Let’s begin with the usual: by ruing over Indian mainstream media’s overlooking of what could have been treated as more newsworthy. Today, that is, 16th of December, 2016 witnessed a bandh in southern Assam’s Barak valley protesting against the statement by the union minister of state for railways, Rajen Gohain that ‘Bengali…should be withdrawn from Barak valley as official language’ since ‘there cannot be two official languages’. And a simple, layman-like google-news search reveals that there are just three entries on the issue/event.
This piece is aimed not at joining the state Congress and the local SUCI(Socialist Unity Centre of India) cadres who are decrying comment by Gohain, the union minister and a senior BJP leader in Assam but rather at attempting a delineation of the ominous portents which it seems to have unleashed. And of course, to trace the genealogy of the statement.
First of all, a rather facile fact: Mr. Gohain’s observation that there cannot be two official languages clashes with article 345 of the Indian constitution which allows for the adoption of one or more official languages by any state of the Indian union. Article 347 also allows for respecting the desire of a significant section of a populace of a state for the usage of a language of their choice. A couple of months ago, while visiting Assam, I watched, or rather listened, on an Assamese news channel, a shrill voice issuing a caveat to its viewers, “…barak upatyakat asomiya bhasha nokoya hoiche”. ‘Assamese is no longer spoken in the Barak valley’. Anybody remotely familiar with the history of the region could have retorted back with the question, when was Assamese ever spoken in the region?