Half A CENTURY onto the Assam State Language Bill – The Poison Chalice

By- Dilip Dutta

Agreeing to the central administration directive issued in 1959 on state languages, the then inept Chief Minister of Assam Bimala Prasad Chaliha, hastily introduced the Delhi directives to make Assamese the only State Language of Assam. On 16 April the Bengali speakers of Cachar District of Assam rejected Chaliha’s plan and decided to rise up against the idea. Cachar became a district of Assam when the original Kachari Kingdom fell into British East India Company’s hand.

It is perhaps too much to assume that he was aware of the consequences of the then Pakistan Government’s decision to make Urdu the official language of whole of Pakistan which aroused the Bengali Nationalism and Pakistan Junta’s response on 21 February 1952 massacre and the final consequences of it was creation of Bangladesh. Bangla has since been recognised by the UNESCO as the International mother language day on 21 February.

No wonder then when Chaliha’s thoughtless action of killing of Eleven Bengali demonstrators on 19 May 1961 as a measure of crowd control at Silchar in Assam, created eleven more martyrs this side of the border for the Bengali speakers as a whole.

Upon analytical reflection it is extremely likely that is what Delhi wanted to happen did happen and a subsequent mass Language movement and its consequences speak for itself. My take on the movement is that it was highly emotionally charged and lacked logical approach. The whole thing could have been turned around making improvement on the British left legacy prior to 1947; which worked so well during the Chief Commissionership defeating the designs of the Bengalis. Under the patronage of many highly educated English, American and Europeans; Assamese language was saved from becoming a dead language.

It was so unfortunate that student leaders of the day, such as Dulal Barua, could not see it through that they were playing into the hands of the Indian schemers. The murder of Ranjit Borpujari on 4 July 1960 by the Superintendent of Police of Kamrup district P.B Pabbi cannot be other than a planned action. The SP shot him dead steadying his revolver on the steel railing of the dormitory picking Ranjit on the veranda while he walked to the toilet in his pyjamas, has all the hall mark of a premeditated cold blooded action. What would be made out by today’s’ readers when they realise that Ranjit’s hearse was sent home in a motor vehicle on the then Trunk Road ( NH37 today) slowing down near inhabited areas arousing passion further and the inevitable hate campaign against Bengalis spread like wild fire along the Trunk Road leading to victims like Sisir Nag in central Assam.

As the riot dies down arrives Kamraj the then Indian Congress President and with his three language formula the solution which I would call the Poison Chalice(see inset for the subsequent Language Bill.) As the riot dies down arrives Kamraj the then Indian Congress President and with his three language formula the solution which I would call the Poison Chalice( see inset for the subsequent Language Bill.)

Subsequent to the language bill, has the Assamese language flourished in leaps and bounds? Yes, to fool the public a governmental department to implement Assamese as the state language was created which communicated in English and at one stage was headed by Secretarial level Assamese who studied at Santiniketan and was more at home with Bengali than in Assamese!

The Axom Xahitya Xabha has lost touch with its roots and ideals and allowed itself being used as a political tool.

It won’t’ be far from the truth that the language issue became the wedge to break up the cohesion that existed making it easy for Delhi to apply the long term strategy of breaking up of Assam.

In 1959 Delhi jealously wanted to remove Imperial English and to replace it with Hindi the establishment bent upon realising the dream of one nation one language one day. But, Assam taking the lead without even any political obligation to do it, not only failed to get rid of English, but, created unease on the mind of indigenous people of Assam who feared loosing their mother tongue due to imposition of Assamese language and Assamese people ruling the roost over them. The result is of course is breaking up Assam bit by bit and creation of new provinces from the Chief Commissionership of Assam.

What about the Assamese speakers’ heartland, the Brahmaputra valley? Has the implementation of the language Bill helped the language in a significant way or succeeded in banishing English from the land? I doubt very much.

Parents now a day’s prefer to send children to schools where the medium of instruction is in English and most youth seems to speak Assamese mixed with non-Assamese words, of which mostly are English. The other indigenous language speakers continue to worry about Assamese chauvinism either imaginary or real.

Let me ask you then reader, can anyone find anything positive out of the language Bill of 1960? Oh yes, in the rupee bank notes Assamese still at the top position in stating its denomination! By the way it was there prior to 1960.

You think I am drawing an unnecessary bleak picture here?

You want to prove me wrong? OK, test yourselves. Please make a speech in Assamese on contemporary politics of Assam for five minutes without using any non-Assamese word, if you succeed you win.

If you fail, may I humbly request you to make the required effort to be able to do better than the above challenge?


