Agitating communities in Assam should strive for development of their language and culture but should not part ways with Assam, says Asam Sahitya Sabha president Imran Shah to Pranab Bora and Rajiv Konwar of The Telegraph. These communities together form the larger Assamese community, he says.
Excerpts from the interview:
The Telegraph: Considering the present situation, which language should be Assamís state language in your opinion?
Imran Shah: It should be Assamese, as it is nothing but an amalgamation of all languages used in the state and is used by all. But it doesnít mean that they (agitating communities) have to accept Assamese by abandoning their languages. We didnít abandon Assamese when Hindi was made the countryís official language. I think language is not the basis of the movement. Rather, it is political.
TT: Do you think Assam government should accord associate language status to other languages spoken in the state?
IS: I cannot say what the government should do. But we consider these languages a part of Assamese.
TT: But that itself seems to be the problem. Would the Assamese accept if someone were to say it was part of Bengali?
IS: That was a separate issue as the Bengalis said we were a sub-class. However, in the current context, all of us together make up the Assamese community. If someone refuses to accept that, it would be a huge issue.
TT: Do you think making English the official language of Assam, given the acceptance level among various communities, would make things more neutral?
IS: I donít have any objection if English is made Assamís official language but not at the cost of regional languages. At present, Assamese is under attack. It is being sidelined in schools and this is not a good sign.
TT: There is a cultural and linguistic awakening among different communities culminating in statehood demands. How can these issues be tackled?
IS: Itís difficult to comment on the issue. I donít think separate states will solve problems. If itís about language and culture, itís a good thing. Let them develop their language and culture. They are a part of Assamese culture and we want them to develop their identity, yet remain with us.
TT: These communities allege Asam Sahitya Sabha did not do much to develop their languages.
IS: The Sabha had a responsibility towards these languages and still has. Having seen the Sabha from inside, I know it has certain limitations. For instance, I was planning to publish books in all languages of Assam through our publication wing but our finances didnít allow this. These problems are not apparent from outside. The reasons for the Sabhaís failure should also be analysed.
TT: You have started centres to teach Bodo language.
IS: We have started a Bodo learning centre at Udalguri with financial support from BTAD. In the centre, an Assamese child can learn Bodo and vice versa.
TT: Are you opening such centres for Karbi, Mising and Dimasa languages?
IS: The Sabha has an office in Karbi Anglong. People know Assamese there. We are hoping to start a centre in Arunachal Pradesh but it has not happened yet.
TT: The communities also allege that Assam government has not done enough for their languages.
IS: We allege this too. The government has perhaps not done what it ought to have done.
TT: Donít you think the government should make language policies after discussions with sahitya sabhas of different communities?
IS: The state Assembly generally deals with such issues and it is seen that these are often pushed to a committee. The Assembly should discuss each indigenous community.
TT: Where will these incidents lead Assam?
IS: It is too sad a situation to comment.