Sanskrit to be compulsory in Assam government schools
The Assam state cabinet on Tuesday took a slew of decisions, of which one has ruffled a few feathers the wrong way. In a tweet, posted by Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal late on Tuesday night, the state will introduce compulsory Sanskrit in the state-run schools.
“Also the Cabinet has decided that all the schools will teach Sanskrit as a compulsory language up to 8th standard (sic),” read the CM’s tweet.
The move has been met with mixed responses. To be implemented in over 42,300 state-run schools in Assam, most of which have been battling a shortage of teachers and a long-winding migration to private schools, the government directive is partly seen as an imposition of the Sanskrit language in the state where 32 per cent of the population are from the Muslim community. The state education department recently made education free for children up to the age of 14 years.
Professor Jyotiprakash Tamuli, head of the Linguistics department at the Gauhati University, said while he is happy that there is a renewed interest in Sanskrit, he is wary of the imposition of the language on all and sundry.
“There is a need to see Sanskrit away from the purview of religion to understand its importance. A study by Brown University, carried out by Sanskrit scholar Professor Peter Scharf, found that Sanskrit language has more resources than Latin and Greek combined. In this knowledge economy, the language’s revival can help school-students reconnect with their own mother tongue, Assamese,” he said. He added that the state needs to ensure better access to resources like text books and trained professionals.
Language has had a contentious history in the state. In the 1960s, when the Congress sought to introduce Assamese as the sole official language in the State Assembly, it was followed by the Bhasha Movement during which over 50,000 of the state’s Bengali Hindus staying in the Brahmaputra Valley had to flee their homes to the Barak Valley and to neighbouring West Bengal. On May 19, 1960, more than nine people were killed in a police firing in Silchar after the then CM Bimala Prasad Chaliha passed a bill in the state Assembly to recognise Assamese as the only official language.
The state has over 25 tribes, with most tribes using the Roman script. No language is compulsory in schools in Assam.
Litterateur Homen Borgohain said the move belies rationality. “Since it is going to be imposed in government schools, private schools will not suffer. The move is another nail in the declining condition in the state’s government schools. Only a few RSS approved appointments will enjoy the benefits,” said Borgohain.