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“Imposition of Hindi” in Northeast Demeans India’s Unity in Diversity and Threatens Ethnic and Cultural Diversities of the Region

The latest attempt of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s Government of India to impose Hindi language particularly in India’s Northeast has been objected and criticised by several organisations from the Northeast and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

The protests came after the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on April 7 had announced that all the eight states of the Northeast have agreed to make Hindi compulsory in schools upto Class 10.  Amit Shah also said that Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages.

Reports quoting the Union Home Minister Amit Shah as having said at the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee in New Delhi on April 7 said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided that the medium of running the government is the Official Language and this will definitely increase the importance of Hindi. Now the time has come to make the Official Language an important part of the unity of the country.”

“When citizens of states who speak other language, communicate with each other, it should be in the language of India. Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages. Unless we make Hindi flexible by accepting words from other local languages, it will not be propagated,” the Union Home Minister added.

Amit Shah stressed on the need to give elementary knowledge of Hindi to students up to Class 10 and pay more attention to Hindi teaching examinations. The Union Home Minister informed that 22,000 Hindi teachers have been recruited in the eight states of Northeast India adding that nine tribal communities of the Northeast have converted their dialects’ scripts to Devanagari, the script used for Hindi language.

“Imposition of Hindi” in India’s Northeast demeans Unity in Diversity of Indian Democracy and also will not help in integrating India as One Nation, One Country, One Language … These are reflected in a number protests and statements made by several organisations and individuals.

Manipur’s six student organisations have strongly condemned the Government of India for its decision to make Hindi as a compulsory school subject in the states of the Northeast including Sikkim.

A release jointly issued by the All Manipur Students Union (AMSU), Democratic Students’ Alliance of Manipur (DESAM), Apunba Ireipakki Maheiroi Singpanglup (AIMS), Students’ Union of Kangleipak (SUK), Kangleipak Students’ Association (KSA) and the Manipuri Students’ Federation (MSF) on April 10 stated that they would never accept the recent decision of Union Home Minister of “imposing” Hindi as compulsory subject in school till class 10.

“India is inhabited by different communities and hence, it is known for its ‘Unity in Diversity’. However, taking the move to impose Hindi as a compulsory subject demeans the democratic values of the country as it is almost similar to adopting the policy of colonial domination,” they stated.

Strongly condemning the Government of India for the imposition of Hindi as a compulsory subject in schools in the Northeast States of India, the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), a conglomerate of eight students’ bodies representing the Northeast States submitted memorandum to Union Home Minister Amit Shah on April 11. NESO comprises of All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Garo Students’ Union (GSU), Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) and Twipra Students’ Federation (TSF).

While Hindi language accounts for approximately 40-43 percent of native speakers in India, there is a plethora of other native languages in India which are rich, thriving and vibrant in their own perspectives giving India an image of a diverse and multi-lingual nation. In the Northeast Region each state bears its own unique and diversified languages spoken by different ethnic groups ranging from Indo-Aryan, to Tibeto-Burman, to Austro-Asiatic families. In the region, a native language or a mother tongue is an important marker for a community. Native languages are being further enriched in terms of all aspects such as in literature, academics and arts, the memorandum stated.

The memorandum signed by NESO Chairman Samuel B. Jywara and Secretary General NESO Sinam Prakash on behalf of the eight students’ bodies, added that the imposition of Hindi as a compulsory subject in the Northeast Region will be detrimental not only for the propagation and dissemination of the indigenous languages but also to students who will be compelled to add another compulsory subject to their already vast syllabus. It stated that NESO is vehemently against this policy and will continue to oppose it as it had done in the past. As per the understanding of the organization, such a move will not usher in unity but will be a tool to create apprehensions and disharmony. Also, a move to make Hindi, one of the MIL subjects as compulsory is more or less like belittling the indigenous language spoken and written by a particular community, it added.

NESO in the memorandum urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to withdraw such an unfavourable policy but instead should focus on how to further uplift the indigenous languages of the Northeast Region. Indigenous languages should be made compulsory in their native States till Class 10 standard and Hindi should remain as an optional or elective subject, it stated

The Meetei Erol-Eyek Loinasillon Apunba Lup (MEELAL) on April 10 in a release expressed strong opposition to the Government of India’s decision to make Hindi language compulsory in schools across Northeast.

