Saturday November 16, 2019

Assamese – a bright spot in Indian regional languages scene

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By Harshmeet Singh

There aren’t many better examples of India’s diverse culture than its linguistic diversity. The country is home to 780 languages with over 120 of them holding the ‘official’ status. But the other side of the story is that India currently heads the list of UNESCO’s world’s languages in danger.

The constitution, in its eighth schedule, lists 22 languages as the official regional languages in the country. This series of articles is an attempt to focus on these 22 languages, their pasts and present, and cherish our linguistic diversity. We start the series today with Assamese.

The official language of the state of Assam, Assamese has more than 13 million native speakers. Apart from Assam, it also finds a considerable number of speakers in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and even Bangladesh and Bhutan. It is widely regarded as the easternmost language of the Indo-Aryan family.

Unlike most other Indian languages, Assamese doesn’t trace its origins to Sanskrit. But due to the migration of people in large numbers from north India to the northeastern parts of the country, the language came under the influence of Sanskrit. The script of the language is very similar to the scripts of Maithili and Bengali languages.

The northeast region boasts of a strong literary history and tradition. Archeologists have recovered a number of copper plates and edicts dating back to the medieval times. In Assam, ancient religious texts were usually written on saanchi tree’s bark. Since then, the language has evolved considerably. A number of spellings in the Assamese language don’t follow the rules of phonetics. Hemkosh, an Assamese dictionary based on the Sanskrit spellings of words, was compiled by Hemchandra Barua in the year 1900. It has come to be known as the standard reference for the language.

Assamese remains one of the few regional languages in the country which has managed to hold its own over the centuries. Just earlier this week, the famous Tezpur University, in collaboration with the century old Asomia Club, decided to teach Assamese language to the students, researchers and officials coming to the state from different parts of the country. It would help break the linguistic barriers between the locals and the outside people residing in the state.

One of the organizers behind the initiative, Hemanta Lahkar, told TOI, “Our aim is to popularize Assamese among the people who are spending time in the state and will go to other parts of the country in the years to come. Learning Assamese will certainly bridge a lot of gaps. We believe this would act as a bond among people in this diverse country.”

Initiatives such as these combined with a sustained pride of the Assamese people in their mother tongue would ensure that Assamese thrives further in the times to come.

Next Story

Gallery Dedicated for Disabled Indian Artists gets Inaugurated at UNESCO House

Enabling the participation of persons with disabilities in artistic and cultural life is a key priority for UNESCO

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To honour the talent of artists with disability, the first edition of 'Discovering Ability' art awards was also organised by Youth4Jobs Foundation, with UNESCO and HSBC. Wikimedia Commons

As part of an inclusive initiative, a temporary art gallery titled ‘Not Just Art’, dedicated to Indian artists with disabilities, was inaugurated by union minister G. Kishan Reddy at UNESCO Cluster House here on Monday.

The unique gallery has over 125 paintings done by disabled artists across 15 Indian states, and showcases their amazing talent with colour and form.

It will be open for public viewing on November 5-7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., UNESCO said.

To honour the talent of artists with disability, the first edition of ‘Discovering Ability’ art awards was also organised by Youth4Jobs Foundation, with UNESCO and HSBC.

The award celebrates the artistic abilities of persons with disability, who have hitherto remained a largely unrecognised talent pool.

The artists were awarded with a cash prize of Rs 50,000. They are Amrit Khurana and Rohit Anand, both autistic artists; Mallika Khaneja, an artist affected by cerebral palsy; Y. Raghavendran, an artist with speech and hearing impairment; Niral Hareshbhai Swati, an artist with intellectual disability; Mohammed Yasar who participated in the Paralympic Art World Cup in 2019; and Durgesh Kumar Rathore, an artist with dyslexia and bibliophobia.

“Enabling the participation of persons with disabilities in artistic and cultural life is a key priority for UNESCO. (The initiative adds to) disability-focused interventions in India. It signals our commitment to empower persons with disabilities to become both mainstream consumers and producers of art forms.,” Eric Falt, UNESCO Director, New Delhi said.

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As part of an inclusive initiative, a temporary art gallery titled ‘Not Just Art’, dedicated to Indian artists with disabilities, was inaugurated by union minister G. Kishan Reddy at UNESCO Cluster House. Pixabay

“If it’s the tag of just an artist, it would hardly get noticed. If we say disabled artist, people will still sit up and take notice. The awards feels like a great recognition,” Aarti Khurana, the mother of an autistic artist Amrit Khurana told IANS.

The jury was a panel of three eminent judges from the Department of Fine Arts, Sarojini Naidu College of Arts and Communication, Hyderabad, UNESCO said.

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As per Youth4Jobs head Meera Shenoy, said the initiative will also help artists develop market linkages, and they will continue to sell art online and through museums under the ‘Not Just Art’ platform. (IANS)