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5 Indian tribal languages staring at extinction

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“When a language dies, it is not just the language that disappears, but the whole culture, history and knowledge archives of the speakers.”

Currently, around 8.2 percent of the Indian population speaks in tribal languages. However, these tribal languages are staring at a bleak future due to the cultural invasion from the West.

It is concerning that 197 Indian languages in India are reported to be endangered. A UNESCO report revealed that while 81 languages are vulnerable, 63 are endangered.

At least 6 tribal languages are severely endangered,  42 are critically endangered, and five languages have already become extinct.

Here is a sneak peek at five tribal languages which are limping towards an untimely death.

MAJHI in Sikkim

MajhiThe most threatened language of India, Majhi, is on the verge of extinction.

Extensive research by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) revealed that just four spoke Majhi in India.

Interestingly, all the four belong to the same family. Living in Jorethang, south of the Sikkimese capital, Gangtok, the extended family no longer even recites the Majhi language rituals for births or weddings.

They use it only during a 16-day death ritual, during which time the community speaks to the departed person, explaining to them that they have died

MAHALI in Eastern India

mahali

Primarily spoken by the ‘Sun God’ community in eastern India, Mahali is also under serious threat of going extinct. With more and more people migrating to other places and learning other languages, the Mahali speaking population is fading away.  While the community who spoke in Mahali dwelled in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, British colonialism uprooted them from their culture when they invaded the region.

These ‘Sun God’ worshipping people are in grave need of revitalizing their language which is on the path to extinction.

KORO in Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal-Pradesh21Koro is considered as a “hidden” language which can be traced among an isolated hill tribe in a northeastern Indian region.

However, the influence of Koro can be found in languages in the Sino-Tibetan region. Notably, 800 to 1,200 people in the East Kameng district of western Arunachal Pradesh are known to use Koro.

The clandestine language is also used by terror outfits in the regions.

SIDI in Gujarat

Sidi, also known as Habsi (Abyssinian), is a Bantu language of India, descended from Swahili. Although announced as extinct, Sidi was reported to still be spoken in the mid-20th century in Kathiawar, Gujarat.

 

 

Dimasa in Assam

DimasaMigration of people to urban areas dealt a ghastly blow to the Dimasa language which was commonly used the states of Assam and Nagaland.

It might be mentioned that the language is one of the oldest languages in India.

Extensive research is needed to find out the lost scriptures of the language.

(Picture Courtesy: outlookindia.com)

(Inputs by Varnika Mahajan)

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Tribals of Tripura all set for Ker Puja to thwart evil spirits

According to writer Salil Debbarma, "The customary rules and conventions of Ker Puja are strict and not easy to follow. Around 40 years ago the then District Magistrate had been fined for entering the Ker Puja area without permission."

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Kharchi Puja in Tripura. Image source: breathtakingindia.com
  • “Ker Puja starts at midnight on Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 31 hours,” said Sanjoy Chakraborty, Senior Deputy Magistrate of West Tripura district
  • The literal meaning of ‘Ker’ in tribal Kokborok language is ‘specified area’.
  • “Any kind of entertainment, dancing, singing and movement of animals are barred in the specified Ker Puja areas,” it added

In centuries-old Ker Puja in Tripura, there is no place for death, birth or recreation. Steeped in intricate, time-honoured rituals, this mega tribal event is about well-being and warding off evil spirits. This 31-hour-long festival is all set to begin from Monday, July 25, onwards.

It might sound strange but no pregnant woman or critically ailing person is allowed in the sacred puja precinct. Anyone who violates is made to pay a fine and the puja starts from scratch.

Sponsored by the state government, Ker Puja is one of the important events in Tripura’s calendar. Elaborate arrangements are made to ensure that the puja passes off peacefully.

As has been the norm, the West Tripura district administration has notified the Ker Puja areas this year. The area in and around the royal palace here as well as Puran Habeli, the erstwhile capital of Tripura around 12 km east of Agartala, have been notified for the Ker Puja.

The literal meaning of ‘Ker’ in tribal Kokborok language is ‘specified area’. “Ker Puja starts at midnight on Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 31 hours,” said Sanjoy Chakraborty, Senior Deputy Magistrate of West Tripura district.

“Pregnant women and the sick are to be kept out of the specified puja area. No one is allowed to enter the notified area,” said the notification.

“Any kind of entertainment, dancing, singing and movement of animals are barred in the specified Ker Puja areas,” it added.

According to writer Salil Debbarma, “The customary rules and conventions of Ker Puja are strict and not easy to follow. Around 40 years ago the then District Magistrate had been fined for entering the Ker Puja area without permission.”

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If there is a birth or a death, then a family has to pay a fine as well.

“During Ker Puja, any kind of recreation is strictly banned in the notified areas. Security personnel guard the area to maintain the dignity of the puja,” Debbarma added. “The Tripura police offer a gun salute before the puja begins.”

Ker Puja. Image source: www.thegreenerpastures.com
Ker Puja. Image source: www.thegreenerpastures.com

According to Debbarma, “The head priest and his associates light up the fire by rubbing bamboos. The tribals and people around the Ker Puja areas carry the fire to their homes believing that it would ensure their well-being and thwart the evil spirit.”

