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Push for Assamese language – threat to diversity?

Push for Assamese language – threat to diversity?

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-1- Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.

Push for Assamese language – threat to diversity?

In news:

  • The Assam government recently decided to promulgate a law to make the Assamese language compulsoryin all schools, both public and private, including the Kendriya Vidyalayas, from Classes I to X.
  • The State Governor has already given a formal assent to the Cabinet’s decision.
  • However, the law will not be applicable in Barak Valley, Bodoland Council and other Sixth Schedule areas, where Bengali, Bodo and other indigenous languages will take precedence.
  • The ‘Assamese nationalists’ have welcomed it. Some are even demanding for it to be made compulsory in the exempted areas.
  • However, this may affect communities such as the Misings, Deoris, Rabhas and the other smaller tribes and their mother tongues.

Why such decision:

  • Statistical datahave often been used as a tool to construct the linguistic hierarchy and homogenisation in a region.
  • This in turn becomes an element crucial for constructingand stabilising the regional political economic hegemonies.
  • Crucially, this politics marginalised languages such as Magadhi, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Garhwaliwith their rich literary and linguistic traditions as mere dialects of the Hindi language.
  • A similar approach is also evident in Assam.
  • Census data are often used to portray a ‘danger’ to the Assamese language — the ‘infiltration’ of Bengali-speaking communities is considered to be the primary reason.
  • The number of Assamese speakers as per the 2011 Census comes to 38% of the population. In 1971, the percentage of speakers was at 60.89%.
  • So, it seems the number of Assamese speakers considerably declined in these four decades.
  • But this data need to be looked at empirically.
  • It has to be noted that most tribal communities speak Assamesebut return their own respective languages as their mother tongues.

Impact on tribal languages:

The imposition of Assamese has had adverse effects on tribal languages, especially on those which do not enjoy any constitutional protection. Tribal languages are generally on a steady decline.

For instance,

  1. The Mising tribereported a rate of increase of 41.13% in the number of speakers in the 2001 Census, by 2011 it was merely 14.28%.
  2. Similarly, the Deoriswhich reported a decadal increase of 56.19% in the 2001 Census, the increase percentage by 2011 had declined to 15.79%.
  3. It is to be noted that only the Dibongiya clan of the Deorisnow speak the language.
  4. The Rabhas communityreported an increase of 18.23% in the number of speakers in the 2001 Census. By 2011, the number of speakers had decreased to -15.04%, almost completely obliterating the language.
  5. Other tribes such as the Sonowal-Kacharis and Tiwashave almost completely lost their languages.

Tribal communities since long have been demanding linguistic and territorial protection and attention from the State government.

Case with Mising language:

  • On October 30, 1985, the government of Assam, in response to a long struggle by the Mising community, through a gazette notification introduced the Mising Language as an additional subject in Classes 3 and 4 in the Mising-dominated areas.
  • Also, additionally, it was to be the medium of instruction at the primary level.

Actual implementation:

  • But only 230 teachers were appointed till 1994, after which the whole process came to a halt.
  • Further, the agreed upon clause of introducing Mising as the medium of instruction never took off.

Against Homogenisation:

  • Tribal communities have always resisted attempts of forced homogenisation.
  • It was in response to the Official Language Billin 1960 that the Khasi along with other tribal communities started protesting, ultimately leading to the formation of Meghalaya.
  • The Bodo movement for autonomyalso finds its roots in this bill.
  • Tribes have often highlighted that the ‘Assamese nationalism’ discoursewas narrow and rarely included other communities.
  • However, tribes such as the Misings, Deoris, Rabhas, etc. have still consistently supported the Assamese movement against the imposition of Bengali language or Hindi in Assam.
  • But in turn they now find themselves consistently marginalised, with their linguistic and cultural heritage derecognised by the State and the hegemonic forces.

Furthering marginalisation:

  • Adding to this, the Home Minister of Assam states that the government is also mulling over a separate legislation which will make only those who learned Assamese till their matriculation suitable for government jobs in Assam.
  • These moves are clear indications of a non-inclusive homogenised Assamese nationalism taking precedence over the inclusion of minority linguistic and cultural aspirations.
  • Such a move alienates various linguistic identities such as those of tribes such as the Misings, Deoris and Rabhas, etc. and limits the definition of ‘Axomiya’ to just the speakers of the language.
  • It is time for progressive sections in Assam to go beyond the politics of fear and assert the inclusive ethos of Assam.

Source:” The Hindu“.


The recent promotion of Assamese language may be a threat against the culture and language of the diverse tribes in Assam. Critically analyse.