Social media, especially Twitter, loves a silly game. Replace movie or book names with a funny word.
It never fails to entertain tweeple, and usually trends at the top. A couple of days ago, one such top all-India trend – #Replace- RamWithRong – was neither silly nor funny.
The education board under the Mamata Banerjee government had changed the traditional Bengali term for rainbow from ramdhonu (Ram’s bow) to rongdhonu (bow of colour) in higher secondary textbooks, quietly dropping the word Ram.
Or aakashi (sky blue colour), for instance, was changed to its Urdu/Persian avatar, aasmani.
The story got reported and there was instant outrage. Mamata has for long faced accusations of appeasing her massive Muslim vote bank (in Bengal, we are looking at 27 per cent, and that is the official figure).
She has been criticised for payouts to imams and muezzins, and accused of shielding criminals.
But this brazen engineering of language has a more sinister feel to it and in both sides of Bengal, it brings back terrible memories.
When Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, PM Liaquat Ali Khan and education minister Fazl-ur- Rehman pushed for Urdu as the lingua franca even of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, they triggered the Bhasha Andolan, or the language movement.
What the Bengal government is doing today is darkly similar to what the report of the East Bengal Language Committee in 1949 sought to do.
It recommended replacing Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit-origin words in Bengali with Urdu, Persian and Arabic-origin ones.
In 1952, the government in Islamabad suggested that Bengali be written in the Arabic script as a solution to the language conflict.
But it only helped the famous Bengali resistance dig in deeper.
Public figures like M Shahidullah and Dhirendra Nath Dutta openly opposed the government, students went on rampaging protest and many were killed on February 21, 1952, in police firing, making ‘Ekushey February’ a day that still unites Bengalis all over the world.
The language movement was the beginning of the end of Pakistan’s iniquitous rule in a nation which later fought its freedom war Mukti Juddho and became Bangladesh, a tribute, again, to the language and culture that binds it.
Shahidullah, the linguist from Dhaka University and a luminary of the ’50s Bhasha Andolan, later wrote: ‘It is true that there are Hindus and Muslims.’
‘But what is transcending is that they are in essence Bengali. This is a reality.’
‘Nature with her own hand has stamped the indelible mark of Bengali in such a manner on our appearance and language that it is no longer possible to conceal it.’
For all her astonishing political savvy, Mamata Banerjee is playing with fire.
Her actions and decisions are sowing the seeds of Hindu anger and Hindutva politics.
Already, the BJP has emerged as the dominant opposition in Bengal. The RSS and its tributaries like the VHP and Bajrang Dal are expanding base in the state.
In 2013, there were about 800 Sangh shakhas, while now there are 1,500 odd.
Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground, once Jyoti Basu-led Left’s pulpit, hosted RSS drills and chief Mohan Bhagwat’s speech on Saturday, which was beamed live for followers in several districts.
Bajrang Dal, a non-existent force till recently, sends out videos of bike processions and rallies in districts like Burdwan, Birbhum, Nadia, and South and North 24 Paraganas.
Malda and Dhulagarh riots, alleged killing of lower-caste Hindus by fundamentalists in Nadia’s Juranpur, Hooghly’s Hanskhali or Kharagpur only arm the saffron force with inflammable material.
When elements like hate spewing imam of the Tipu Sultan mosque Nurur Rahman Barkati are allowed a free run, the vicious air damages both ordinary Hindus and Muslims, creating deep, new rifts.
But RSS’s Bengal pranth karyavah (state secretary) Jishnu Basu says the pace of growth is not enough.
‘We have still not done enough in the state to make especially lower caste Hindus feel secure. A lot more needs to be done.’
If all this is not a storm warning, one doesn’t know what is. Bengal needs mature governance and a cool head, and not covert surgical strikes on its identity and language.
By Abhijit Majumder
Courtesy: Daily Mail