Guwahati: The north-eastern states, mainly Assam, are upset again. The Centre's move to make Hindi a compulsory language in schools across the north-eastern states has sparked a fresh debate and miffed both political and apolitical groups of the region.
During a meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee in New Delhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, describing Hindi as 'the language of India', said that the language would be made compulsory until Class 10 in schools in the north-east. He added that 22,000 teachers were recruited to teach Hindi in the north-eastern states.
Though people in north-eastern states understand and speak Hindi, the Home Minister's announcement did not go down well as most of the groups including the North East Students' Organisation (NESO) believe that making Hindi compulsory in schools would be nothing but an imposition by the Centre.
The NESO comprises All Assam Students' Union, Naga Students' Federation, All Manipur Students' Union and All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union.
NESO advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya said, "Our students already know Hindi and have been learning the language at their will. We have no objection to Hindi as an optional subject but this an imposition. Each state in the north-east bears its own unique and diversified languages spoken by different ethnic groups, ranging from Indo-Aryan to Tibeto-Burman to Austro-Asiatic families."
In a letter to Shah, the organisation called for an immediate withdrawal of the "unfavourable policy". It also proposed that indigenous languages should be made a compulsory subject in their native states till Class X, while Hindi should be made an optional or elective subject.
On the other hand, for Dilip Medhi, a teacher at a government-run high school, making Hindi compulsory would only add burden to the students of the state.
"As per the latest National Education Policy (NEP), a student in a government school will have to learn Assamese, English and his or her mother tongue based on the tribe or community he or she belongs to. By adding Hindi as a mandatory subject, it will only burden the students impacting their learning process," Medhi opined.
Immediately after Shah's announcement, both political and apolitical groups unanimously objected to the proposal. Literary bodies in the region also expressed their concerns over the Centre's move.
Opposition parties in Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur have termed the move as a step towards 'cultural imperialism' terming it an assault on India's pluralism. Meghalaya's suspended Congress legislator, Ampareen Lyngdoh said, "The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution gives us the protection against any kind of imposition."
Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi said that the move would impact the native languages of the region.
Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP) president Lurinjyoti Gogoi added, "It's nothing but an invasion of the north-east region. Making Hindi compulsory in schools is a sign of aggression and imposition by the Centre. We will not accept it."
The Assamm Sahitya Sabha (ASS), the apex literary body of Assam, called on the government to concentrate on conserving and promoting indigenous languages instead of making Hindi a compulsory subject.
The Sabha secretary-general Jadav Chandra Sharma said if Hindi is made compulsory, the future of indigenous languages and Assamese as a link language will be endangered. He added that though the Sabha has been pressing the state government for the inclusion of Assamese in CBSE and English medium schools, no progress has been made in this regard so far.
How Real Is The Threat?
Official statistics highlight that the number Assamese speakers has been declining over the years. As per the Census 2011, 48.38 per cent people spoke Assamese in the state — a sharp decline from 48.80 per cent in 2001 and 57.81 per cent in 1991.
On the other hand, there has been an abrupt increase in the non-Assamese language-speaking population with about 28.91 per cent as per the Census 2011 compared to 27.58 per cent in 2001 and 21.67 per cent in 1991.
While the large-scale influx of immigrants from Bangladesh and other parts of the country has already threatened the native language of Assam, there is genuine fear among the Assamese that the language would go extinct in the near future with such imposition.
As per one estimate, there were around 300 languages and dialects in the north-east out of which 70-80 have already been believed to have landed in the endangered category with the most in Arunachal Pradesh where Hindi is a popular language.
Amidst the debate and anger over the move, confusion has escalated as state governments in the region, though backed the Centre's move, also informed that no official communication has been received from Delhi yet.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, "Forget about making compulsory, we have not received any official order from Centre for making Hindi an optional subject also. However, learning Hindi can't be termed as a threat to society as learning a language will only open more doors of opportunities."
Similarly, the Nagaland government also said that there had been no directive from the Centre to make Hindi compulsory till Class X. Other governments have said the same.
Given what the state governments have said, many believe that by tossing the issue of Hindi language, Shah was possibly testing the waters to see if it was an appropriate time to implement the policy or not.
Language experts caution that if the Centre does not take a proper scientific approach, the proposed policy would surely have irreversible consequences.
Upen Rabha Hakacham, an expert of Tibeto-Burman Language and Linguistics, Tribal Culture and Folklore Studies and Professor of Assamese department in Gauhati University said, "Learning a language is always beneficial but it depends on how the government wants to implement it. As the National Education Policy prescribes a three-language structure including the mother tongue of the community he or she belongs to, then how is Hindi going to be included in it?
"In Assam where a student is supposed to learn Assamese, English and their mother tongue compulsorily, which language would they have to give up to learn Hindi? In that case, the Assamese language may become the casualty."
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