“The one nation, one language, one religion ideology of the BJP cannot be implemented throughout the country, especially in Manipur which has a unique history of over 5,000 years,” the MEELAL release said.

Notably, Tamil Nadu was the first to protest the statement of Union Home Minister Amit Shah on making Hindi compulsory in the Northeast schools upto class 10.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has criticised Home Minister Amit Shah’s remark in which he (Amit Shah) said Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages. The Tamil Nadu CM said this would hurt India’s unity.

Taking to Twitter, Stalin wrote, “The Home Minister says to speak in Hindi instead of English and this is hurting India’s unity. Does the Home Minister only think that Hindi (speaking) states are enough? A single language will not help in unity.” He said the BIP was repeating the same mistake and claimed they will not succeed.

Reacting to Shah’s statement on 7 April that Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on April 8 said Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s thrust on Hindi went against India’s ‘integrity and pluralism’, and it would not succeed. It would wreck the nation’s integrity.

The BJP top brass is continuously working towards causing damage to India’s pluralism, Stalin, who is also the president of the ruling DMK, said on his Twitter handle.

“Does @AmitShah think that ‘Hindi state’ is enough and Indian states are not needed?” he asked. The Chief Minister said a single language would not help the cause of unity and the character of being singular cannot create integrity.

“You are making the same mistake again and again. However, you will not succeed!” Stalin tweeted.

The Naga People’s Front (NPF) also expresses opposition to Hindi as alternative to English in Nagaland, the NPF President Dr. Liezietsu in a statement on April 11 said, “We are not against Hindi… But we cannot agree at the moment to use Hindi as an alternative to English in Nagaland because it is impossible in its totality… This is the ground reality and we do not find any other option at the moment”.

“We are aware that Hindi is the national language. But without putting in any effort to make people learn Hindi by the Central government, if it is imposed on the people who do not know the language, it will amount to alienation which may not certainly be in the interest of the nation”,  Dr. Liezietsu said.

Asom Sahitya Sabha, an influential literary body of Assam said the government should instead concentrate on conserving and promoting indigenous languages.

“Such steps spell a bleak future for Assamese and all indigenous languages in the North East,” the body said in a statement. “The Sabha demands that the decision to make Hindi mandatory till Class 10 be revoked.”

Another Assamese body, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti  said that the move was anti-Constitution and against the federal structure of the country.

“The BJP-led government has been taking anti-Assamese decisions since 2016 by first removing the Assamese paper from the Assam Public Service Commission exams and now the Hindi imposition through the schools,” the Samiti said.

In Mizoram, the Young Mizo Association said it would submit a memorandum against the decision of the Union government. “This needs serious discussion,” report said.

Former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma on April 14 condemned the Centre’s decision to make Hindi a compulsory subject till Class 10 in the Northeast region, “without taking sentiments of people into consideration”.

“The sentiment of people of the region was not taken into consideration when the Centre took the decision. The state governments should have articulated what would be the feeling of the northeast residents,” he said.

“We used to have Hindi classes in school but it was never meant to be a compulsory subject,” he said.

“People will find a way to equip themselves with knowledge of multiple languages. It is always going to be advantageous for someone to know multiple languages but it doesn’t mean you should force everyone to learn a particular language,” he said.

Stating that democracy in India is characterized by unity in diversity that has provided a unified vision to the people to make the country a great nation, Member of Parliament Lorho S Pfoze has requested Union Home Minister Amit Shah not to impose compulsory learning of Hindi so suddenly but instead create an atmosphere of ease and pleasure to learning Hindi as an optional subject in the Northeast, especially in the State of Manipur. The Northeast India with just about 3.76 percent population of the country living in 7.98 percent of the land mass has the widest range of ethnic and cultural diversities with more than 220 dialects or languages spoken.

In a letter addressed to the Chairman of Parliamentary Official Language Committee and the Home Minister, MP Lorho S Pfoze stated that diverse as we are, the secular fabric of the Nation has been woven in recognition of regional differences, mutual tolerance and acceptance that allow us to live together with our differences which in turn has made India a beautiful nation and hence, the greatest democracy in the world.

As stated in many of the protests and statements made by several organisations and individuals against the Government of India’s decision to make Hindi compulsory in the schools of the Northeast upto class 10 indicate that the decision demeans India’s Unity in Diversity and threatens the ethnic and cultural diversities of the Northeast with more than 220 dialects and languages.

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