‘Need a movement to ensure justice for Maithili language’

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New Delhi: Securing well-deserved recognition and respect for the Maithili language is nothing short of a war for RTI activist Dhairyakant Mishra. However, Mishra, who left his remunerative job for the love of Maithili, had plenty of other reasons to wage this battle.

For despite its notable history and being represented by 22 Members of Parliament in Lok Sabha and 126 MLAs in Bihar Assembly, Maithili seems to have few supporters. And those who do talk of it, do it for political reasons.

Mithila region, with its roots in ancient India, was the capital city of the Videha Kingdom established by King Janaka, the father of Lord Rama’s consort Sita. The legend of Mithila extends over many centuries as both Gautama Buddha and Vardamana Mahavira are said to have lived here. It also formed the center of Indian history during the first millennium and has contributed to various literary and scriptural works.

However, despite its glorious history, the ancient language has been confined to the 8th schedule under Articles 344 (1) and 351 of the Constitution of India with almost nobody ready to take up its cause.

The language’s use is limited to passing exams now, especially when it was once the language of the bards like Vidyapati. In those days, the script used for Maithili was Mithilakshar, instead of commonly used Devnagri these days.

“One thing is certain that unless people stand united and raise their voice, nothing will fructify. We need a movement for Maithili,” Mishra says.

In an interview, Dhairyakant tells NewsGram, “In India, states were formed on linguistic basis. Language and culture were the reasons such states were formed in the first place. Not only Maithili language is distinct, but the Maithili culture has a special place in India. However, forget about forming a state, it is a pity that it was recognized as a major Indian language as recently as in 2002.”

Mishra believes the politicians of Mithila region and, to some extent, the people at large are responsible for the plight of the language.

“Kirti Azad wants to become the chief minister so he talks of it, but unfortunately, only during elections. Otherwise, no meaningful debate takes place on the pressing issue which is connected to the livelihood and future of the people.

“Bengalis seem to have hijacked Vidyapati and, by organizing a couple of seminars in his name, they feel they have performed their duty. Alas, people of Mithila region are not even doing it,” Mishra remarks whilst bemoaning the current status of the language.

There are two issues related to Mithila that Mishra is most concerned about. Firstly, he wishes for the inclusion of Maithili in CBSE curricula and secondly, to convince the telecom service operators to use Maithili as a language.

“Maithili is the only constitutionally recognized language that is not taught in schools. Ironically, a large number of students, who take Maithili as a subject, clear UPSC exams. Even a Gujarati boy clears UPSC by scoring excellent marks in Maithili. However, there’s nobody to teach the language in our schools.”

In his RTI query, Mishra sought to know from CBSE why despite being constitutionally recognized, Maithili was not being taught in schools. As polls in Bihar are currently underway and the model code of conduct is in force, CBSE replied that this issue was being deliberated upon and the reply to his query would be given following the elections.

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“It is a matter of great regret that leaders raise language issues only during polls and then do nothing. But they forget that it is an issue that concerns people’s livelihood and future. Therefore, it is important that the government formulated schemes for the promotion of Maithili, especially in education. Let’s take an example of telecom firms,” Mishra adds.

“I asked BSNL why they, along with other telecom operators, do not have Maithili IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) for the people of Bihar unlike other states like Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka etc. which have it in their regional languages. Their response was strange to say the least. They replied that nobody raised this issue before.”

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Mishra also raised this issue with the leading telecom operator ‘Airtel’ and the latter also expressed its helplessness in this regard, saying that if others did it, they would follow suit.

“Look, if these firms accept Maithili, a large number of youths in Mithila will get jobs like customer care executive, salesman or technician. This can change their lives.”

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who hails from Bihar, has assured Mishra that he would work on the issue.

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“The issue is that TRAI cannot make a law forcing the firms to use Maithili IVRS. When I filed an RTI, they replied that whether or not to use Maithili is the prerogative of the telecom operators and depends on their business requirements. Thus, TRAI has neither supported not opposed its inclusion.”

The RTI activist does not wish to give his struggle a political hue.

“On several occasions, the BJP MP from Mithila, Kirti Azad, asked me to join his party, but I politely declined, for my goal does not conform to their ideology. The fact of the matter is that they are making a fool out of the people in the name of Mithila. In the past, they sought about 45 crore Rupees in the name of opening Darbhanga medical college and several crore Rupees for a proposed airport in Darbhanga. I came to know that it was all a bundle of lies when I filed RTI queries.

“One thing is certain that unless people stand united and raise their voice, nothing will fructify. We need a movement for Maithili,” Mishra says.

He says that he is required to stay back in Delhi as he has filed some Public Interest Litigations and RTIs.

“But eventually I wish to return to my homeland and continue my battle for Maithili with likeminded people.”

We wish Dharyakant Mishra all the very best for his future endeavors in this regard.

