The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A love for the mother tongue is doubtless laudable. That the West Bengal government is toying with the idea of making Bengali a compulsory subject in state and state-aided schools, irrespective of the medium of instruction, is all to the good. Those who do not want to learn Bengali have the option of non-government schools. No one can deny that Bengali has been increasingly devalued over the years. The embarrassingly inadequate Bengali spoken by formally educated people and the nightmarish orthography on display in political posters as well as film credits are sufficient evidence of the devaluation. Yet this ignorance is the product of careful culturing. Even though the state had not insisted on compulsory Bengali in its schools earlier, it had certainly ensured Bengali’s predominance in teaching by playing down English and by introducing the latter late in the school syllabus. The results of this policy are rather pitiful.

Yet introducing compulsory Bengali can be a positive step, but only a step, in the reassertion of the language’s importance in its home state. But the syllabi and teaching methods have to be modernized, and language teachers brought up to scratch. Bengali has, over the years, become as terrifying as mathematics for a lot of children. Learning with hatred is the surest way to redoubled ignorance. There is also the practical aspect. Unless there is greater use of Bengali in everyday matters, and unless there are interestingly written Bengali books in the higher studies, there will be neither respect nor demand for the language. If the state takes up a project to promote Bengali, it must also follow it through. But this would not mean projecting Bengali at the cost of English. The students of this state have already paid a heavy price for the government’s English teaching policy, which has now been modified. Besides, promoting Bengali alone in government schools could lead to an emphasis on English in the others, something that would create a two-tier society. Without adequate thought, the project might backfire, and the victims would be schoolchildren.

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