By Jyoti Sonia Dhan
8 October, 2009
‘Languages are precious storehouses of history, experience and culture; a crucial link between the past and the future’
– Jeanie Bell, Aboriginal Linguist
Language is considered as the cornerstone of culture and the ultimate expression of belonging as it is through language that culture is shared and transmitted. A unique world view is expressed and identity is moulded and recreated. And for the indigenous community language is expressed through prayers, myths, spiritual belief, ceremonies, law, poetry, oratory, or through everyday greetings, conversational styles, humour, ways of speaking to children, or through unique terms for habits, socio-cultural organization and values of the community.
It is sometimes argued that when an indigenous language disappears (when there are no longer any speakers of the language) then the group itself does no longer exist as such which is of course not the case in many instances as of today. There are still indigenous communities who are able to maintain a strong community despite having lost the use of their traditional language and self-awareness as indigenous peoples.
Education is used as an instrument of assimilation in most countries has resulted in the loss of many indigenous languages. There are generations of indigenous people who were taught that their languages are inferior to the national language thus created a negative social stigma of being indigenous as “inferior.” On the other hand, education has also the potential of saving and reviving indigenous languages that are at the brink of extinction as manifested in some countries and territories today. With the empowerment of indigenous movements and recent developments with regards to the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights at the national and international level, indigenous languages has become an integral aspect of indigenous peoples’ right to culture.
There are 300 to 400 millions indigenous people who speak about 5000 languages in the world wide. And in India there has no major survey done about the count of the tribal languages but it was said that there are more than 270 main dialects spoken. The tribal languages were segregated into three types Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan and Austric. In Jharkhand there are 34 languages or dialects spoken by the tribal groups and non tribal groups. Among the tribal languages 6 have the scripts (Ho, Santhal, Munda, Oroan, Kharia, Bhumij). The Santhali is official language under 8th schedule in the state of Orissa.
In order to promote the indigenous language it was made mandatory in the constitution. Under the Indian constitutional mandate under article 350 A, says that, primary education should be imparted in the mother tongue. So, the state government is towards the mandate for implementation. The Jharkhand Human resource development had set to implement at the grassroots. It had made compulsory for the teachers to have knowledge of the local language (tribal and non tribal) who were then teaching in Hindi. The students from the government school right from standard I to standard VIII.
The Jharkhand government printed books in five tribal languages for primary school children but failed to appoint teachers on time leading to a wasteful expenditure of Rs 1.05 crore, a CAG report has said. The books were published according to the government’s decision to impart primary education in tribal languages in addition to Hindi in the tribal state. The state’s human resource department had approved printing of books in five tribal languages — Mundari, Kharia and Khuduk in Devnagari script, Santhali in Olchiki script and Ho in Barangchhiti script – for students from Class I to V.
Government neither appointed teachers, who could teach in tribal languages in particular scripts nor these books were made part of the syllabus rendering the cost of printing books wasteful.” Still there is no teacher to teach the language. There has being no recruitment of teachers for the past years. Still in the many areas the teachers were non tribals who do not have the sensitivity towards the indigenous language. Though there are students doing graduate in Indigenous language, but they do not get a space to build learned of the indigenous language.
It is Hindi and English in the primary school which governs. This is the biggest dilemma of the indigenous language that, one hand it speaks about the promotion and protection and on other it just do not make any appropriate arrangement to make it successful. The government seeks to have bi-lingual education hence, Hindi and English was taught in the primary schools.
The demand for the local language by different groups and a constitutional mandate for the promotion of local language had raised demand for non indigenous language. This is once again is threat to the indigenous language. It can fall into politization by some groups and can completely scarp indigenous language from education. (for instances there were demand for Bengali and Urdu as the second language in Jharkhand) The very word “local language” is not defined properly; it can be the indigenous language or other non indigenous language. In Jharkhand there are non indigenous people residing and they are distributed unevenly all through the area. To advocate for non indigenous language (Bengali and Urdu) is also not wise when we promote to protect the indigenous language.
Again there is another constitutional change going for to have tri-lingual education at the primary education. This will create another kind of confusion in the state as there are many indigenous languages or the local language spoken at different pockets. Suppose if there is Hindi, English and Santhali as the tri-lingual then it might be acceptable in Santhal Pargana but not in Chotanagpur or in Kolhan area. This is because there are fewer or negligible speakers in Kolhan and Chotanagpur area, as the area is dominated by Ho, Mundari, Kurukh speakers. Even in Santhal pargana the indigenous group Paharia and Birhor will be deprive to promote their languages. Again, if Hindi, English and Khorta or panchpargania are considered, then the indigenous language will be deprived. Hence, it is not possible to advocate for any particular indigenous language in the state.
Its is really a threat to the indigenous language if the promotion is not successful through the government, then only Hindi and English will be language for culture expression. Therefore, it is necessary to teach, impart, and promote all the indigenous language of the state. There should be some alternative to promote indigenous language keeping in mind the geo-ethnic specification for instances in Chotanagpur area Mundari and Kurukh to be taught, similarly in Kolhan Ho etc.
The tri-lingual can be a virtual idea in the state of Jharkhand as it gives space for indigenous, national as well as global language. This tri-lingual can be based on the geo-ethnic specification. But, which one to be called as first language, second or third has to be justified. As for the demand from different indigenous groups all over the world, the respective indigenous language has to make as the medium of instruction under the education system. This simply directs Hindi and English are secondary. But, when one reflects to other states the regional language, the respective state language is place first followed by English and Hindi; this is just the reverse in Jharkhand, since it was made to consider Hindi the only language.
How will our education system reserve the indigenous language or whether it will lead to loss? Amidst the global language how these language will able to compete with its naturalness? What is the attitude of the indigenous community to go for protection of their language when there is so much exposure through media and telecommunication in non indigenous language? Not only that when there is demand of global language for capital accumulation. What will be proactive ness by the state government for promotional of the indigenous language. These are the few questions left for debate.
Author is a Social Activist from the Indigenous Community of Jharkhand.