Assamese made a compulsory subject for non-Assamese school students

Decision taken by state government with eye on the upcoming polls, hopes to consolidate Assamese nationalist vote

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In what appears to be a willful disregard of the Model Code of Conduct, that is in operation in the poll-bound state of Assam, the state government has issued a notification on March 17, 2021, making Assamese a compulsory subject for non-Assamese school students.

The notification comes under operation as a part of implementation of the Assamese language learning Act, 2020 that was passed in Assam State Assembly last year in a bid pacify the those opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The BJP-led government wanted to show that it was dedicated to safeguard the interests of Assamese people, as there was a popular perception in in the state that CAA would open the door for large scale migration of Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh, which would pose a threat to the language, literature and culture of Assamese people in Assam.

The Board of Secondary Education, Assam (SEBA) notification vide no. SEBA/ AB/ AG/ 26/2020/4 dated March 17, 2021 says, “In pursuance of the provision contained in the Assamese language learning Act, 2020, for those students who will be admitted in class ix in 2021, for pursuing course curriculum prescribed by the Board of Secondary Education, Assam, for them study of Assamese Language as of the subject shall be compulsory in all schools except the schools located in sixth scheduled areas, Barak valley area, and exclusively in Bodo medium schools located in other parts of the state w.e.f. 1/4/2021.” The notification further said, “It is notified that the students studying in SEBA affiliated schools will have to opt Assamese as MIL or elective subject. In other words the students who opt MIL subject other than Assamese, will have to opt Assamese as elective subject. So, these students will not get any other option, as there is a provision of only one elective subject in the Board’s curriculum.”

The act, which was passed in the early part of 2020 was kept in cold storage for more than one year as there was an outcry from various stakeholders who viewed the Act as not only gross violation of constitutional provisions, but also how it may create another round of linguistic clashes all over the state. The notification comes only nine days before the first phase election in Assam as scheduled on March 27, 2021 thus making it a last ditch attempt to score political brownie points.

It may be mentioned that the first phase of election in Assam will cover the mainstream Assamese dominated areas, where the notification may augur greater well for the BJP. The Assamese nationalists may feel that the notification is an apt punishment for non-Assamese speaking people, who will now be compelled to study Assamese language. They may also take it as a victory of Assamese people over non-Assamese speaking people. But the long running result of the notification will have a negative impact over Assamese society.

Brief history

The issue of language has always been a sensitive in Assam with large scale riots breaking out in the 1960s and 1970s. The language issue also lay at the heart of the separate movement for Bodoland in Assam in the 1980s. This is why socio-culturally aware citizens of the state were concerned about the Act ever since it was passed in Assam State Assembly. Due to sharp reactions from various corners, the government of Assam didn’t implement the Act for one whole year. As the election process is underway, and the model code of conduct is in operation, it appears that the government of Assam only issued the notification only to grab the Assamese nationalist votes. 

Academics and intellectuals react

The move of the government has received sharp reaction from intellectuals of the state. Talking to SabrangIndia, eminent educationist and writer, Dr. Dinesh Baishya said, “The notification has violated the Constitutional provision. It has violated the Right to Language. Every citizen has the right to choose their own language, in which he will read and write. The state has no right to force them to learn a language.” 

Eminent writer and Head of the department of Political Science, Gauhati University, Dr. Akhil Ranjan Dutta said, “Much has been discussed on the issue.  As language has always been a sensitive issue in Assam, the government should have been much more careful before issuing such a notification.”

Prof Sushanta Kar said, “The notification will have to face much protest in the state in near future. It will diminish the right to choice. It will affect not only the Bengali language, but, Karbi, Dimasa, Manipuri, Nepali and many other languages as well.”



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