On April 8, Amit Shah delivered a speech at the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee in New Delhi, speaking of the need to make Hindi an important part of the country’s unity. He also mentioned that “Hindi should be compulsory up to class ten in all eight Northeastern states.” This statement caused a stir across the Northeast, including the hill state of Mizoram.

Lalnunpuii* studies in the ninth grade in a private school in Aizawl, Mizoram. When EastMojo asked her about the announcement made by the Home Minister Amit Shah on making Hindi compulsory, she said she was not aware of such an announcement but said she greatly hoped it would not be true.

“It is one subject that always made me worry ever since I studied in elementary school. Even though we had Hindi as a subject for so many years, none of my friends know how to speak Hindi. Even if I have to write a single sentence now, I do not think I can write it,” she said.

“It is not our mother tongue, and we do not use it in our everyday life, so it is difficult for us to learn Hindi. Adding it to our board examination will only make it a bigger burden for us,” she added.

The proposed move by the Central government to make Hindi compulsory in the Northeast has received mixed responses. Student organisations like NESO (Northeast Students Organization) have stood strongly against it, even writing to the Prime Minister in this regard.

However, it is not as if everyone is outrightly rejecting Shah’s suggestions. Some teachers and parents believe it will help children secure their future.

Lalsawmliani* has worked for over ten years as a Hindi teacher in different private schools in the state. She said she strongly believes Hindi should not only be taught up to class ten and included in board examinations but also introduced earlier to the children. Currently, in the schools in Mizoram, the Hindi language is included as a subject starting from grade three.

“As students enter grade three and are introduced to Hindi as a subject, they face a lot of difficulties because they do not know the basics of the language. If it could be introduced from grade one, the students could have a step-by-step learning process and by grade three, they will be more familiar with the language,” she said.

“Currently, as the students are taught Hindi only up to grade eight and as it is not included in board examinations, sometimes, students tend to be negligent of the subject. The students have made remarks such as ‘this is just the mainlanders’ language,’ or ‘our parents said it is not necessary for us to learn it.’ If it is included as a board examination subject, there is hope that students will give more importance to it. While the CBSE curriculum may be too difficult for the students, the Mizoram State Board should come up with a curriculum that would be adaptable to the students of the state,” she said.

A mother of two and a high school teacher, Bambi Laldinpuii also spoke strongly in support of the promotion of Hindi, “Our state is not seeing any development because we are so negligent of Hindi and do not give importance to it. I strongly support making Hindi compulsory up to class ten. The students should also be taught spoken Hindi. If we are Indians, then we should know Hindi,” she added.

Mizoram Hindi Prachar Sabha is an organisation in Mizoram that has been taking strong initiatives to promote Hindi in the state since 1954.

Three of their members, Prof. Darchhawna (Ex-Chairman, MHPS), C. Kamlova (Ex-Chairman, MHPS) and most recently in 2022, VL Nghaka, founder and Ex-chairman have been awarded a Padma Shri. The current Chairman of Mizoram Hindi Prachar Sabha, RB Lalmalsawma, spoke to EastMojo about his views on making Hindi compulsory, “As a board concerned with the propagation of Hindi, we have worked towards the promotion of Hindi language for years. We are supportive of people becoming more familiarised with the language,” he said.

He, however, had some questions about the Central government’s proposed move, “There is the question if the Central government really wants us to learn Hindi. In the past, the Central government gave us Hindi teachers under the CSS (Centrally Sponsored Schemes) for five years. This scheme was implemented but stopped again. So the question is, is this move to make Hindi compulsory being done out of love and concern for us?”

“Also, as a people, the Mizo culture does not cope well with forced or compulsory rules. It should be a matter of choice. We have been promoting Hindi in the state since 1954, and we believe it is important that we should all be familiar with the language, however, the people will not accept prioritising Hindi over our mother tongue.”

In 2017, over 1,000 Hindi teachers employed under CSS in Mizoram held a sit-in protest due to non-payment of salary for over ten months and possible termination of their jobs. The state government responded to the protest by saying their salaries were to be paid by the Union Ministry, however, the Central government had remained silent on the matter. According to reports, around 35 teachers were hospitalised as a result of the protest.

The CSS Hindi teachers took the matter to the High Court in 2018. As per a 2021 court order, the petitioners were to be re-engaged, however, the state government sought the re-correction of the statements made on their behalf and the order was modified. The teachers consisted of trained and untrained teachers out of which the trained teachers have now started getting employment. This has been cited to be an unfair move by the untrained teachers who said they were not permitted to receive training during their tenure.

When asked if the proposed move by the Central government would be beneficial for such CSS Hindi teachers, a high ranking official of the School Education department responded to EastMojo on the condition of anonymity saying, “It will provide job opportunities but there is a need for quality education. Most of the protesting CSS teachers were not trained, the teachers have to be trained otherwise they should not enter the classroom.”

The official said they have not received any official information on Amit Shah’s announcement to make the Hindi language compulsory for students up to class ten.

He believes Mizoram will not be ready for such a bold move, “The state of Mizoram is not ready to cope with such a standard of learning. We will need a lot of capacity building among teachers and students,” he added.

While a few parents and teachers have shown support for Amit Shah’s proposition, like many others in the country, student body leaders and concerned citizens are afraid it might be a move of the BJP party to promote a Hindutva nation.

A senior leader of Mizoram’s apex student body, Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and NESO Finance secretary Ricky Lalbiakmawia told EastMojo, “The MZP was shocked when we heard about his statement in the newspapers and other places made by Amit Shah and we strongly oppose this announcement he has made. The MZP feels that this is the BJP trying to implement the agenda of the RSS to make India a Hindu nation -‘one nation one language one religion’ that’s one of the reasons why we oppose this move.”

“MZP is not against the Hindi language in particular but in each of our states in the NE, we have the indigenous language which we are using and which we are trying to promote so imposingly of this Hindi language to make it compulsory in our state will, of course, make an impact in a bad way to the students of Mizo. Especially as we already have a heavy syllabus, making Hindi compulsory will only burden students even more. MZP feels it is best to proceed as we have been doing so far, we do not want any changes.”

Jacqueline Zote, a content writer and blogger agreed with Ricky Lalbiakmawia saying, “This would be one of the few times I support MZP in their move. We have to be able to see BJP’s proposition from the angle of Indian politics as a whole and the current atmosphere. This is one of the BJP’s tactics to make India into a Hindu nation, and we should oppose it.… We should indeed be better versed with Hindi than we are now but we studied Hindi compulsorily till class eight, and we still didn’t learn anything practical for use. The government should instead try to change the current learning system in place so that students will have a more practical use for what they are learning. This policy mandate targeted toward the whole nation comes from a Hindutva mindset and should be opposed strongly. We must learn to differentiate these nuances. Now they are targeting Muslims, but if we remain silent today, their movement will grow bigger and we will also be targeted openly in no time,” Zote said.

“The key difference here is freedom of choice. True democracy provides citizens freedom to choose, whereas this new policy would take away that freedom,” he added.

*names changed to protect privacy

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