ACT AND ORDINANCES
THE ASSAM OFFICIAL LANGUAGE ACT, 1960
(Published in the Assam Gazette, Extraordinary, dated the 19th December, 1960)
An Act To declare Official Language of the State of Assam
Preamble
Whereas Article 345 of the Constitution provides that the Legislature of a State may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State as the language to be used for official purposes of the State and for matters hereinafter appearing:

It is hereby enacted in the Eleventh Year of the Republic of India, as follows: —

Short title extent and commencement
(1) This Act may be called the Assam Official Language Act, 1960.

(2) It extends to the whole of the State of Assam.

(3) It shall come into force, on such date as the State Government may, by notification, in the official Gazette, appoint and different dates may be appointed for different official purposes and for different parts of the State of Assam:

Provided that the date of dates appointed by the State Government in respect of any

of the parts of the State of Assam shall not be later than five years from the date the assent to this Act is first published in the official Gazette.

Definitions
2. In this Act, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context, —

(a) “Autonomous District” means an area deemed as such under paragraph 1(1) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

(b) “Autonomous Region” means an area deemed as such under paragraph 1(2) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

(c) “District Council” means a District Council constituted under paragraph 2 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

(d) “Mohkuma Parishad” means a Mohkuma Parishad established under the Assam Panchayat Act, 1959. (Assam Act XXIV of 1959)

(e) “Municipal Board” means a Municipal Board established under the Assam Municipal Act 1956 and shall include Town Committees established under the said Act. (Assam Act XV of 1957)

(f) “Prescribed” means prescribed by rules made under this Act.

(g) “Regional Council” means a Regional Council constituted under paragraph 2 of the Sixth Schedule to the Construction of India.

Official language for official purposes of the State of Assam
3. Without prejudice to the provisions of Article 346 and 347 of the Constitution of India and subject as hereinafter provided, Assamese shall be used for all or any of the official purpose, of the State of Assam:

Provided that the English language, so long as the use thereof is permissible under Article 343 of the Constitution of India, and thereafter Hindi in place of English, shall also be used for such official purposes of the Secretariat and the offices of the Heads of the Departments of the State Government and in such manner as may be prescribed:

Provided further that, —

(a) All Ordinance promulgated under Article 213 of the Constitution of India;

(b) All Acts passed by the State Legislature;

(c) All Bills to be introduced or amendments thereto to be moved in the State Legislature; and

(d) All Orders, Regulations, Rules and Bye-laws issued by the State Government under the Constitution of India or any law made by Parliament or the Legislature of the State.

Shall be published in the official Gazette in the Assamese language.

Safeguard of the use of language in the Autonomous Region and in the Autonomous District
4. Notwithstanding anything in Section 3, only languages which are in use immediately before the commencement of this Act shall continue to be used for administrative and other official purposes upto and including the level of the Autonomous Region or the Autonomous District, as the case may be, until the Regional Council or the District Council in respect of the Autonomous Region or the Autonomous District, as the case may be, by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting decide in favour of adoption of any other language for any of the administrative or official purposes within that region or district.

Safeguard of the use of Bengali language in the district of Cachar
5. Notwithstanding anything in Section 3, the Bengali language shall be used for administrative and other official purposes upto and including the district level in the district of Cachar until the Mohkuma Parishads and Municipal Boards of the district in a joint meeting by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting decide in favour of adoption of the official language for use in the district for the aforesaid purposes.

The use of English as official language in respect of examination conducted by the Assam Public Service Commission
6. Notwithstanding anything in Section 3, any examination held by the Assam Public Service Commission, which immediately before the commencement of this Act used to be conducted in the English language shall continue to be so conducted till such time as the use thereof is permissible under clause (2) of Article 343 of the Constitution of India:

Provided that a candidate shall have the right to choose the language in use in the State of Assam, which was the medium of his University examination.

Rights of the various linguistic group
7. Subject to the provision of this Act, the State Government may be notification issued from time to time, direct the use of the language as may be specified in the notification and in such parts of the State of Assam as may be specified therein:

Provided that —

(a) The rights of the various linguistic groups in respect of medium of instruction in educational institutions as laid down in the Constitution of India shall not be affected;

(b) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational and cultural institutions, discriminate against any such institutions on grounds of language;

(c) The rights to appointments in the Assam Public Services and to contracts and other avocations shall be maintained without discrimination on the ground of language; and

(d) In regard to noting in the offices in the region or district if any member of the staff is unable to note in any of the district language, the use of English shall be permitted by the Heads of Departments so long as the use thereof is permissible under Article 343 of the Constitution of India.

Power to make rules
8. The State Government shall have the power to make rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act.

AssamAssam State Language BillAssameseAssamese languageAxom Xahitya XabhaBengaliBimala Prasad ChalihaBritishChief Minister of AssamDelhiEast India CompanyIndian CongressKachari Kingdommurder of Ranjit BorpujariRanjit BorpujariSilcharState Language of Assam