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Imposing Hindi, forced birth control on North East states not a good idea, may backfire on BJP

The North East may be embracing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with enthusiasm, but many are unhappy with the Centre's move to impose Hindi in the region. Although most people endorse the Indian State and are happy to be part of it, they are also keenly aware of their distinct cultural identity — be it the Nagas, the Manipuris, Mizos or the Khasis. And they want to preserve their linguistic and cultural uniqueness.

This is why the recent decision of the central government to make Hindi compulsory in CBSE schools and in State-run Kendriya Vidyalayas have come as a shock. People in the North East are in no mood to accept the imposition of an alien Sanskritised language.

"The decision brings out the discriminatory nature of the BJP government, which seeks to impose Hindi on people coming from non-Hindi linguistic backgrounds. The step gives undue importance to Hindi vis-a-vis other languages from non-Hindi speaking regions, by selectively promoting it in CBSE board schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas, which are present in all parts of the country,’’ the North-East Forum for International Solidarity said in a press release.

The BJP government in Assam has drafted a controversial population control bill. Image courtesy. Image courtesy: Facebook/Himanta Biswa Sarma

The BJP government in Assam has drafted a controversial population control bill. Image courtesy. Image courtesy: Facebook/Himanta Biswa Sarma

The BJP may have to think twice before it goes ahead with the plan. It may even resort to what it had done about the beef ban, which is promoted across north India, but wasn't imposed in the Christian-majority states of the North East, and in Kerala. Any attempt to ban the slaughter and sale of beef will be fiercely resisted by these states.

And while some states like Assam may permit mandatory imposition of Hindi in schools, others like Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya are unlikely to do so. Considering Manipur and Assam both have BJP-led governments, the protests may not be so
vociferous. "I don't agree (with the rule)," said Chinglen Khumukcham of the North East Forum for International Solidarity (NEFIS). "When people's interests are touched, it's not about BJP or Congress or any other party."

He pointed to the fact that when Assam Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tried to make Assamese compulsory in all schools in the state, the tribals protested, and the government dropped the idea of carrying this to tribal areas, Khumukcham said.

Most people in the North East aren't familiar with Hindi; English is the link language for the educated tribals of the region. The Christian missionaries who came to the region to convert these tribals also set up schools and hospitals. In most of the Christian states, like Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya, Irish missionaries as well as the Baptists set up excellent schools and colleges. As a result, the average Khasi, Mizo and Naga can speak, read and write better English than the average person from north India.

With Meghalaya going to the polls next year, and the Congress government out of favour, BJP should have considered the ground realities before getting President Pranab Mukherjee to accept the recommendations of an expert parliamentary committee. These are presumably the same MPs who travel the world to promote Hindi.

"This decision would further add to discrimination faced by people from other linguistic backgrounds, as it would allow the present government to renege on its commitment towards preserving and promoting the culture and language of people from different regions of India. It also nullifies the spirit of diversity upheld by the government, wherein preservation of cultural and linguistic diversity of non-Hindi speaking regions is guaranteed," the release went on to say.

Elsewhere in Assam, the first BJP government of the state has drafted a new population policy, which while being enthusiastically welcomed by the majority community, is being regarded as an assault on fundamental rights by minorities. The draft policy, unveiled by Sarma, focuses on a two-child norm. Those with more than two children would be banned from government jobs. Other benefits like providing tractors for farmers, cheap housing for the poor, and other state schemes would also not be extended to those with more than two children. In addition, they also cannot contest elections, be it for panchayats, municipal bodies or autonomous councils.

The move, which was part of the BJP's poll manifesto, aims to curb the state's Muslim population, which is said to be growing at an explosive rate. The Assamese fear they could be reduced to a minority in their own state. There is even talk about a conspiracy to make Assam a Muslim majority state.

This fear had been with the community for several decades now. It was in the air, when the All Assam Students Movement, headed by Prafulla Mahanta and the late Bhrigu Phukan, led a campaign against alleged foreign nationals from neighbouring Bangladesh entering the state's voters list. The movement, vociferously supported by the Assamese, catapulted the young student leaders to power. An almost xenophobic fear of Muslims, mainly those living in the riverine areas of the Brahmaputra, has haunted Assam's middle class ever since.

While it is a fact that the poor and the illiterate have a higher fertility rate than the educated, the answer is not to bar them from
government jobs, but to educate them on the importance of family planning. Force never helps in these circumstances. Instead, schools in the char or riverine areas, good family health centers are the way forward.

As the Congress learnt a bitter lesson during the Emergency, advocating forced sterilisation could backfire.

As Guwahati-based political analyst Haider Hussain points out, knowledge is the key. "Education makes a great difference, whether for Hindus or Muslims. In a college in Barpeta district run by Muslims, most of those who have got their degrees generally have two children. They are all Muslims, and Barpeta district in lower Assam is seen by the Assamese as an area where Muslims dominate and produce lots of babies. My point is that education would have been a better way to arrive at the same results."

The draft policy has not yet gone through the legislature and there will be public consultations before this becomes law. Yet, chances are that it would be passed and enthusiastically embraced by the Assamese. But it certainly does not mean it's a great idea.

Updated Date: Apr 25, 2017 10:20 AM

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