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STRIKING A BLOW AGAINST ASSAM’S INCLUSIVE ETHOS


Focus: GS-I Indian Society, GS-II Social Justice

Introduction

  • The Assam government recently decided to promulgate a law to make the Assamese language compulsory in all schools, both public and private, including the Kendriya Vidyalayas, from Classes I to X.
  • The law will not be applicable in Barak Valley, Bodoland Council and other Sixth Schedule areas, where Bengali, Bodo and other indigenous languages will take precedence.

Data and Marginalisation

Statistical data have often been used as a tool to construct the linguistic hierarchy and homogenisation in a region marginalizes languages. (For e.g., census driven split of Hindi-Urdu – marginalised languages such as Magadhi, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Garhwali with their rich literary and linguistic traditions as mere dialects of the Hindi language.)

Assam’s case of marginalisation

  • Census data are often used to portray a ‘danger’ to the Assamese language — the ‘infiltration’ of Bengali-speaking communities is considered to be the primary reason.
  • The number of Assamese speakers as per the 2011 Census has decreased by more than 10% from 1971.
  • While considering the reduction in Assamese speaker, it has to be noted that most tribal communities speak Assamese but return their own respective languages as their mother tongues.

Impact on tribal languages

  • The imposition of Assamese has had adverse effects on tribal languages, especially on those which do not enjoy any constitutional protection.
  • Tribal languages are generally on a steady decline, e.g., Mising tribe, Deoris and Dibongiya have faced enormous decline in the rate of increase of speakers.
  • Other tribes such as the Sonowal-Kacharis and Tiwas have almost completely lost their languages.

Demand and opposition

  • Tribal communities since long have been demanding linguistic and territorial protection and attention from the State government.
  • Tribal communities have always resisted attempts of forced homogenisation.
  • Khasi along with other tribal communities started protesting after the Official Language Bill in 1960 was passed by Assam Government, which lead to the formation of Meghalaya.
  • The Bodo movement for autonomy also finds its roots in this bill.
  • Tribes have often highlighted that the ‘Assamese nationalism’ discourse was narrow and rarely included other communities.
  • Tribes such as the Misings, Deoris, Rabhas, etc. have still consistently supported the Assamese movement against the imposition of Bengali language or Hindi in Assam.

The CAA factor

  • The anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) movement could have been a point of departure in the ‘Assamese Nationalism’ discourse.
  • Demands were raised for protection of indigenous land, culture and languages during the course of the struggle.
  • Such fear and insecurity have an immanent tendency to straitjacket heterogeneous aspirations and scuttle the inclusive nature of the movement.

Conclusion

  • While the tribes acknowledge the threat that infiltration poses to local languages and culture, they are also wary of the Assamese hegemony and homogeneity.
  • This law will only increase the marginalisation of these communities, triggering social conflicts once again.
  • It is time for progressive sections in Assam to go beyond the politics of fear and assert the inclusive ethos of Assam.

-Source: The Hindu


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December 2022
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