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Koshli vis-à-vis 8th Schedule (Part: II)

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Dr Arjun Purohit, Canada

This series was written by Dr Arjun Purohit in response to an article published in published in the ‘Sambad’ on 22nd July 2011 entitled ‘Matrubhasha O Maanak Bhasha’ by Debi Prasanna Patnaik.

Before I wrote this part, I read and reread Dr.Patnaik’s piece, and it seems we are in déjà vu all over again. In later half of 19thcentury, people of Orissa division of Bengal Presidency were fighting for the very survival of Oriya as a language against stiff opposition from a strong Bengali lobby. On March 12, 1869 Rajendra Lal Mitra, an eminent historiographer of Bengal who had come to Cuttack in order to compile a book on the antiquities of Orissa’s art and sculpture, said in a meeting held at Cuttack that as long as Oriya was not removed as a language it was impossible to think in terms of progress of Orissa. About the same time, Uma Charan Halder, the then Deputy Inspector of Schools claimed that Oriya people would stand to benefit if only Oriya were written in Bengali script. Again in 1870, Kantilal Bose, Head Master of Balasore School, brought out a book “Oriya Swatantra Bhasha Nai” and sent it to R. L. Martin, Inspector of Schools. A signature campaign started under the direction of Sibdas Bhattacharya, Deputy Inspector of Schools at Balasore, for continuation of Bengali as the medium of instruction in the schools of Orissa. This was a time when Bengalis dominated in all spheres of civil service including education in Orissa. However, though many Bengalis were supportive of this stand, a good portion of them joined their hands with their Oriya brethren in their demand for Oriya to be the medium of instruction, such as Baikuntha Nath De, Gauri Shankar Ray and Radhanath Roy among others. For an exhaustive summary of the struggle, please read THE RAJ: NATIONALSTS AND REFROMS- LAND, LAW AND GOVERNMENT, ORISSA: 1912-1939 by Amal Kumar Mishra.

Is not the struggle the same between Koshali and Oriya? Now the Oriya pundits are using the unwise tactics against Koshali, and blocking at every turn any chance of getting into 8th Schedule. Probably they are afraid that recognition of Koshali as a separate language somehow diminishes the viability of Oriya in some way. History does not support such fears. After the struggle, Bengali raised from strength to strength, eventually Rabi Tagore getting Nobel Prize in literature. And look at Oriya. Oriya has blossomed when Oriya speaking people had mastery over their own destiny. Oriya writers have embellished their literature in to great heights. Sitakant Mahapatra recently awarded of Padma Vibhusan, the highest award of the nation. Future will tell how Koshali will fare in coming years, but if the record of last few years is any indication, future looks very bright. So Dr. Patnaik need not fear on the account of recognition of Koshali. For blooming and blossoming of Oriya depends on the creative imagination of Oriya writers, and that is where he and other ardent lovers of Oriya should focus rather than indulging in trying to block Koshali from getting recognition as a language. If at all there would be any danger to Oriya as a language, it may come from Oriyas themselves. Just look at your own back yard in Bhubaneswar. Oriya kids are leaving Oriya schools in droves opting for English medium schools even though it costs a king’s ransom for the option.

I am a little intrigued with the tone of the Sambad piece under scrutiny. Perhaps Dr. Patnaik did not mean convey such tone, but it comes across as paternalistic. It is as if Koshalis by asking for recognition of our Matrubhsha, the language we learnt on our mother’s lap, we are somehow are hostile to Oriya as a language. Nothing of the sort. He graciously acknowledged contribution to Oriya literature by quite a few Koshalis. I can name even a dozen more. And I hope Koshalis will continue to do so. During my recent trip to Sambalpur, my friend Uma Shankar Panda presented me his latest anthology of Oriya poems. I presume it is probably his 83rd ! So what we need is not lecture/soliloquy but dialogue, not paternalism but equivalence/partnership, and not indifference/hostility but friendship. This way both Koshali and Oriya will be winners.

Finally, who do you think solved the conflict between Oriya and Bengali? It was T. Ravenshaw ultimately. My sincere plea to Dr. Patanaik and other lovers of Oriya is to rise up to their moral responsibility to do the right thing by unblocking our access to 8th Schedule. This is what brothers do for each other. Longer this impasse festers; more bitter will be the relationship between our two communities. This will be cited as another instance of deliberate blockage of our progress. If this does not happen, then it will serve as a lesson to be learnt for Koshalis. Do not go to Bhubaneswar for getting recognition for Koshali because Oriyas are playing the same game as Bengalis did against Oriya in 19th century, just as an abused child becomes abusive parent. Campaign in New Delhi instead.

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