Promotion of Hindi evokes both support and disquiet in Northeast

GUWAHATI/AGARTALA: Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent announcement to make Hindi a compulsory subject up to Class 10 in all the Northeastern States has evoked mixed reactions. The region presents a complex linguistic mosaic which has zealously preserved over 200 dialects. Various political and apolitical bodies have strongly advocated promoting and protecting the indigenous and local languages for all-round integration.

India’s Northeastern region is home to 45.58 million people (2011 census) and the indigenous tribes constitute around 28 per cent people and they mostly speak in their mother tongue or their indigenous language. Of the eight States, a majority of the people in three Northeastern States – Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya – are Christians while a considerable percentage of people in other Northeastern States – Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh – are either Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists.

Data shows that of the total of 31,205,576 population in Assam (2011 census), 15,095,797 are Assamese speakers, 9,024,324 are Bengali speakers, 14,16,125 are Bodo speakers and 21,01,435 are Hindi speakers. According to the 2001 Census there were 13,010,478 Assamese speakers, 73,43,338 Bengali, 12,96,162 Bodo and 15,69,662 Hindi speakers. Increase in the absolute number of speakers of these four languages over the decade 2001-2011 in Assam was Assamese 20,85,319, Bengali 16,80,986, Bodo 1,19,963 and Hindi speakers 5,31,773.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on April 10, while chairing the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee, had said Hindi should be accepted as an alternative language to English but not to local languages. “The nine tribal communities of the North-East have converted their dialects’ scripts to Devanagari, while all the eight States of the North-East have agreed to make Hindi compulsory in schools up to Class 10. There is a need to give elementary knowledge of Hindi to students up to Class 9, and pay more attention to Hindi teaching examinations,” the Home Minister had reportedly said in the meeting.

While the political parties in the Northeastern region are divided on the Hindi learning issue, the linguistic experts and political commentators said that while teaching in English and Hindi, local and indigenous languages must be given equal priority for their promotion and practical use. Assam’s influential apex literary body, Axam Xahitya Xabha has opposed the move to make Hindi a compulsory subject till Class 10 in the Northeastern States. Its secretary general Jadav Chandra Sharma said that making Hindi a mandatory language will endanger the indigenous language. Renowned political commentator in the North-East region and writer Sushanta Talukdar said that language is an important identity marker for ethnic communities in the North-East. “The language debate has not been settled and even after formation of States on the basis of language. The region continues to witness identity movements by various linguistic groups for statehood and autonomy. It is in this backdrop that any proposal to push a particular language either as official language, or as a medium of instruction or as a compulsory subject, sparks off protests and opposition,” Talukdar said. He said that the replacement of Assamese by Hindi as a lingua franca in Arunachal Pradesh and increase in population of Hindi and Bengali speakers in Assam in the 2011 language census has stoked fears of the Assamese language being further marginalized, which also resonates with smaller ethnic communities in the State and other States in the region. At a time when ethnic communities have been striving for the promotion of their own language, including as medium of instruction, making Hindi a compulsory subject up to Class 10 is seen as a move contrary to their linguistic aspirations, Talukdar observed.

Communist Party of India-Marxist, Congress, Trinamool Congress, and few other local parties have strongly opposed the move, while National People’s Party (NPP), a national party from the North-East, supporting the Centre’s move, demanded to promote local and indigenous languages. CPI-M central committee member and veteran tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury said that the BJP Government, at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is trying to impose Hindi on all communities. “If the BJP Government at the Centre continues to insist on imposition of Hindi on all communities, it would affect the national integration of the country. Such an attempt is against the unity in diversity and the philosophy of India’s freedom struggle,” Chaudhury, a former Tripura Tribal Welfare and Forest Minister, said. Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member Sushmita Dev, who hails from the Bengali-dominated southern Assam, said that the imposition of Hindi is an RSS agenda. “Instead of protecting and promoting the local languages of the North-East, the BJP with a motive is trying to impose Hindi,” she said.

NPP Supremo and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, supporting the Centre’s move, said that the Union Government must also take steps to promote the local languages. “Institutional and financial support must be given to protect and promote the local and indigenous languages of the North-East,” Sangma said in Shillong. Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee president Keisham Meghachandra said in Imphal that his party strongly opposes the Union Home Minister’s statement “on imposition of Hindi language in Manipur and other North-East India states.” In Meghalaya, former Congress leader and sitting MLA Ampareen Lyngdoh, who along with four party legislators recently announced to support the BJP-backed Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) Government, also strongly opposed Shah’s announcement. “The Central Government is unilaterally trying to impose Hindi in the Northeastern States,” Lyngdoh told the media on Sunday in Shillong. (IANS)

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