The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Language row rocks varsity

Burdwan, Jan. 24: One is a literary figure, also known for his crusading for the Bengali language, the other an industrialist-turned-politician-turned-Governor and a champion of the English language.

Sparks flew today at the convocation of Burdwan University at Golapbag when novelist and poet Sunil Gangopadhyay crossed swords with Governor Viren J. Shah in front of a gathering of academics, students and officials in defence of the languages they chose to speak in.

“I find it most unfortunate that in a state where 86 per cent of the population is Bengali-speaking, a function like this convocation accords more prominence to English,” Gangopadhyay said after accepting a D.Litt (Honoris Causa) from the Governor. Sculptor Chintamoni Kar was the other recipient of the honour.

An acknowledged standard-bearer of the “save-Bengali language” campaign, Gangopadhyay slammed the university, of which Shah is the chancellor, for conducting the convocation in English. He also lamented what he described as the inadequate treatment being meted out to Indian culture and philosophy in educational institutions.

Speaking after the novelist, Shah said he often felt depressed at the average university student’s lack of working knowledge of English.

“This is a big handicap to our students in universities and, later, when they seek employment. I hope my suggestions would receive urgent consideration of the vice-chancellor in his meetings with the academic faculty,” he added, urging the varsity to introduce special English classes in the colleges affiliated to it.

Gangopadhyay’s commitment to the language goes beyond complaining about the language in which a university’s convocation is conducted. He had earlier demanded that the government and civic authorities should ensure that billboards and hoardings carried copies written in Bengali in addition to English or Hindi.

The demand found a backer in the mayor of Calcutta, Subrata Mukherjee. The civic chief has agreed to put forth a formal proposal to this effect to the chief minister.

Shah’s concern went beyond the language chasm. The affiliation of the colleges showing poor results, he said, should be withdrawn. He was critical of the courses offered by the university. They are “not structured to suit the vast majority of students either from academic or employment points of view or even as a preparation for higher studies”, Shah said.

“Sadly, despite serious efforts, the students who emerge from the universities today are not always well-rounded personalities with insight into and knowledge of their environment and capacity to deal with situations and problems as they confront them.”

The Governor flayed a section of the teachers for the slump in academic standards and low student-teacher interface. He suggested to the university to shore up its bottom line by way of alternative financing, industry-institute partnerships and institution of chairs.

The row over English broke out at a time when the government was grappling with nay-sayers in the CPM and partners in the Left Front on the early introduction of English at the primary level.

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