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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Assam: Hoardings in Assamese defaced in Bengali-speaking region; 2 arrested

The Assamese letters were smudged out, and below in black ink was written 'Bangla Likhun’, or ‘write in Bengali’. The three districts of Barak Valley — Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi — constitute a Bengali-speaking majority.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: October 20, 2021 9:48:05 pm
A defaced hoarding. (Photo: Twitter/@drrajdeeproy)

Two people were arrested in Cachar district of Assam’s Bengali-speaking Barak Valley for allegedly defacing a state government hoarding written in Assamese.

The duo — Samar Das (34) and Raju Deb (33) — has been booked under Section 425 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, Cachar SP Ramandeep Kaur said.

The official said that the police acted on a complaint filed by the Jal Jeevan Mission, the department to which the hoardings belonged.

“This is government property and they have been booked for defacing public property,” said Kaur, adding that activists of two organisations — All Bengali Students Youth Organisation (ABSYO) and Bengali Democratic Youth Front (BDYF), the student wing of political party Bengali Democratic Front — were allegedly involved in the incident. Das and Deb are members of the ABSYO.

Visuals had earlier emerged on Monday showing some people defacing the hoarding, located near the Silchar Railway Station. The Assamese letters were smudged out, and below in black ink was written ‘Bangla Likhun’, or ‘write in Bengali’.

The three districts of Barak Valley — Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi — constitute a Bengali-speaking majority.

Explained

Language Wars

Language has been a faultline in Assam for several decades. The cracks deepened in the 1960s when the government passed the Assam Official Language Act (1960) that proposed Assamese as the official language of the state. The 'language wars' between the Assamese and Bengalis have led to several 'martyrs' on both sides of the divide. On May 19, 1961, 11 were killed in a police firing at the Silchar Railway station, and ever since, the day has been commemorated by the Barak Valley as the “Bhasha Shahid Diwas”. After the incident, Assamese continued to be the official language of the state but as an exception, Bengali was given official language status in the Barak Valley districts.

ABSYO’s Rathindra Das said that their members had only gone to peacefully protest the use of Assamese on the signboard, and the two youths had been framed. “The defacement was done by some miscreants. We had only gone to protest and had no intention of destroying any property. For us, the Silchar Railway station is a sacred place where 11 Bengalis were martyred for their language,” said Das, adding that they were not “against any language” but “respected” their own. Almost all hoardings in Barak Valley are written in Bengali, he added.

BJP spokesperson and Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy alleged that the incident could be part of a conspiracy to incite violence in the name of language in the state. He tweeted: “Ironical that the language issue has cropped up only days after HCM @himantabiswa spent the whole ‘Saptami’ of #DurgaPuja with the ‘Bengalis’ of #barakvalley! Is this plain coincidence or is there a malicious intent behind? Smells fishy!”

There has been a historic divide between the Bengali-speaking Barak Valley and Assamese-speaking Brahmaputra Valley in Assam. The Assam Official Language Act, 1960, which declared Assamese as the official language of the state, has special provisions for the use of Bengali for official purposes in the Barak Valley districts.

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