Tripura’s new BJP government is doing the unthinkable. It is planning to replace Kokborok, the language of indigenous people of the state, with Hindi in local television news bulletins.
The BJP has enough drumbeaters in the local media to implement this decision without asking any question. But this is not acceptable. Have a Hindi bulletin or two but why at the expense of Kokborok which is spoken by nearly one third of the state’s population.
The Scheduled Tribe wing of Tripura Congress on Saturday claimed that minutes of a meeting of the Circulation Committee under the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs (ICA) had proposed to introduce Hindi by replacing Kokborok in news bulletins to promote nationalism.
The government, however, said no such decision was taken.
Addressing a press conference in Agartala on Sunday evening, Pradesh Congress president Birajit Sinha said his party was opposed to any move that would undermine the priority of Kokborok language.
“Kokborok is the language of the indigenous people of the state and it must have priority in this state. We want all languages to be promoted and developed. This cannot be done by stopping Kokborok,” Sinha said.
He demanded that the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), the BJP’s partner in the state government, clarify their stand on the issue. IPFT vice-president Ananta Debbarma said his party would oppose any proposal to replace Kokborok with Hindi in news bulletins.
“Kokborok must stay in Tripura,” Debbarma said adding that it will be difficult for the indigenous people of the state if Kokborok is replaced.
CPI (M) state secretary Bijan Dhar also criticised the reported proposal and said it would lead to fascist and aggressive nationalist tendencies.
“The Left Front government first recognised Kokborok as a state language in 1978. The language was introduced in schools and colleges as part of the curriculum. We want equal status of all languages. Such a proposal should be immediately withdrawn,” Dhar told a press conference recently.
The CPI (M) leader also said Hindi could be used as link language between speakers of different languages.
The fourth point of a three-page minutes of Circulation Committee’s April 6 meeting, which was made available to reporters by Congress leaders read, “It has been proposed that instead of using Kokborok as a medium of news, Hindi may be introduced as it would promote nationalism and people from outside state also could follow the news.”
ICA Director Bishnupada Das said the meeting did not involve any proposals regarding replacing Kokborok with Hindi in news bulletins.
“The news channels were asked to furnish details about which languages they were able to use in their news bulletins, — Kokborok, English, Hindi and other languages. These details would be needed for categorisation of the channels,” he said. No decision was taken to drop Kokborok from news bulletins, said Das, who is also chairman of the Circulation Committee.
BJP spokesperson Mrinal Kanti Deb has said, “It’s not an official notification. Minutes never denote official decision.” He said his party was working to promote Kokborok. “Recently, a committee, headed by MLA Atul Debbarman, has been appointed in order to develop the language,” he said.
Protection of linguistic rights of tribals is one of the key elements to assuage their feelings. There is no way Kokborok bulletins can be taken off. Naming a road after Maharaja Bir Bikram is a great step but largely symbolic. Spreading the use of Kokborok and backing the process is more important substantial step to protect tribal identity.
Chief Minister Biplab Deb also has to give up his plans to increase capacity of Gumti Hydel project from 10 to 20 MW by increasing the height of the dam. Due to ceaseless siltation, power generation in this white elephant project has steadily dropped and is said to be negligible in lean summer months.
It is much more important to do away with this dam and reclaim lands for resetting landless tribals. Land alienation is at the root of tribal insurgency and tackling it is a priority. Tripura is power surplus now courtesy Palatana and we don’t need Gumti Hydel.
It is also important to restore Gumti river to its natural pre-hydel dam flow so that the river becomes navigable and helps boost agricultural production in downstream districts like Sonamura and Udaipur.
Biplab Deb has to feel for the tribals rather promote Hindutva agenda in Tripura if he is looking at a long innings.