(Translated by Sapan Kapoor)

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  • Niranjan Jha

    Mr. Mishra is doing some much needed work! I am a non-resident Maithil, so to speak. I have grown up in Karnataka but my parents made the wonderful choice to speak in Maithili at home. Over the years, I grew aware of the immense history and traditions of our culture and language. But my case has been the exception, rather than the norm. All of my cousins, several of whom grew up in Bihar, have ended up having Hindi as their mother tongues. They understand Maithili but do not speak it nor find it worth the effort to learn. Hindi and Bollywood have both played a major role in this gradual loss in the value of Maithili from Independence onwards. Today, in my ancestral village in Bihar, my questions to young kids in Maithili receive responses in broken Hindi, but not Maithili. So in the rural and semi rural areas, speaking Hindi has seemed more urbane or sophisticated while in the urban areas , knowledge of Hindi has seemed more practical.

    Not to mention the accidental damage that Bhojpuri has done, by making it seem to outsiders that Bihar is equivalent to Bhojpuri and nothing else.

    I am a 20 year old in an engineering college and I personally strive to learn and spread information about our language as much as I can. I have even learnt the Mithilakshar script and Maithili grammar explained by G A Grierson (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/books/lsi/lsi.php?volume=5-2&pages=466#page/27/mode/1up) . To those interested in a Maithili dictionary and script, here is a great link :- http://www.ignca.nic.in/coilnet/kalyani.htm

    To all Maithils out there I would like to say this, it is perfectly fine to speak exquisite English, fluent Hindi and any other language that you want to. Just do speak Maithili as well, in whatever capacity you can because that is the only thing that is truly yours, unique to you. Feel the pride of having been part of a culture that has existed unbroken for at least 3000 years ( much more in fact). Even today, it is no surprise to see a Jha ( a uniquely Maithil surname) or a Mishra or a Thakur perform exceptionally well in diverse fields. But please do not forget your language, it is the one greatest thing that distinguishes you from everyone else. Can you imagine a Punjabi being ashamed about Punjabi language or a Tamilian shying from Tamil? It does not need any extra effort, just some self awareness. Maithil culture not only has extensive mythology, it was one of the only Indian cultures that laid great emphasis on philosophy and free thinking. This excessive free thinking was one of the reasons why there never was a large Maithil kingdom, since the kings were more taken up by discourses rather than warfare.

    I feel that the work of gentlemen like Dhairyakant Mishra will only succeed when we Maithils truly appreciate what a sweet sounding and charming language we have been blessed with.

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  • Niranjan Jha

    Mr. Mishra is doing some much needed work! I am a non-resident Maithil, so to speak. I have grown up in Karnataka but my parents made the wonderful choice to speak in Maithili at home. Over the years, I grew aware of the immense history and traditions of our culture and language. But my case has been the exception, rather than the norm. All of my cousins, several of whom grew up in Bihar, have ended up having Hindi as their mother tongues. They understand Maithili but do not speak it nor find it worth the effort to learn. Hindi and Bollywood have both played a major role in this gradual loss in the value of Maithili from Independence onwards. Today, in my ancestral village in Bihar, my questions to young kids in Maithili receive responses in broken Hindi, but not Maithili. So in the rural and semi rural areas, speaking Hindi has seemed more urbane or sophisticated while in the urban areas , knowledge of Hindi has seemed more practical.

    Not to mention the accidental damage that Bhojpuri has done, by making it seem to outsiders that Bihar is equivalent to Bhojpuri and nothing else.

    I am a 20 year old in an engineering college and I personally strive to learn and spread information about our language as much as I can. I have even learnt the Mithilakshar script and Maithili grammar explained by G A Grierson (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/books/lsi/lsi.php?volume=5-2&pages=466#page/27/mode/1up) . To those interested in a Maithili dictionary and script, here is a great link :- http://www.ignca.nic.in/coilnet/kalyani.htm

    To all Maithils out there I would like to say this, it is perfectly fine to speak exquisite English, fluent Hindi and any other language that you want to. Just do speak Maithili as well, in whatever capacity you can because that is the only thing that is truly yours, unique to you. Feel the pride of having been part of a culture that has existed unbroken for at least 3000 years ( much more in fact). Even today, it is no surprise to see a Jha ( a uniquely Maithil surname) or a Mishra or a Thakur perform exceptionally well in diverse fields. But please do not forget your language, it is the one greatest thing that distinguishes you from everyone else. Can you imagine a Punjabi being ashamed about Punjabi language or a Tamilian shying from Tamil? It does not need any extra effort, just some self awareness. Maithil culture not only has extensive mythology, it was one of the only Indian cultures that laid great emphasis on philosophy and free thinking. This excessive free thinking was one of the reasons why there never was a large Maithil kingdom, since the kings were more taken up by discourses rather than warfare.

    I feel that the work of gentlemen like Dhairyakant Mishra will only succeed when we Maithils truly appreciate what a sweet sounding and charming language we have been blessed with.