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Friday, March 16, 2012

National Seminar on Scripts ad Languages in Modern India with Special Reference to Konkani-- A Report

A two-day National Seminar organised by Jagotik Konknni Songhotton on “Scripts ad Languages in Modern India with Special Reference to Konkani” was held on March 10 and 11, 2012 at Kalangann, Mangalore.

In his introduction to the seminar, General Secretary of Jagotik Konknni Songhotton, Eric Ozario clarified the official opposition of JKS that JKS was against the unilateral imposition of a single script on Konkani speaking people of all regions. He said that JKS was for recognition of all scripts but should there be a need for a single script for official reasons then the decision should be a democratic one. He said monoculture in the context of language and script of Konkani smacks of fascism. According to him one of the mail purposes of the seminar was to deliberate on the survival of Konakni in the globalisation context with reference to the scripts being used.

The keynote of the seminar was delivered by Valerian Rodrigues, Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He remarked that script and language mark civilisations. Although language and script are distinct they are related. The internal and external diasporic constitution of Konkani speakers need to be factored in. He stressed the need to defend the minority status of the language. Speaking on the question of resource he said it needs to be discussed whether the resources within Konkani go to the marginalised scripts and dialects within Konkani or to those which are prominent. He also discussed the need to stay with a script and yet explore ways of connecting to other scripts.

Speaking on “Script and Language: Relationship and Contentions” Anvita Abbi, Professor of Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi dwelt on the relationship between script and cultures with a contrast between scripts found in India with those of Europe, Egypt and China. She said all the scripts evolved in India are derivatives of Brahmi script. Since in India oral tradition was more predominant, the languages did not experiment on the aesthetics of the script, as against the Roman script. She also said that the Brahmi script was also a way of organising the phonetics system of the language. Due to these reasons, she pointed that the scripts were mutually intelligible. She also drew attention to the fact that scripts are also mediated by technologies and gave the example of Roman script being used by various language users to communicate via digital technologies. She also said that script diversity should not be seen as a burden but as a blessing. As a way of addressing the present crisis she suggested that Konkani could emulate her work on Great Andamanese where she brought out a dictionary of Great Andamanese using three scripts. She warned that shifting to one script or forcing people to use only one script could render users of other scripts illiterate overnight. She concluded with a reading of an extract from the resolution of the first session of the Konkani Parishad whose primary agenda was to resolve the script question and wondered whether nothing had changed in the script debates in the last seven decades.

The last programme of the day was presentation of the play Tulsi. The play was written by Arun Raj Rodrigues based on the novel by Ravindra Kelekar of the same name, directed Christopher, Ninasm and presented by Kalakul Repertory, Mangalore

On the second day, Alok Rai, Professor of English, Delhi University spoke on “Language, Script and Dominance in India”. That the audience came to know through Prof. Rodriguez that Alok was the grandson of Premchand added to the interest of the audience in his arguments. Rai presented the case of Urdu-Hindi language and script conflict in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. He delineated the origin of the Hindi-Urdu conflict and traced their historical trajectories culminating in the present dominance of Hindi over Urdu and attempts within Urdu to transliterate Urdu literature from Perso-Arabic to Nagari script. Using the analogy of Hindi-Urdu contentious relationship he argued that local contexts have their ramifications far beyond their original contexts. As the unrest grows a host of other political and economic issues join the initial context and the issue snowballs into a major struggle. He dwelt on the possibility of looking at the script issue in Konkani using this analogy. At the same time he also warned the dangers of adopting the analogy as such an attempt runs the risk of overlooking issues specific to the context it is applied to. Citing the words of his Sri Lankan friend he said that a demand for one language might create two nations whereas acceptance of two languages might create one nation. He concluded his presentation asking what would be lost if a script died?

