Saturday November 25, 2017

Importance of tribal languages and their preservation


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:
Boa Sr.
Image source:


“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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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."

Kharchi Puja in Tripura. Image source:
  • “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:
Ker Puja. Image source:

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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Inclusive language policy the need of the hour


By Harshmeet Singh

Language has always been a contentious issue in India. Ever since India attained Independence, several protests have taken place on the issue of language and linguistic identity. These language protests have often taken a violent turn with people losing lives for their cause.

The battle of Hindi against other regional languages has always been at the center of most of these protests. While the Indian constitution mentions that “Hindi [in the Devanagiri script] is the official language of the Union”, it fell short of naming it the national language.

In 1959, the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru assured the Parliament that the English language would be freely used whenever people of non-Hindi background needed. This assurance got the backing of the law in the form of Official Languages Act, 1963.

Considering that India is home to over 1600 languages, linguistic rivalry is bound to be an unpleasant reality. The 2001 census revealed that close to 41% of the national population spoke Hindi. The other languages that made up the top five were Bengali (8.11%), Telugu (7.37%), Marathi (6.99%) and Tamil (5.91%). Though the statistics may show an overwhelming majority of Hindi speakers, in reality, most of the Hindi speakers are concentrated in only a handful of states.

Language struggle in India is relatively old. The opposition to imposition of Hindi by the central government has been historically led by Tamil Nadu. The state of Tamil Nadu has witnessed several anti-Hindi protests before and after independence. Most of these struggles saw mass participation and violent demonstrations.

The roots of pre-Independence struggle lay in Congress’ attempts at making Hindi a compulsory subject in the then Madras Presidency. It was congress’ way of replacing English and preparing for a British-free India. This led to widespread agitations led by EV Ramasamy or Periyar. Though it stopped the Congress from imposing Hindi in Madras schools, it came at the cost of several lives.

Similar agitation took place post independence. This time, it was to ensure that Hindi doesn’t become the sole official language of the Union of India. The Congress leaders hailing from the South Indian states also took part in the agitation and ensured that leaders like Purushottam Das Tandon and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee don’t have their way. The solution was a clause that English would accompany Hindi as the official Language of the Union for a period of 15 years. Since then, the Congress has never managed to come into power in Tamil Nadu.

Ironically, the agitation against Hindi also saw the support of C. Rajagopalachari, the person who introduced Hindi as the compulsory subject when he was the CM of Madras Presidency in 1938.

Though such violent agitations aren’t seen today, the language protests are still a common idea in the country. Such unhealthy rivalries can be out to rest by providing equal status to all the major languages spoken in the country. An inclusive language policy will go a long way in ensuring that the country doesn’t fall victim to disintegrative politics.

2 responses to “Inclusive language policy the need of the hour”

  1. आज तक भारतीय भाषा को न्याय नहीं मिला , न हिंदी को न तमिल को न कन्नड़ को न बंगला को !

  2. ये देखिये देश में हर सामान पर अंग्रेजी में लिखा आता है ,वो भाषा जो आधे से ज्यादा देश को समझ नहीं आती !

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5 Indian tribal languages staring at extinction


“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

mahaliPrimarily 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:

(Inputs by Varnika Mahajan)