Mamata makes Bengali compulsory in schools

TMC playing politics of language, say political observers

Published - May 17, 2017 07:16 am IST - Kolkata

Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata Banerjee.

In a major decision that may have far-reaching political and social implications, the West Bengal government has made Bengali language compulsory in all schools, including private English-medium schools, of the State.

State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee made the announcement on Monday evening at a hurriedly called press conference.

Optional from Class 1

“From now on, it will be compulsory for students to learn Bengali in schools. English-medium schools will have to make it an optional subject from Class I so that the students can study it either as a second or third language,” Mr. Chatterjee said.

The Minister made it clear that even English-medium schools affiliated to boards other than the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education will have to make provisions for teaching Bengali as second or third language.

Even though there are provisions for teaching language in schools of the State, it was not mandatory so far that Bengali should be one of the three languages for students.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday described it as the State government’s “three-language formula.”

“If the student chooses Bengali, Hindi, English, Urdu, Gurmukhi, Nepali, Alchiki as a first language, he/she may opt for two other languages of their choice. One of the three languages would have to be Bengali,” Ms. Banerjee said on social media, emphasising that the student will be completely free to make two other language choices.

According to Ms. Banerjee, this arrangement would enable students to reach “regional, national and international standards.”

‘Promoting regionalism’

Political observers, however, refuse to see it as a mere academic decision. “The decision clearly indicates an attempt by the TMC to encourage regionalism and reap political dividends out of it. By playing on the Bengali sentiment, the TMC wants to counter the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party which is widely perceived as a north India party,” Biswanath Chakraborty, Professor of Political Science at Rabindra Bharati University, said.

Professor Chakraborty observed that by indulging in politics of language the TMC is only doing damage to its claims of being a national party.

This move by the Mamata government comes after a similar decision was taken by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in Kerala. In April this year the Kerala government promulgated an ordinance making Malayalam compulsory in all schools of the State.

Matter of debate

During the Left Front regime, the West Bengal government’s policy on teaching English was always a matter of debate.

The Left Front government abolished English in the primary sections of State-run schools in 1984 only to bring it back in a phased manner — English returned to Class V in 1992, Class III in 1998 and finally in 2003, it was decided that the subject would be taught from Class I onwards.

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