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Make Odisha bi-lingual; give Koshali and Odia equal status

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Dr Arjun Purohit

Make Odisha bi-lingual and give Koshali and Odia equal status urges Dr Arjun Purohit. A momentous event is about to take place which will have very profound and negative impact on our part of Odisha, yet I have not come across any response from anybody from our side. As you know, in 1954 Odisha government passed a bill to make Odia as state language but it not executes it in practice. Now because of relentless campaign by Odia literati, an ordinance is being formulated to declare  Odia to be the state language and all government  practices are to be conducted in Odia throughout the province. An advisory body has been created to advise the government to provide specifics of the way Odia is to be used in the state. From the published materials in public media, it seems that they are proposing to make Odia compulsory in  all schools, public and private, up to  grade 10, and all the legal proceedings  as well as government publications and documentation would be conducted in Odia, with the proviso that if these are adhered to there would be stiff punishment.

Personally speaking, I have profound regard for Odia as a language. But in we in Koshala area must seriously examine how the proposed ordinance is going to impact on us. Here are some of my concerns:
1. What happened to our demand to recognize Koshali/Sambalpuri in the 8th schedule ? Naveen Babu has made in his election manifesto that he would see that our language would be so recognized. What happened to the promise?
2. We have been demanding that Koshali be used as medium of instruction in the primary grades. As you know government has already using several Adivashi languages in that way, but not Koshali. So how does the new ordinance fit with our demand?
3. If all government business will be conducted in Odia, then would Koshali be bi-passed for conducting government affairs? How that would impact administration in our area?
4. What about employment of Koshali speaking applicants whose knowledge of Odia will not be in par with coastal Odishans ?
5. How would it affect the non-Odishan families with school going kids who are working in the industrial sectors temporarily?
6. As you know, to seek employment, the dominant trend in our area is to go west or north rather than to Odia speaking area. Therefore knowledge of Hindi and English is more useful to us. Even in the coastal area, especially in urban area, parents are sending their kids to private English schools rather than Odia schools. So this is not going to add any meaningful value for our folks.
7. What about use of Koshali in the legislature? Will leaders of our area be deprived of their democratic right to participate in the affairs of the state just because their knowledge of Odia is not good enough to debate with it?

These are but some of my concerns, but there are many others. But if we do not seriously examine this ordinance NOW, we will be handcuffed with it by default. My impression is that this is a measure to scuttle our demand for recognition of our language under 8th schedule. Odia literati from coastal Odia keep referring to our language as a dialect of Odia, just as Bengalis were referring to Odia as a kind of Bengali a hundred years ago. It is no secret that well known Odia intellectuals like Dr. Debi Prasanna Patnaik are actively campaigning against Koshali It is no accident that Dr. Patnaik is at the forefront of the campaign to promulgate this ordinance.

Therefore, my urgent request to all the intellectuals of our area irrespective of their political affiliations to get together and have serious debates in all major locations before it is too late. The ordinance is scheduled to be proclaimed in about couple of month’s time.

I know in our area we are going through debates about names for the region as well as language. But there is consensus about the substance. My request to all is to postpone using energy on the symbols for the time being and focus on this urgent thing before us. If we do not, history is not going to forgive us. From what I hear, people who do not have our welfare in their heart are depending on our current controversies. Let us pull all our strength to gather and work on this issue just the way we worked to get IIM. One of the issues we should also examine is making Odisha bi-lingual, giving Koshali and Odia equal status.

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