Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SCRIPTING A NEW FUTURE: Towards an Inclusive Progress of Konkani

The two-day national seminar organized by Jagotik Konkani Songhotton (Global Konkani Organization) – JKS for short - at Kalaangann, Mangalore last week on ‘Scripts & Languages of Modern India, with Special Reference to Konkani’ brought into sharp focus the issue of nagri hegemony over other Konkani scripts (Roman, Kannada, Malayalam and Perso-Arabic) and the realization that positive political actions would only be forthcoming if the strategies were changed. Held on 10th and 11th March, 2012, the seminar was organized to gain from intellectuals and academics while trying to situate the unique problem of Konkani in a wider context of study areas such as linguistics, literature, linguistic politics, power, dominance and justice.
Led by dynamic JKS leaders such as Tomazinho Cardozo (also the president of the Tiatr Academy of Goa) and Eric Ozario (also the Gurukar of the Mangalore-based Mandd Sobhann)  the seminar had an impressive line-up of academics: Mangalore’s very own Dr. Valerian Rodrigues, professor at the Centre of Political Studies, Jawarharlal Nehru University (JNU) was the chairperson while other resource persons included Dr. Anvita Abbi, professor of linguistics, JNU, Dr. Alok Rai, professor of English, Delhi University, Dr. Asha Sarangi, also from JNU, Dr. Pratap Naik, the former director of Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr and Dr. Madhavi Sardesai, professor of Konkani, Goa University.
            In his signature style of being brief, clear and to-the-point, Eric Ozario made five assertions at the beginning of the seminar. Some of the key elements of these assertions are: a) The issue of ‘dialect’ is directly linked with the issue of ‘script. b) Many a time, while attempting to impose a particular script, what is really sought to be imposed is a particular dialect. c) A firm belief that unity among any people (including Konkani) can be achieved only by respecting all varieties and not by imposing one and destroying other. d) The slogan – ‘ek bhas, ek lipi, ek sahitya, ek samaz…’ smacks of fascism and is very dangerous for the future of Konkani.
Dr. Valerian Rodrigues
             The well-organized and well-attended seminar did prove to give a lot of insights and food for thought. During the discussions, one got the impression that the issue of scripts had caused a lot of hurt and resentment among the Konkanivadis who were not of the nagri camp. Time and again the chicanery of the Official Language Act and the back-stabbing indulged in by the nagri lobby came to the fore. Ironically, nobody from the ‘nagri camp’ attended the seminar. We sent invitations, reminded Eric bab who went one step further and said that there was nothing ‘godly’ about devnagri and that ‘dev’ was only added to give a false sanctification and halo to this script.
            Delivering his keynote address, Dr. Rodrigues said, “Script issue or script controversy is not confined to Konkani alone. It’s a much larger issue. It bedevils several languages and script communities.” Trying to view the script issue through the lenses of power, dominance and policy formation, the political scientist from JNU stated, “The script controversy is deeply mired in political contentions. The Saraswats, Gaud Saraswats and a section of the Catholics have come to believe that their genealogical roots lie at the banks of the Saraswati river in the north. The Sangh Parivar is a major presence in the entire Konkani-speaking belt today, particularly in Goa and Karnataka coast. The devnagri script reinforces a specific kind of dominance…” The script issue should also force us to think about what kind of India we wanted, he stressed, in the sense of a nation-state.
            Dr. Anvita Abbi (Script and Language: Relationship and Contention), amongst others, raised the issue of rendering people illiterate overnight if they were forced to switch from one script to another or an entirely new script was invented. She argued that Brahmi is the progenitor of all the contemporary Indian scripts and hence nagri was better suited to represent the sounds of Konkani. But her argument ultimately appeared to boil down to ‘purity and pollution’ where what is perceived to be Indian is considered ‘pure’ and what is perceived to be foreign is relegated to second-class position.
Dr. Alok Rai
          Dr. Alok Rai (Language, Script and Dominance in India), who used the analogy of the Urdu-Hindi controversy, an area where he has worked extensively and wrote his classic book Hindi Nationalism, asked some pointed questions: what happens when (a) a language and (b) a script dies and (c) What is killed when a script is killed. (Interestingly, in the discussion, Dr. Abbi put forth the view that scripts never die, but are always killed). He also shifted our focus from the factors that are visible for the scripts controversy to the ones that are not, saying that we need to focus on those factors that really drive the movement forward. Similarly, Dr. Asha Sarangi (Language and Territory: Issues of Rights and Identities) argued that along with viewing scripts and languages aiding the production of literature, we should also include the production of knowledge in the sense of social sciences.
            Though Dr. Madhavi Sardesai (The Case for a Single Script for Konkani) could not make it to the seminar for health reasons, her paper was nevertheless read in her absence and discussed. She made four main arguments (as summed up by the chairperson), which were debunked by some of the participants as well as Dr. Pratap Naik who presented the next paper. Dr. Sardesai argued that from the late 19th century there has been a strong advocacy of the nagri script by stalwarts of Konkani. Such resolutions were passed in the numerous Parishads or Conferences before and after the Liberation of Goa. It was however counter-argued that such conferences were only attended by the nagri lobbyists and those sympathetic to the nagri cause and hence there was no democratic representation. Secondly, Dr. Sardesai felt that since Konkani in nagri could produce books on scientific topics, it was better developed. Frederick Noronha from Goa challenged this assertion saying that the number of such books were not significant and that Konkani – whether in romi or nagri – was not able to produce any original ideas so far.
            Using nagri, Dr. Sardesai further said, would enable Konkani speakers to acquire language skills in other languages that use nagri, such as Marathi and Hindi. If this be true, then why restrict us to nagri alone, why not Kannada and other south Indian scripts? Multiple scripts have also hindered the emergence of literary criticism, asserted Dr. Sardesai. But as Frederick Noronha pointed out, by making such an argument we were only barking up the wrong tree. Literary criticism can happen in any language. Personally I feel, English can be a good option as the issue of script, dialect etc. is circumvented and the required intellectual rigor can also be inculcated in the same.
Dr. (Fr.) Pratap Naik
             Dr. Pratap Naik stuck to the bare facts and debunked myth after myth that the protagonists of one-script-one-language had created and so lovingly tended to all these years. Since Dr. Madhavi Sardesai made a case for a single script for Konkani, Dr. Pratap Naik felt the need to argue otherwise (The Case for Multi-Scripts for Konkani). Using his personal experiences as well as his vast knowledge on matters of Konkani literature and linguistics Dr. Pratap accused the one-script protagonists as “…only interested in…power and money.”
            Though the seminar had no speaker to analyze all the issues mentioned above in a purely historical context and try to theorize about the problems from the archival material and other published material, the seminar nonetheless was a success. There was a tiny bit of detail that I could not overlook during the two-day long seminar. The backdrop on the stage had a vast banner that had Romi, Nagri and Kannada scripts but no Malayalam and Perso-Arabic, thus in a way not giving these scripts the deserved representation. The challenge from here on is to create a discourse that is all inclusive and also to systematically generate arguments that would deconstruct the nagri hegemony over the production of Konkani writings as well as the access to resources that become available to the speakers of a particular language.

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: March 21, 2012)

1 comment:

  1. ADDENDUM: At the suggestion of Dr. Anvita Abbi, the General Secretary of JKS, Eric Ozario proposed the following resolution: "to request Sahitya Akademi to consider all scripts of Konkani equally for awards, grants, projects and assignments". This resolution was unanimously passed.