IFP Editorial: Students still prefer English as an alternative language among most of the Northeast students and even the Roman script is used by some Northeast tribes for writing and communication.
Updated 10 Apr 2022, 7:18 pm
Everyone was surprised by Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent statement on making Hindi compulsory upto Class X in the Northeast states. Amit Shah chairs the Parliamentary Official Language committee and he made the announcement at the 37th meeting of the committee. Shah had said that 2,200 Hindi teachers had been recruited in the Northeast, adding that Hindi was the “language of India”. He, however, clarified that Hindi should be an alternative to English and not local languages. Ever since he made that statement, leading CSOs including literary organisations and student organisations are up in arms.
Assam Sahitya Sabha and North East Students Organisation (NESO) had asked the Centre to roll back its decision. Both the state government and CSOs of Manipur are still silent except for some activists. It is indeed strange that the Union Home Minister should make such an announcement which is contrary to the ethos of the region. In September, 2022, he had said Hindi is a friend of India’s regional languages and all of them should be promoted and encouraged.
Addressing a function on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, Shah also appealed to parents to communicate with their children at home in their mother tongue even if they study in English medium schools. The Home Minister also said people should not only be ‘Atma Nirbhar’ (self-reliant) in producing goods but also for languages. We had lauded the Home Minister’s statement then. We had felt it was time for our leaders to bring Manipuri language to new heights.
Twenty-nine years have gone by since Manipuri Language was included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution and yet the language is still to reveal its full potential and rich culture. After inclusion in the 8th Schedule, a state Language Cell was opened in the state Education Directorate which was ultimately upgraded as the Directorate of Language Planning and Implementation in 2013 and the basic idea was not only promotion of the state language but also of the various tribal languages and dialects.
Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. We must also understand that the number of speakers of a language is very important in consideration of the status of a language.
The basic question is how many people speak Manipuri or Meiteilon. Manipuri language is a dynamic language and it has the strength to absorb foreign words into its fold and also adapt to change and modern realities. One has to believe in the resilience of the language and its adaptability to modern linguistic changes. It is one of the oldest languages in Southeast Asia, which has its own script and written literature. Despite being the lingua franca of the state, it is spoken in Manipuri populated areas in Bangladesh, Myanmar and other Northeastern states like Assam and Tripura.
The states in South India were the first to protest Amit Shah’s statement on Hindi. They had always been against the ‘imposition’ of Hindi language as a national language or a lingua franca between peoples speaking several languages. One remembers the linguistic history of India where most of the states were bifurcated on linguistic lines and it is still pertinent. Nearer, the basis of the Assam movement was on Assamese language as against Bengali intrusion.
Except in Arunachal Pradesh, Hindi is a non-starter in most Northeast states. Students still prefer English as an alternative language among most of the Northeast students and even the Roman script is used by some Northeast tribes for writing and communication. Of course, Meiteis have their own script and they are very attached to their language. One still remembers the Manipuri language movement before it was finally included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.