Northeast needs a lot of things: Hindi is not one of them
TWIPRA Students Federation protest

Ganga Prasad Prasian and Phagu Chauhan are not from the same field. The former is the Vice Chancellor of Tripura University, while the latter is the Governor of Meghalaya. Yet, in the past few days, the two have somehow managed to anger people across the two states with one common thread: Hindi. 

The first day of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly was unlikely to be an eye-catching event. Yet, moments after Phagu Chauhan started his speech, we witnessed a viral moment. Ardent Basaiawmoit, an MLA from the Voice of People’s Party, had no time to listen to Chauhan speak in Hindi in a state which has nothing to do with the language. Incensed, he and the other three VPP MLAs staged a walkout despite speaker Thomas A Sangma and chief minister Conrad K Sangma trying their best to intervene and explain that the translated speech had been distributed, given Chauhan’s ‘limitations’ in English.

Basaiawmoit, however, couldn’t care less. “(By) sending Hindi-speaking governors to us, we do not understand what they are talking (about), so we will stage a walkout,” he said. I found CM Sangma’s position rather interesting, albeit understandable. Now a seasoned politician, Sangma said it was ‘sad to see such disrespect’ for the Governor. 

Chauhan has nothing to do with Meghalaya. He is a UP leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party, of course, and was previously the governor of Bihar. Why he was appointed in Meghalaya given his ‘limitations’ in English is anyone’s guess. Of course, he was going to speak in Hindi: I would have fallen off my chair if he had spoken in Khasi, Garo or Pnar for example. 

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But here is the thing: only Hindi gets that ‘benefit of the doubt’. Imagine an Assam leader who barely speaks any English appointed as the Governor of Kerala. Will Malayalees listen quietly while he speaks in Assamese? Unlikely. Or for that matter, imagine a Governor of Madhya Pradesh giving a speech in Tamil. Oh, the horror.

And this is what connects Chauhan with Ganga Prasad Prasian. 

Prasian, a seasoned academic previously with Manipur University, recently said languages that continue following an oral tradition, and those with no scripts, should choose the Devanagari script. Why? Well, how would I know? But then again, this follows the mandate by mainland parties and personalities who seem to be convinced that Hindi, or the Devanagari script, is some panacea to the dominance of the western world/culture/script/language.

Again, that makes no sense. We were ruled by the British, following which English became one of the most recognisable languages in India and today, it is one of the official languages of several states in India and of the central government too. Our education system mimics or follows English, our jobs are based on English, our ministers (those who can) speak English when they go abroad, and anyone who still thinks Hindi is a national language needs to get off WhatsApp and come face-to-face with reality. 

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Nothing unites the northeast; except, maybe our love for football. But when it comes to things that divide us, how much time do you have? Our state borders can resemble war zones and every once in a while, the mainland is too happy to remind us that ‘we’ are not Indians because of our features, our languages, our food, our ethnicity and our beliefs. Sure, such incidents have reduced sharply, and I for one am glad. But even if they hadn’t, Hindi was never the solution. 

As far as adopting the Roman script is concerned, in 2023 it is not a matter for discussion. The Roman script is global; and if by using the same our indigenous languages can gain better recognition, so be it. So, when Tripura University VC suggests “Devanagari” for Kokborok, it sounds uninformed and misplaced at best. Kokborok’s fight to use the Roman script is decades old and when Prasian almost ignores all of that in favour of Devanagari, he comes across as a poor student of history. 

To those who wish to speak Hindi, please do. It is my third language too and I am more than happy to speak it. I speak fluent Nepali and hence, I can read Devanagari too with ease. 

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Yet, I also support people when they see local languages being trumped for a language promoted by the central government. 

Almost all indigenous languages in the Northeast have taken the Roman script route and you would be hard-pressed to find people who will tell you that was a wrong decision. Even fewer will tell you that their forefathers should have instead adopted Devanagari. Kokborok speakers, and not a VC of a university, will decide what script they will choose. Similarly, an elected member of the assembly has the right to object when a Central government-appointed official speaks a language few in the August House understand. 

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Also Read | Tripura indigenous bodies oppose move to make Hindi compulsory in NE

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