Hindi and asked participants who do not understand the language to leave a virtual training, The News Minute reported on Saturday. Kotecha’s comment came amid a raging debate on language politics in the country.

Kotecha made the comments on Thursday, while addressing the participants of the AYUSH ministry’s training session. A video of the address was shared widely on social media. “I want to congratulate people who have taken the time to attend this event in the past two days,” the secretary said. “I have got information that, for the past two days, there has been an issue...people can leave...I don’t speak English very well. So, I will speak in Hindi.”

However, Kotecha claimed that the video of his comments was manipulated, according to The Hindu. “I was to give a 10-minute introductory speech and began speaking in Hindi, making it very clear that I would be speaking in both Hindi and English,” Kotecha told the newspaper. “A bunch of hooligans, who had come in as participants in the webinar, started shouting, disturbing the speech and demanded that only English be spoken. They have manipulated the video and have sabotaged the entire educational programme.”

The secretary claimed that 350 participants were invited for the training session, but 430 turned up and his address was disrupted.

Delegates from non-Hindi speaking states, including a group of 37 government yoga and naturopathy practitioners from Tamil Nadu, tried to share their concerns with authorities over loss of communication at the conference, but did not receive any response. The three-day training programme, that began on August 18, primarily used Hindi as a medium of instruction, the attendees said. Trainees from Andhra Pradesh and Kerala had also participated in the sessions.

A representative of the Indian Naturopathy and Yoga Graduates’ Medical Association told The Times of India that other officials holding the training session chose to speak Hindi despite knowing English. “So much of the programme was Greek and Latin to participants from the South,” he said. The representative also said that Kotecha was “rude and unsympathetic” to the participants who approached him.

DMK MP Kanimozhi demands AYUSH secretary’s suspension

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi demanded the suspension of Kotecha over his comments. Earlier this month, Kanimozhi became the centre of the debate over Hindi imposition in the country after an airport security official in Chennai asked her if she was Indian because she didn’t know Hindi.

“The statement of Secretary of the Union Ministry of AYUSH Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha that non Hindi speaking participants could leave during a Ministry’s training session speaks volumes about the Hindi domination being imposed,” she wrote on Twitter. “This is highly condemnable.”

“The government should place the secretary under suspension and initiate appropriate disciplinary proceedings,” she added. “How long is this attitude of excluding non Hindi speakers to be tolerated?”

The MP also wrote to Union minister Shripad Naik and urged that all officials of the AYUSH ministry be directed to conduct meetings in English, and provide translations wherever Hindi is used.

“I would like to remind you about the promise made by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on August 7, 1959, on the floor of the Lok Sabha that as long as non-Hindi speaking states require English as an associate language, it will continue for indefinite period,” she said in a letter. “I urge you to immediately order an inquiry... and take action against all officials who have acted in a manner discriminating [against] our fellow citizens on the basis of language.”

Karti Chidambaram, who is an MP from Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, also criticised Kotecha. “AYUSH training in Hindi ignores Tamil Nadu delegates,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express. “Not knowing English is understandable, but this arrogance of asking those who don’t know Hindi to leave and insisting on speaking in Hindi is totally unacceptable.”