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Why the Assam government's new measures in education have triggered a political backlash

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In Assam, the state cabinet’s decision to introduce English as a medium of instruction to teach science and mathematics from Class 3 in all government schools has led to heated debate.

The debate has grown politically charged as linguistic identity has been the driving factor of a strong subnationalism in the state.

On September 21, nine opposition parties voiced their protest against the “anti-education” policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The statement united diverse parties, from the Congress and the Left to regional outfits such as the Assam Jatiya Parishad and the Asom Raijor Dal. The latter have built their politics on protecting Assamese ethnic and linguistic identity.

The same day, more than 20 cultural and civil society groups – including the Asam Sahitya Sabha, the apex literary body in the state, and the influential All Assam Students Union as well as the All Bodo Sahitya Sabha and the All Bodo Students Union – issued a joint statement saying that they would launch an agitation against them.

Earlier, on September 19, the state assembly was disrupted and opposition leaders walked out after a discussion on the subject. A week before that, the assembly was briefly suspended the day it gathered for the start of the autumn session because the...

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