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Language Movement in Barak Valley: An Introduction
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arak Valley is a rather newish christening for erstwhile Cachar district. This tract of land in the southern periphery of Assam is home to around 4 million populations a massive eighty percent of whom are Bengali speaking spread over the three districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.

Language, it is a known fact, is the Achilles’ Hill in the whole of the North-East India where the process of building sub-nationality has, for the last one hundred years or so, veered around language apart from ethnicity. The historical sequence started with the assertion of Assamese nationalism during the dawn of the twentieth century which was pitted against the Bengali speaking community out of paranoia. The British colonial design was the mastermind behind sowing the seeds of anti-Bengali sentiments among the Assamese middle class. Economic factors further aggravated the deprivation theory which continued through out the remaining part of the pre-colonial and also well into the post-colonial Assam.

The fear psychosis that the Bengali domination would not only close the avenues of employment for the Assamese youth, but, more than that, would surely destroy the Assamese language and culture drove the political rulers of Assam to take anti-Bengali steps on numerous occasions. And the worst of it happened in 1960 when the Assam Government passed the nefarious Official Language Act making Assamese the only official State language other than English. The people of the then Cachar district went all out in protest against this Act the provisions of which they rightly felt would deprive them of their legitimate linguistic right. It was a mass upsurge and the chauvinist Assam Government came down heavily on the democratic movement in a violent way. Situation went to a grave pass when on 19 May 1961 police resorted to firing on unarmed Satyagrahis in Silchar Railway Station that left eleven people dead one among them being a woman, Kamala Bhattacharjee. Incidentally, she was the first woman language martyr of the world. In the face of more intensified democratic agitation aided by popular support from all over the country the Assam Government finally yielded. In that year itself suitable amendment was brought in to the Official Language Act 1960 accommodating Bengali as the official language for the whole of Cachar district.

But, unfortunately, the xenophobic mindset of the State Government did not change and, as a result, clandestine designs of infringing on the linguistic right of the Bengali of Assam have remained unabated in the State. On 17 August 1972, one more language activist laid down life in Karimganj in protest against the circular of Gauhati University which sought to make Assamese the only medium of instruction in the State colleges.

On 21 July 1986 two more brave souls sacrificed their lives in Karimganj during an agitation programme protesting against the draconian Board of Secondary Education of Assam circular which struck down Bengali as one of the media of instruction in the State school education.

On 16 March 1996, one woman activist embraced martyrdom in the Valley for the cause of her mother tongue, Bishnupriya Manipuri.

This holy territory of Barak Valley thus has a glorious tradition of language movement spanning a half-a-century period. This protest culture is perhaps the only way to cherish the plural and multi-cultural fabric of the State of Assam.

1) The Unish Songs

2) Photographs

3)     Essays:~ (Bengali)

(aSujit Choudhury

(bSubha Prasad Nandi Majumdar

(cAmitabha Choudhury

(dSanjib Deb Laskar

(eJoydeep Biswas

4)     Archival Records:~

(a)Report of the N.C. Chatterjee Commission

Blog: Unishe May
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