The youth wing of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) on Friday protested in the Darjeeling hills against a proposed bill to make the Bengali language mandatory in all government schools across the state, referring to it as an “infringement on the Nepali language”. Agitations have been taken out in the past few days over the bill — scheduled to be tabled before the Assembly in the ongoing session — which Gorkas are calling “forced imposition of Bengali” on the community.
While the GJM youth wing took out a protest march with banners that said ‘we won’t tolerate infringement on our Nepali language’, agitations also took place in Darjeeling town on Thursday, and in Ghoom and Jorbunglo on Wednesday. Apart from agitations taken out by the GJM’s various arms such as the student wing, the women’s wing and the youth wing, marches have also been conducted by teachers and students from schools and colleges in the area.
Trinamool Congress minister Aroop Biswas had earlier this week announced that schools falling within the jurisdiction of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) will be exempt from the “mandatory” provision, and Bengali will be made “optional” in these areas. “But the matter is one of principle. What the West Bengal government is effectively saying is all other languages and mother tongues are secondary to Bengali, by making it the first language in government schools. Even if they exempt the GTA area, there are large Gorkha communities who live in other parts of north Bengal that this bill will cover. There are Rajbangshis and adivasis who live in these areas as well. The Rajbangshis have been fighting for years for recognition of their language, Kantapuri, which the state government has not done. The adivasis also have their own language. What about them?” says Darjeeling resident and political analyst Upendra Pradhan.
Father Kinley Tshering is the president of the board which looks after Jesuit institutions across the state, including the famous St Joseph’s school and college in Darjeeling and the St Xavier’s and St Lawrence schools in Kolkata. “I personally feel that this decision to impose Bengali is entirely politically motivated. If Bengali was really so important to the government, then what happened all these years? Why wasn’t this policy brought in before this? It’s a reaction to the Centre’s decision to impose Hindi. Children in schools are already learning three languages – English, Hindi and their mother tongue. Then why burden them with another language? And language is just one of the many skills students need to pick up. If they want to learn Bengali at a later stage, that is up to them. I myself am in the process of learning Bengali, because it’s a beautiful language, and because I want to read Tagore in Bengali. But to impose it is wrong,” says father Tshering. Pradhan says the issue has become an emotional one in the Hills.
“This is just another example of the state government treating us as second-class citizens. This is again going to reaffirm the belief in the Hills that we should have a separate Gorkhaland state. Even the demand for a separate Kantipura state, which has been dormant for so many years, may resurface because of this imposition. If this is the TMC’s reaction to the Hindi imposition, then why do exactly the same thing in the state that Mod is doing in the country?” says Pradhan.
Darjeeling MP SS Ahluwalia has been fighting for the recognition of Kantapuri. “There are so many languages in Bengal apart from Bengali. I can’t understand why she (Mamata) is doing this. On one hand, Yogi Adityanath is saying teach English in schools, while Mulayam said only teach Hindi and Mamata says teach Bengali. A language is taught for future employment prospects and utility. She is taking the state backwards. Instead, let the state government recognise languages that have been pending recognition for ages — like the Rajbangshis’ Kantapuri — which has a rich history, and is recognised in Bangladesh and Nepal,” he said.
What has further angered the Gorkhas, according to Pradhan, is the government’s refusal to include Nepali as an optional language for the West Bengal Civil Service examinations.