Imposing language on people may trigger massive political unrest
Rahul Dass | May 17, 2017
Nobody ever learnt a language that was imposed on them. Language is an emotive issue and history is replete with instances when making a language mandatory has led to outrage and even bloodletting. We don’t seem to have learnt our lessons from history as Kerala decided to make Malayalam mandatory in its schools. A month later West Bengal followed suit and made Bengali compulsory in schools.
Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam on April 11 signed an ordinance that said all education institutions in the state will have to compulsorily teach Malayalam until Class 10. It is applicable to all institutions under CBSE and ICSE boards from the next academic session.
A month later, the West Bengal government made Bengali compulsory in all schools. This includes private English medium schools.
Bengali is an exceptionally beautiful language. It is an exceedingly rich language, which has spawned gigantic literary works. Bengali writers have been way ahead of their times and their writings are classics. Absolutely no doubt about that.
But, here lies the rub. Not everyone in West Bengal is a Bengali. One is not sure they are too keen to learn the language.
The warm people in the Darjeeling hills speak a variety of languages, including Nepali and Tibetan. Now, the Lepchas are reasserting their identity by laying stress on their Rong language.
It essentially boils down to this – by imposing Bengali we will end up alienating them. People have taken to the social media to express their anguish. A young woman from the hills wrote on her Facebook, asking people to have a hashtag #podhbonalikhbona, which is “won’t study, won’t write”.
It would be appropriate to mention that Bengalis know how to put up a fight when it comes to protecting and preserving their language.
Who can forget the Bengali Language Movement in Assam’s Barak Valley, where Bengalis are in majority. It was a protest against the Assam government’s decision to make Assamese the only official language of the state. On May 19, 1961, eleven people were killed, making it a dark day. Bengali was ultimately given official status in Barak Valley.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, after independence in 1947, Urdu was imposed on the people. Dhaka University students and other political activists on February 21, 1952 organised a protest. The police opened fire and some demonstrators were killed, leading to widespread civil unrest. Finally, the government was forced to accord official status to Bengali language in 1956.
Tamil Nadu too has seen huge protests both before and after independence over Hindi being made compulsory.
Exactly 80 years back in 1937, the first anti-Hindi imposition agitation was launched to oppose compulsory teaching of Hindi in the schools of Madras Presidency. Mandatory Hindi was withdrawn in 1940 after three years of protests.
Post-Independence too, Tamil Nadu saw protests when efforts were made to make Hindi compulsory.
The bloodbath shows that language movement can be quite dangerous. Clearly, the state governments have erred in making the language mandatory. They have forgotten that language imposition has taken a violent turn in the past.
It may sound harsh but its true that learning Malayalam and Bengali would in no way better prepare the students for the modern world, where English, Chinese and French are much sought after languages. The government must look ahead so that its students are all geared up to make their mark across the globe. They will get good jobs if the students are comfortable in languages which the industry needs.
Howsoever passionately we may feel about these two languages, one is not sure if the Human Resource managers are eagerly waiting for candidates who are masters in these. Better give them what they want so that the students employability increases dramatically.
It would be prudent to promptly withdraw the decision to making Bengali and Malayalam compulsory.
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