Distortion, imposition: why NE groups are against the Center’s Hindi push
Last week, a conglomeration of 56 tribal organizations in Tripura came out to protest what they saw as the possibility of Hindi being introduced as a script for Kokborok, the lingua franca for most tribes in the state.
The Roman Script for Kokborok Choba (RSKC) was reacting to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s comments at the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Official Languages on April 2 that nine tribal communities in the Northeast have converted the scripts of their dialects in Devanagari, and that the eight northeastern states have agreed to make Hindi compulsory in schools up to grade 10.
the the comments led to protests in several states in the region. Each state in the Northeast has its own set of diverse languages, ranging from Indo-Aryan to Tibeto-Burmese to Austro-Asiatic families.
Kokborok was recognized as the official language of Tripura in 1979. It is now taught in 22 university colleges as well as the Central University of Tripura, using Bengali and Roman scripts.
The debate around the script dates back decades. Two commissions had been set up, led by former lawmaker Shyama Charan Tripura and linguist Pabitra Sarkar. While the former Left Front government preferred the Bengali script, the RSKC says the two commissions found that the majority of the tribal people were in favor of the Roman script.
“We believe that introducing Roman script for Kokborok would be easy…The government should not introduce any language for its own interests…Leave it to people in the community,” the RSKC chairman said, Bikash Rai Debbarma.
The RSKC said it was not against Hindi or Devanagari, but strongly opposed forced imposition. Tribal literati and cultural worker Chandrakanta Murasingh also said that tribal activists are not against Hindi; however, the linguistic balance could be disturbed if Hindi was imposed.
“The brotherhood and balance of Bengali and Kokborok speakers could be upset. If Bengali and Kokborok cannot be learned because of Hindi, it might (upset the balance),” he said.
The Mizo language or Mizo Tawng belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family. During colonial rule, Christian missionaries Reverends JH Lorrain and FW Savidge visited the hills of Lushai (now Mizoram) and introduced the Mizo alphabet in 1894, based on Roman script. The Mizo script is called ‘A Aw B’.
“It’s been our script for so long. We will not accept the imposition of Hindi script on it,” said Ricky Lalbiakmawia, spokesperson for MizoZirlai Pawl (MZP), the largest student organization in Mizoram.
The Meitei Mayek or Manipuri script of Manipur is 2,000 years old. The script is recognized by the government of Manipur and Manipuri is one of the 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
On April 25, six student organizations in Manipur held a public convention to protest Shah’s proposals. It passed a series of resolutions, including one against the acceptance of Hindi as a compulsory subject up to class X in Manipur.
“Our language is included in the 8th schedule, like Hindi. Hindi and Manipuri have the same status. Thus, imposing Hindi would amount to rejecting other languages and scripts. We consider this to be majority politics,” said Leishangtshem Lambyanba, President of the Student Democratic Alliance, Manipur.
Lambyanba said the imposition of Hindi could put additional pressure on students and hamper the development of the local language. “Even the national education policy stipulates that education should be provided in the mother tongue. Hindi is not our mother tongue,” he said.
Many languages are spoken in the ethnically diverse Arunachal Pradesh. A recent UNESCO survey identified 33 endangered and four critically endangered languages. Even the most widely spoken languages, such as Adi, Nyishi, Galo, and Mishmi, do not have proprietary scripts.
With almost no common indigenous language between one group and another, Hindi acts as a sort of bridge language, said Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) leader Tobom Dai. But, he said, Hindi cannot be imposed as it would further distort the dynamics of the language.
Both Assamese and Bodo are listed in the 8th schedule. While Assamese uses its own ancient script, Bodo is written in the Devanagari script. Assam has dozens of other indigenous languages, many of which have no script. Karbi, Mising and Tiwa are mostly written in Roman script while Rabha is usually written in Assamese script.
Assam Student Union (AASU) Councilor Samujjal Bhattacharya said students in Assam are studying Hindi up to grade 8 anyway. “We oppose this decision. (Students) already study Hindi up to grade 8 and there is no need to extend it further. The government should reverse the decision,” he said.
He said the Devanagari script debate is not an issue for the Assamese language. Referring to other language groups in Assam such as Rabha, Mising, Tiwa and Karbi, he said: “The literary bodies of these languages will decide the question of writing. On our side, we want all tribal and ethnic languages to be developed.
NE Students’ Union
Shortly after Shah’s comments, the North Eastern Student Organization (NESO), a conglomerate of eight student unions, wrote to him opposing the “imposition” of Hindi as a compulsory subject, as this would harm the spread of indigenous languages and also add another subject to the curriculum.
“According to the understanding of the organization, such a decision will not introduce unity but will be a tool to create apprehensions and discord,” the NESO letter said.