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Abhijit Bora
Date of Publish: 2016-03-23

 Linguistic Inclusiveness -  a  long way to go

"Mother languages in a multilingual approach are essential components of quality education, which is itself the foundation for empowering women and men and their societies." Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General.

The occasion of International Mother Language Day or Matribhasha Divas on February 21st, brought up a few stray thoughts in regard to the broad issue of linguistic inclusiveness and preservation of mother tongues across the word, particularly in our country. 

”Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue,” UNESCO.

Language has always been a sensitive issue for any person on earth. Further, the comfort that one’s language is duly recognized by the country’s Constitution definitely is an encouraging feeling. More so for a country like ours where there are so many languages ranging from crores of speakers to a few thousands. A language not only represents a particular community of people. It also represents a long tradition of knowledge, culture and civilization in its wake. Hence, survival of each and every language and dialect is so important.

However, going by the Constitutional provisions relating to the Eighth Schedule in articles 344(1) and 351, only 22 languages are listed here. This translates to quite less than the required number of 36 – if we take one each for 29 states and seven Union Territories.

For the NER, the situation is further worse. From amongst the eight states, only three languages have made it to this list of 22. That too, two from one state. These privileged ones are – Assamese, Manipuri and Bodo. That is, if we do not take into account Bengali, Nepali and Hindi in the list.

That, in reality means Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim are not represented in this Schedule of the Constitution. From Tripura, the major local language Kokborok does not find its place here.

Of these 22 languages, 14 were initially included in the Constitution. Thereafter, Manipuri and Nepali were included in 1992 along with another language. Finally, Bodo was added in 2004 with a few others.  

It needs mention that a fresh demand for inclusion of another 38 languages in this Schedule was submitted to the ministry concerned in the early 2000s. This list includes six languages from this region – Karbi, Khasi, Kokborok, Lepcha, Mizo, Tenyidi. And also there is  Kamtapuri which is spoken in some parts of western Assam border around Alipurduar.     

It is interesting to note that English finds a place in this list which so far has not been included in the Eight Schedule.

It is a just demand and would facilitate having at least one common language for each state of the region in addition to the already existing three languages. If this new demand is accepted in toto, then Assam and Tripura would be in a privileged position with three and two languages of these states respectively included in the Eight Schedule.

But, the proposal has been buried in bureaucratic red tape ever since it was raised. According to a Press Information Bureau release,
a Committee was set up in 2003 under the Chairmanship of Sitakant Mohapatra to evolve a set of objective criteria for inclusion of more languages in the Eighth Schedule. The Committee submitted its report in 2004 which is under consideration in consultation with the concerned Departments and Ministries of the Union Government. The release also stated that no time frame could be fixed for consideration of these demands for inclusion of more languages in the Eighth Schedule.

If a language is so recognized, it receives a certain safeguard in terms of its survival for the future as many official business have to be carried out in them. This includes examinations by major recruitment bodies in the government, translation of all proceedings in the Parliament. This would ensure maintaining at least a minimum of activities in the language in the days to come.  

For already well-established languages and also English there is no problem. But, for languages with comparatively far smaller numbers of speakers  what would be their status in the near and distant future. With an ever-lessening number of speakers of them, a government patronage like inclusion in Eighth Schedule would be a highly welcome step for the future.

Though of course, inclusion in this Schedule can’t be said as the panacea for their survival yet they would receive a major boost to their status.

In this direction, the role of All India Radio has to be mentioned for its efforts towards facilitating enrichment of the various languages and dialects over the last so many decades. This is because it has been regularly promoting them by allocating some amount of airtime for broadcasting programmes and news bulletins at different points of time since Independence.

This is also true that if the batch of 38 languages are included in the Eight Schedule it would open up a floodgate of such demands for future. Yet, at least one major language for each state and union territory is well-justified and should be implemented without much dilly-dallying.

Non implementation of this may also be interpreted in the manner that the state is not too keen on safeguarding these languages. In today’s world, when ‘inclusiveness’ by all means is the buzzword, this does not reflect the same.

On the other hand, it may be felt that inclusion in the Eighth Schedule may not be a viable and feasible means for preservation and development of any language. Then there is need for a larger debate at the national level for looking at alternative ways and means for an effective and meaningful mechanism for their preservation and evolution for the future.  

It may be mentioned that the United Nations General Assembly through its special resolution of 2007 calls upon member states "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world" and also proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism. The International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(Dr. Abhijit Bora is the Head of the Department of Mass Communication, Tezpur University )



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