Assam’s Kamrup (metropolitan) district administration has ordered a probe into the alleged punishment of 13 students by a missionary school in Guwahati for speaking their mother tongue Assamese during school hours.
The students of Little Flower School, run by the Catholics, were reportedly barred from having their lunch and made to stand for 90 minutes for breaking the institution’s rule of speaking only in English in school on Wednesday.
“We have ordered a probe into the alleged punishment and assistant commissioner Pratima Rangpipi has been asked to submit the probe report within seven days,” the district’s deputy commissioner M Angamuthu told HT.
Assam’s principal city Guwahati is the district’s administrative headquarters.
Angamuthu said that the district administration has also instructed all commercial, semi-commercial and private institutions across the city to use Assamese as the primary language on their hoardings and signboards.
“We will remove any signboard or hoarding violating this order after January 31,” he said.
Members of the All Assam Students Union and Assam Sahitya Sabha, which has been seeking the imposition of Assamese language, staged a demonstration outside the school seeking action against the school authorities.
Student leader Raifuddin Ahmed said their organisation has no issues with school management ensuring discipline, but punishing students for speaking in their mother tongue would not be tolerated.
“The state government is at fault here - for failing to tame private institutions that are out to destroy the Assamese language,” Ahmed said.
The spokesperson of a Catholic body said the school, like all other English-medium institutes, wants its students to speak in English. “Parents want their wards to be good in English, and conversation helps polish the vocabulary and instil confidence in them. This is not done to undermine Assamese or any other language,” he said.
A spokesperson representing the Archdiocese of Guwahati denied any anti-Assamese agenda and pointed out that missionaries had helped develop modern Assamese language by printing the first grammar, dictionary and periodical.
“Almost all missionary schools in the 1800s and 1900s began in local languages including Assamese. Many of our schools established during the past few decades are in Assamese and local languages,” the spokesperson said.
Assam has four official languages - Assamese across the Brahmaputra Valley, Bengali in the Barak Valley (southern Assam), English in the two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao and Bodo across Bodoland Territorial Council.
The Assam Sahitya Sabha has for years been trying to define Assamese people, and the exercise to update National Register of Citizen saw some indigenous communities such as Koch-Rajbongshi appeal against listing their mother tongue as Assamese.
On Wednesday, former Bihar governor Devananda Konwar, who severed his 61-year association with Congress to join perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s All India Democratic Front, said that his mother tongue was not Assamese.
Konwar is an Ahom, a community that migrated from Thailand more than eight centuries ago. The Ahoms used to speak Tai, a near-extinct language that is being revived.