New Delhi: Students at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) in Kolkata Wednesday organised a protest on their campus, days after the institute’s administration sent a notice asking that over 55 per cent of the written communication in the institute must be in Hindi.
But soon after the protest, the administration told the students they had been inadvertently marked in a communication meant to be limited to the administrative staff.
— Rahul Siddharthan (@rsidd120) March 23, 2021
The incident brings out the prevailing anti-Hindi sentiment among the academics in West Bengal ahead of the bitterly fought state elections.
It all started after the IACS was sent a notice in February by the Hindi cell of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), functioning under the ministry of science, stating that the institute has failed to meet the required targets set by the Official Languages Act of 1963. The notice followed a quarterly review of the IACS’ internal communications.
The Act stipulates that all central universities must have a certain percentage of their official communications in Hindi. Universities across the country send quarterly review reports to the Hindi cell of DST.
“This is a routine activity that takes place every quarter. This quarter some 13 such notices have been sent out to universities across the country,” Anju Bhalla, joint secretary at DST, told ThePrint.
On 19 March, the IACS administration circulated a strongly-worded letter to its staff, calling the situation “very worrying” and asking them to increase written communication in Hindi so as to avoid any “unpleasant situation”.
The letter asked the staff to ensure that 55 per cent of all communication is in Hindi, and at least 33 per cent of the “notings to be written on files” should be in Hindi.
During official work, all signatures were to be made in Hindi and all file names should be labelled in Hindi as well as English, with Hindi names written first, the letter stated.
The circular also said that officials from Delhi will be visiting the institute for inspection.
Researchers in Bengal, however, said such notices are sheer wastage of resources and that the government needs to teach the language in schools first before asking universities to start writing official documents in Hindi.
Abhishek Das, president of the Research Scholars’ Association within the IACS, said, “Two days back this circular was broadcast in our email. Next day, we organised a protest against Hindi imposition at the university.”
Students wrote ‘No Hindi Imposition’ on the field of the campus, and stood in protest maintaining social distancing.
“After speaking to the institution it was made clear to us that the notice was meant only for an administrative staff,” Das said.
‘Notification is more about politics than law’
Ayan Banerjee, a professor at IISER Kolkata, said that asking the top scientific minds of the country to expend their time and resources on anything other than research was bizarre.
He added although Hindi promotion activities are routinely carried out at IISER Kolkata, the institute has never seen an official notice of such seriousness.
“Most of the staff in Bengal have studied in West Bengal board schools, and never been taught Hindi. To be able to write official letters in Hindi, one has to be an expert in it,” Banerjee said.
“Universities like IACS — which is yet to make a name in the country — are much more malleable. So it is easier to impose such notices on them,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that our elite universities show the least spine when it comes to taking a stand against the government,” he said.
Banerjee added that for a country where science universities already have very limited funds to work with, it is unfortunate that resources are spent in translating documents to Hindi, especially when a large percentage of the population in the region, and also across the country, does not speak the language.
“The best students in science get out of India, and we do not do anything to keep them back. So our use of resources should be focused in that direction,” he said.
Banerjee added that even if the government wants to promote one common language across the country, there should be proper consultations as to which language that should be.
“There should then be efforts from the government to actually teach the language in schools first — before asking university level staff to start writing official documents in Hindi,” he added.
Shambhu Prasad Chakrabarty, researcher at West Bengal’s National University of Juridical Sciences, told ThePrint, “This notification is more about politics than law. Someone must have been asked by the higher up to write that notice.”
“Any faculty member at any place will have a moral responsibility to communicate in a language which is known to all students, even those who do not know the local language,” he said.
“Making that moral responsibility a legal imposition will no doubt attract a lot of criticism,” he said, adding that the notice by the university was highly unprofessional.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)