New Delhi Establishment’s Sahitya Academy insists on Konkani language, spoken in coastal Maharashtra, Goa, coastal Karnataka and parts of Kerala, to present literature in the Nagari script of Hindi/ Sanskrit, for consideration of its awards, said a feature appeared in the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), dated 03 August. At present, the Konkani language, which was recognized as a major national language of India in 1992, is written in 5 scripts: Kannada, Roman, Malayalam, Nagari and Persian-Arabic, depending on the State where it is spoken. 45 per cent of the Konkani speakers, the largest group, live in Karnataka, where the script of Konkani is Kannada. 40 per cent of the speakers are in Goa, where the language is mostly written in Roman.
However, “most of the awards and recognitions today, particularly those conferred by Central Sahitya Academy, invariably require that the concerned writings are made available in the Nagari script. Some of them feel that such a demand is not merely unfair, but it challenges their very sense of belonging expressed through a script native to them,” said the EPW feature “ Konkani: The Script Controversy” by Valerian Rodrigues of the Centre for Political Studies of the JNU.
“The existing practice of considering works only written in Nagari for awards and recognition by public agencies cannot be endorsed. Writings in all scripts should be considered for the purpose,” the feature further said.
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The argument for the use of Nagari for Konkani is that it will help ‘national’ integration of Konkani in India better.
With the same argument, New Delhi is now imposing the Nagari script among the script-less tribal languages in the newly created tribal states such as Chhatthisgarh and Jharkhand in Central India, where most of the tribes are Dravidian or Austro-Asiatic speakers.
Many of them who were using the Oriya script or Telugu script are now encouraged to use Nagari. As some of the tribes have demographic contiguity with the proposed new State of Telangana carved out of Andhra, Nagari may make inroads into the Telugu State also.
Nagari, which evolved as the script of Sanskrit in Northern India, also became the script of Hindi when it became an identifiable language in the times of the Moghals after 16th century.
In Southern India, Sanskrit was written in Grantham, a script that evolved locally and introduced phonetic writing even to far away places such as the Pacific islands. But elite in the South willingly sacrificed Grantham in the early 20th century to have uniformity in printed Sanskrit. It is now a forgotten script due to the monopoly of Nagari in writing Sanskrit.
Marathi accepted Nagari as its script in the 20th century.
In historical times, the Kannada script was prevalent even in Maharashtra for the writing of Marathi.
A fear among the Konkani population is that by the use of Nagari, Marathi that is vying with Konkani especially in Goa may try to make inroads into that State and their language.
Konkani is the State official language in Goa, recognized since 1987.
Konkani speaking people, especially the Catholic sections in Goa, prefer Roman script introduced by the Portuguese, as it would help their diaspora, universal readability and international interaction of the language.
But the influential Brahmin sections among the Konkani speakers have already started using Nagari. This may marginalise the folk echelons of the Konkani people, is yet another concern.
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The script controversy may look meaningless since all the Indian alphabets have evolved from a common alphabet. The colonial Orientalists who deciphered the alphabet in the 19th century named it “Brahmi,” getting the term from a list of the script names of the past.
Nagari evolved from ‘Brahmi’ with linear characters because of the writing material used in Northern India, which was tree bark and reed pen.
In Southern India and in most of the coastal India, including in Ceylon, the scripts evolved from ‘Brahmi’ were curvilinear due to the use of palmyra or talipot palm leaves and stylus as writing material. There is a strong connection between the natural distribution of palmyra-talipot palms and curvilinear scripts.
Historically, Konkani comes under the curvilinear script region.
Script or scripts of a language is its identity as well as continuity with its literary heritage. More than that, in the case of Konkani, the script decides the demographic, cultural and literary contiguity and interaction of the speakers with their immediate and traditional neighbours.
While the New Delhi Establishment, Hindi enthusiasts and BJP-RSS-Shiv Sena sections visualise ‘national’ integration through entering into written Konkani with Nagari, which less that 15 per cent of the Konkani-speaking people use, it will create a wedge in the Dravidian States, between Konkanis and Kannadigas in Karnataka and between Konkanis and Malayalis in Kerala.
Nagas and Mizos of North-East India have gone for Roman script long back as a response to the games of ‘dominant’ formations.
Tamil Nadu that was in the forefront to resist Hindi in the 1950s and 60s failed in voicing, helping and interacting with others in India facing similar plights later.
It is of utmost importance for the grassroot people’s movements in Tamil Nadu to consciously make a strong bondage with the peoples of North-East States, tribal states and others of similar situations, as such a bondage only will help in the long run in facing the bulldozing designs of imperialism in the Establishment.
Tulu, an identifiable Dravidian language, which was historically written in Grantham, Vattezhuththu, Malayalam and Kannada, also faced a similar situation like Konkani. It is now written in Kannada due to its predominant demographic confinement to Karnataka.
Let the Konkani speakers decide on the question of their script in ways that suit them. But the injustice shown by New Delhi’s Sahitya Academy to Konkani writers in scripts other than Nagari is a form of cultural genocide and that has to be resisted and condemned by all those in India and outside, who care for literary and cultural heritage.