PERSPECTIVE: "Bengali is not our language"
Writes: Wangchuk Bhutia
On 16th May, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that Bengali will be made a compulsory subject in all schools across the state as part of a three-language formula. “Students have the freedom to take any language of their choice as a first language, second or third language. One of the three languages would have to be Bengali,” she said.
This decision, according to the State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, has been prompted following feedback that Bengali was not being offered as an option in many schools.
Firstly, Bengali is being offered as an option in most schools. In the state’s capital city of Kolkata, South City International School offers its students foreign languages such as French and Chinese (Mandarin/Cantonese) among other regional languages as the third language to be taken up. The students of Delhi Public School Ruby Park can choose between French and German and Bengali just as well, as their third language. Similarly, multitudes of English medium schools speckled across the capital provide their students with such opportunities keeping in view the broader range of avenues that such a learning makes accessible. So yes, Bengali IS being offered as an option in most schools unlike the Education Minister’s contrasting belief.
The fact is simply this: students and parents alike opt for a foreign language as the third language, with regards to the fast paced globalization that we are all witnesses to, while English as the official language, being the first language in English medium schools and Hindi, as the national language, logically taking place of the second language.
Secondly, freedom is realizing you have a choice. The Chief Minister’s perplexing statement does nothing but reflect the paradox that is the Indian administration and such a mandate as has been made only mocks the very framework of the Constitution of India. In thinking that she is bequeathing freedom, the Chief Minister is only actually eliminating it.
Thirdly, it is either obnoxious hypocrisy or downright stupidity on the Chief Minister’s behalf that shines through as she further added – “Bengal respects all languages and languages of all states. We must respect every mother tongue and also give every regional language its importance”. She continued with her distorted idea of freedom when she said – “We believe in the freedom of choice”, and hence, thereafter declared the studying of Bengali in all schools throughout the State as mandatory.
Fourthly, out of an approximate 1700 English medium schools in the State, a mere approximate number of 140 such institutions exist in the northern most part of West Bengal, in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong Districts. The demographic transition beginning from Siliguri (the foothills of these Districts) and upwards itself with respect to the rest of West Bengal is tremendous for this said transition stands out like oil in water.
Limiting myself to the boundaries of the said subject that this article wishes to tackle, I shall unsee other agendas and diving right in, highlight the one important fact: Bengali is NOT the regional language in the hills. The people here read, speak and write a variety of ethnic languages and dialects of which Bengali is none while Nepali/Gorkhali is the official as well as primary language in use. With an estimated 3 million speakers of the language, Nepali/Gorkhali was incorporated into the Eighth Schedule as an official language in the year 1992.
The students here learn English as first language and can choose between Hindi, Nepali/Gorkhali and Bengali as second and third languages. Yes. Bengali is offered as an option just as Hindi and Nepali/Gorkhali are. And no. Foreign languages are not taught or offered as an option in the schools here.
Fifthly, to a certain Mr. Sanyal, whose views reek of linguistic imperialism, you cannot force a Bengali to study Punjabi and you cannot force a Punjabi to study Marathi and you cannot force a Marathi to study Gujarati and you cannot force a Gujarati to study Tamil and you cannot force a Tamil to study Nepali/Gorkhali and you cannot force a Gorkhali to study Bengali.
Sixthly, if this proposal were to come to pass and the students in proposed Gorkhaland were to sacrifice their regional language of Nepali/Gorkhali to study Bengali, two drastic things will happen. Two murders. One of Nepali/Gorkhali literature, and the other, of the future of Gorkhaland. The very foundation on which the political legitimacy of the demand for Gorkhaland is based will have been swept away.
Seventhly, whether this proposal by the West Bengal Government derives itself from political strategies or from blatant negligence of its people or purely from folly, one largely overlooked sight becomes crystal clear - The requirement for a separate state. The unjust repercussions that the Darjeeling and Kalimpong Hills have to suffer first and then tolerate and bear, only from the State decisions that have nothing pertaining to them are an honest and straightforward testimony to the Gorkhaland movement. My name is Wangchuk Bhutia and I am not a Bengali.
"साहित्यमा सम्राट पनि नाङ्गो हुन्छ।"
“Even the Emperor is naked in Literature.”