The rituals are carried out at government expense as per an agreement between the Tripura government and the erstwhile royal family.

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Besides Agartala and Puran Habeli, the puja is organised in almost all tribal villages towards the end of the year or at the end of the harvesting season.

“The royal dynasty would perform Ker Puja for the welfare of the people, praying against calamities and external aggression,” said Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian.

“The sacrifice of birds, animals and offerings characterise this popular puja,” Roy told IANS.

A structure constructed with green bamboo poles serves as the deity for the Ker Puja. The chantai or head priest is regarded as the king on the occasion. (IANS)

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Importance of tribal languages and their preservation

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By Harshmeet Singh

Ask 10 Indians why they are proud of India and at least eight of them would say ‘because of its diversity.’ India is indeed a multicultural society with a plethora of cultures, languages, and traditions. Of these, extinction of a language is probably the biggest blow to society since a language serves as the repository of the history of the land.

Language engulfs a culture within it. Loss of language is invariably linked with a loss of culture. Bor Sr., the last speaker of the ancient Bo language of Andaman, died in 2010. And with her died the Bo language whose origins go back to the pre-Neolithic era.

Boa Sr. Image source: www.digitaljournal.com
Boa Sr.
Image source: www.digitaljournal.com

 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

An experience of generations is preserved in indigenous languages. Languages serve as the medium of transmitting cultures from one generation to the other. Many tribal areas still follow learning methods wherein the students are needed to repeat the text after the teachers. This is how the transfer of knowledge takes place in these areas.

Over time, people living in tribal areas develop a knowledge base with the help of continuous interactions with the elder people in the society. The interactions result in the progression of indigenous customs which give a unique identity to these tribes.

Languages teach us values, respect for others, and respect for ourselves. The least our next generation deserves is to inherit its own indigenous language. With a dying language die thousands of stories, millions of lessons, and a lifetime of experience. A language’s death is akin to erasing a part of our history.

Sadly enough, we haven’t done enough to preserve our tribal languages. There is no support system for these languages and no initiatives to set up tribal schools and colleges that could preserve and pass on these languages.

Many critics argue about the need for preserving our dying languages. What’s the harm if we all speak one single language, they ask. Where will that diversity go which made you so proud, I would argue.

Our evolution as a society isn’t based on getting rid of the old languages. It is in our ability to preserve the past and learn from it. There is a simple formula to preserving languages – either use it, or lose it.

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Now students of primary classes in Jharkhand to study in mother tongues

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Ranchi: In what could be seen as good news for mother tongue lovers across the country, the students of Classes I and II in government schools in Jharkhand will be taught in their local languages from next academic session.

The step has been taken in order to reduce the dropout rate at the primary level, The Times of India reported.

According to reports, Jharkhand’s school education and literacy development department is likely to come up with schoolbooks in five widely spoken tribal languages – Santhali, Ho, Kudukh, Mundari and Khadiya – for students of the primary classes from the academic session 2016-17, helping in the slow transition of students from their mother tongue to Hindi and English.

“We had conducted a survey in which it was found that the most common reason for students to drop out from school at the primary level was the inability to understand the syllabus, which would be in Hindi and English. Keeping this in mind, we came up with the idea of publishing the course book in their mother tongue to help them understand better,” Department secretary Aradhana Patnaik said.

“In the first phase, the books will be distributed in 200 schools across the state whose 100% population speaks one of the five languages.”

ALSO READ: Now students in Punjab to learn science in their mother tongue

Welcoming the move by the state government, Dr Joga Singh, Professor and Former Head of Department of Linguistics in Punjabi University, Patiala told NewsGram that it was essential to impart education in mother tongues as it would bring in good results for the country.

“This will certainly achieve the desired result i.e. to check out the dropout rate. It is attested by all international research on education that children do not learn well when they are taught in a language which they don’t understand,” he said.

“It needs to be highlighted that many states in India are imparting education in Hindi in government schools where Hindi is not the mother tongue of the children of these states, e.g. Jharkhand, Uttrakhand, Bihar, Chhatisgarh and some others. Due to the opacity of the medium of education in the government schools, these states are lagging educationally behind other states where the official language is the mother tongue of the children, e.g. Punjab, Tamilnadu, etcetera. This needs to be set right immediately,” Singh said.

The Professor added that teaching in an opaque language is a violence on children which causes a severe sense of alienation and several other psychological impairments. 

“It not only results in a rupture between child and the school but also between school and the social milieu, in general, which, consequently, negatively affects the achievement of societal goals of education.”

He, however, cautioned that primary education in mother tongues would not suffice.

“Until and unless other domains of public life i.e. higher educational institutes, offices do not adopt mother tongues, we would not be able to see the desired change. This does not mean we should stop striving. Imparting education in mother tongues is also economically more viable.”

The Jharkhand Council of Educational Research and Training (JCERT) will publish the books and the syllabus has been prepared in this regard whereas testing of books will begin before long.

The newspaper quoted the Annual Status of Education Report 2014 showing the dismal dropout rate in the state.

“While 4.3% children of the state between 6 and 14 years of age are out of school, 29.6% of students studying in Class 2 cannot even recognize letters.”