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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

Mamata wants classical language status for Bengali

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday urged the Centre to give Bengali the status of a classical language in return for the importance her government has given to other languages, including Hindi, in the State.

She made this appeal on Hindi Diwas, or Hindi Day.

“Bengal is a land of inclusivity and through our persistent efforts we have proudly inculcated Tagore’s values of ‘Unity in Diversity’. The GoWB [government of West Bengal] has taken various initiatives to strengthen Hindi education, culture and welfare of the community in Bengal,” she said in a tweet.

Recognition to Hindi

“The GoWB has constantly persevered to undertake inclusive development for all by giving recognition to Hindi, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Ol Chiki, Rajbanshi, Kamtapuri, Kurukh languages. I urge the Centre to follow suit by also including Bengali as a classical language in NEP 2020 [the new National Education Policy],” she said in a successive tweet.

As present, only six languages enjoy the ‘classical’ status: they include all the south Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam — and Sanskrit and Odia. Tamil was the first to be accorded the status in 2004, following a long-standing demand by the Dravidian parties, and Odia was included in the list in 2014.

As per the Centre’s guidelines, a language must meet some requirements to be declared as ‘classical’. They include high antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over 1500-2000 years; a body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; a literary tradition that’s original and not borrowed from another speech community; and being distinct from modern, without discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

Ms. Banerjee’s demand comes at a time when the language is widely believed to be on the decline in West Bengal, particularly in Kolkata. “Language is a matter of choice, one cannot impose it, but I find it somewhat alarming when I overhear my teenage son speak to his Bengali friends mostly in Hindi. Increasingly, I also notice many Bengalis preferring to speak in English or Hindi just to fit in,” a civil servant — a Bengali — told The Hindu, not wanting to be named.

Black Day

Recent years have seen the emergence of a Bengali nationalist group Bangla Pokkho, which speaks in favour of the language and brings to light instances where Bengali doesn’t find a place in public places, such as signboards.

“Today is Black Day for non-Hindi people. Stop celebrating Hindi Diwas using our money. We are Bangali, we want equal rights in India,” the group tweeted on Monday.