Guwahati, Dec 30 (PTI) The Assam Assembly on Wednesday accorded Bodo the status of associate official language of the state, even as the opposition made a case to similarly recognise Bengali as an official language.
Assamese also called 'Asomiya' is the official language of Assam.
After an appeal by the government to send a "positive message to the indigenous people", the opposition withdrew all its amendments and The Assam Official Languages (Amendment) Bill, 2020, was passed unanimously on the last day of the three-day winter session.
Before enactment of this bill, Bodo was an official language in some specified Bodo majority areas, Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in the assembly.
Congress MLA Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha said that there are over 90 lakh Bengali speaking people in Assam as per the 2011 census and the number of Bodo speaking population in the state is just slightly over 14 lakh.
"We have no problem with Bodo being given the status of an associate official language. But, we demand the same status for Bengali language also. We feel that the Bengali language is being neglected and discriminated against," he added.
Reacting to this, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, who moved the bill on behalf of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, said the amendment has been brought to conform to the new Bodo Accord signed earlier this year.
On January 27, a fresh Bodo Accord was signed by the government with all the factions of the insurgent group National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and United Bodo People's Organisation (UBPO).
Patowary said that Bengali is already the official language in the three districts of Barak Valley -- Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi.
"As per a study, there are 22 crore Bengali speakers worldwide, whereas there are not more than 1.5 crore Assamese speakers. Bengali is a developed language and Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore got the Nobel prize writing in Bengali," he added.
Stating that enough was not being done for the 33 tribal languages in the state, the minister asserted that the Bodo Accord has enabled Assam's unity intact and it is now the government's turn to implement all the clauses.
Defending the government's stance, Sarma said, "Tribals are the sons of the soil. When the government tries to give some privilege to them, we should not take an opposing stance as it will send a negative signal to them.
"Bengali is a global language and I am sure that Bengali speaking people will not agree to it being made an associate language." He also questioned Purkayastha for not raising any demand for official language status to Bengali during his tenure as MLA.
"The bill should not be passed by majority, but by consensus as a gesture to our Bodo brothers," the minister said, requesting the Congress to withdraw its amendment.
Though Purkayastha refused to withdraw the amendment, Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia agreed to the appeals made by the ministers and withdrew it.
AIUDF's Aminul Islam, who propsoed another amendment urging that Assamese be made the lead official language, also withdrew it, paving the way for unanimous passage of bill and made Bodo as the associate official language of Assam.