Asha Sarangi, Centre for Political Studies, New Delhi who spoke on “Languages and Territory: Issues of Rights and Identities” brought in social science perspectives on the issue. She argued for locating the issue of multiple vs single script in Konkani within the larger political and social history and the present political and linguistic context in India. She said that the language was linked to the social person. She drew attention to the fact that State Reorganisation committee did not make any reference to Konkani. She located the origin of Konkani in Dravidian and Austro-Asian language family rather than Indo-Aryan. She suggested that the Konkani language and script issue also needs to be seen in its relationship to territories. She felt that the role of print in shaping the existing divisions and debates on script needs to be explored. She questioned the relationship of Konkani with other languages namely, Tulu and Kannada, and the role and place of Konkani in state functions such as law, policy, education and cultural aspects such as music, and arts. She mentioned that while Tulu got a place long ago in Mangalore University, Konkani is yet to. She stressed the need to enumerate the practices of Konkani. She insisted on looking at the political economy dimension of the present issue. She said the issue of script could deepen the question of language as a political right and a cultural right. She indicated that not much of intellectual and activist work with relation to equations with the state had taken place since the inclusion of Konkani in the eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Madhavi Sardesai, Department of Konkani, University of Goa, did not come for the conference but sent a paper titled “The Case for a Single Script for Konkani”. The paper was read by Anil Pinto, Department of English and Media Studies, Christ University, Bangalore. The paper argued in favour of the Nagari script for Konkani citing its use by Monsenhor Dalgado and Shennoi Goembab, and resolution of the first session of the Konkani Parishad in 1939, second session in 1940, the third session 1942 to make Nagari the official script. The other reasons cited by her are cross-script ignorance of literature among Kokani speaking people of different scripts, a century old legacy of Konkani literature in Nagari script, and need for a Nagari script to from a “practical and Economic grounds.”

Barbara Roeber from Germany spoke on “An International Perspective on Scripts and Languages”. She discussed the script issue in Europe in the context of Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian languages, in Africa in the context of the Coptic, the Ethiopian, the Tamashek languages, in America in the context of the Cherokee, the Aleutian, and the Cree languages, and in Asia languages of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turmenistan, and Thai. She said that in comparison to the script issue in all these languages, the script issue of Konkani presented the most unique case as it used five different scripts. She said language and script are “constitutive parts of the culture and form the identity of a language community” and that a “written language acquires through its script an important permanency of a culture.” For her the Konkani speaking people of Karnataka had acquired their cultural identity by writing the language in Kannada. She felt that imposition of one script of over users of other script could make the imposed communities lose their culture and identity.

Pratapananda Naik, Director, Thomas Stephens Konkkni Kendr, Goa, spoke on “The Case for Multi-scripts in Konkani.” He presented a brief history of Konkani language with reference to scripts. He dismissed the claim that Kannada was adapted in Karnataka by the migrated Konkani people. He gave examples of text written in Goa in Kannada script in the seventeenth century. According to him while Konkani is written five scripts, in Goa until 1961 Konkani meant Konkani in Roman script. He gave the statistics of statewise population of Konkani speaking people, scriptwise distribution of periodicals, which showed a vibrant print culture in Kannada script and statewise status of Konkani. He mentioned that because of the imposition of Nagari script over Konkani in Goa, the Konkani schools were losing out to English medium schools. Hence he made a case for multi-script arguing for the use of script in a particular place depending on the extent of its usage. He said different scripts in turn represent many dialects, which can be preserved only through multi-scripts, emotional affinity, non-commercial dimension, education, use of scripts, primacy of spoken dialects over script to unite people, betrayal of Nagari script users by joining Marathi, politics of award in single script, lack of demand for single script from users other than Nagari proponents, non-acceptance of Nagari by the Hindus, popularity of Roman script despite lack of state patronage, preservation of democratic aspirations, equation between Aryan, Brahmin, Sanskrit and Nagari script were the other reasons given by him against imposition of single script.

 In his concluding speech, Prof. Rodrigues drew attention to the majoritarian politics marginalising a vast population in India whose basic worldview was acceptance of the plural. He suggested that the script question also needed be careful of this tendency.

At the suggestion of Anvita Abbi, General Secretary of JSK, Eric Ozario proposed the resolution to request Sahitya Akademi to consider all scripts equally for awards. The Seminar passed the resolution with voice vote.

Mr Ozario in his closing remarks said that the next course of action would be to bring all the parties concerned with the script issues on one platform to deliberate on the issue of script and come to a collective decision through democratic process.

Certificates were distributed to all the participants along with copies of Vazram Mothiam CD.

 13 March 2012   
Anil Pinto

The audio recording of the seminar presentations and discussions by Miguel Braganza can be found by clicking here

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