Siliguri, June 21: Aspirations tied to identity have found expression in competing demands to teach Nepali and Hindi at the undergraduate level in Naxalbari College in Terai which has a substantial number of Gorkhas as well as Adivasis.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has demanded that the college include Nepali as an undergraduate-level course for Gorkha students, while the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad wants Hindi as a subject from this session.
Both sides have warned of agitation if the college, situated in an area from which the Naxalite movement got its name, refuses to accede to either demand.
College authorities spoke to the North Bengal University about the matter after which a varsity team visited the institution recently.
A college source said a proposal has been sent to the NBU to start courses in both the languages but “no final approval has reached to us.”
“We need more teachers. The new students opting for these two language courses, however, can be accommodated within the existing rooms,” a faculty member said.
But the source pointed out that less than a month remained for the new session to begin, expressing doubt whether two courses can be launched in such a short time. “The vice-chancellor is likely to table the proposal at the next executive council meeting in July,” Subrata Sanyal, the inspector of colleges in NBU, said. The college can start courses only after the executive council clears its proposal.
Some observers are sensing political undertones in the demands. The Morcha has been under pressure to pacify disgruntled supporters after the Justice Shyamal Sen committee kept most Terai mouzas out of the new hill set-up. Besides, the hill party has not been able to address the day-to-day problems of their supporters in the Terai.
On the other hand, the Adivasi parishad has been accused of focusing on the Dooars and remaining oblivious to issues in the Terai. The demand for the language course is being seen as part of its attempt to address Terai issues.
Naxalbari College, around 30km from Siliguri, is the only college for students in three blocks of the Terai. Students from Mirik also study there. There are only three full-time teachers, the rest are part-time and visiting faculty.
In all, 1,000 students read humanities in Naxalbari College. “The college is an important educational institution in the Terai as a substantial number of Gorkha students living in rural areas of Siliguri subdivision and some parts of the hills study here,” said Shankar Adhikari, the Terai committee president of the Morcha.
“We want the college and the North Bengal University to introduce Nepali as a course, both for pass and honours students, from current session. If Gorkha students are deprived of the option to study Nepali in the local college, we would be left with no other option but to launch a movement,” Adhikari said.
The Parishad wants Hindi to be taught to students who come from tribal families to Naxalbari College. Most tribals in the nearby blocks are tea garden workers.
“We have been demanding the introduction of Hindi in all Terai and Dooars colleges, the Naxalbari College being one of them. The Naxalbari block is dotted with over 25 tea estates where tribals work. The children from their families want to study Hindi in pass and honours courses,” said Rajesh Toppo, the organising secretary of the Parishad’s state committee.
“If the institution fails to introduce it by this session, we will launch a movement across Terai,” Toppo said. He added that Parishad members would meet governor M.K. Narayanan in Calcutta on July 5, where the issue of teaching Hindi in the college would be raised. “We will request him to advise the varsity to start the course in Naxalbari College.”