Wednesday, 31 August 2016

LANGUAGE WARS AND HOW TO WIN THEM



The recent resolution passed by the Goa Legislative Assembly to include Marathi as an official language has once again ignited the conflict surrounding languages in Goa. That this resolution, proposed by independent MLA Narendra Sawal, was passed on the last day of the Assembly session, and when elections are just round the corner, indicates that it has more to do with shifts and machinations of political power than with the emotional connect of many Goans with the Marathi language. Whether we like it or not, the ‘language issue’ is a potent force for political mobilization and one needs to fight the communal polarization of the ‘language issue’ by opening the language-sphere of Goa to English, Romi Concanim, Portuguese, and Marathi.

The resolution produced the same old frustrating responses from most Goans. Many felt that “Konkani” was their “mother tongue” with which they shared an emotional mother-child relationship, and that there was no place for any other language. Others felt, erroneously so, that those Goans who were demanding official recognition for Marathi should go to Maharashtra. Still others felt that the existing Official Language Act of 1987 (OLA) should not be changed, thus effectively implying that Romi Concanim should also not be given official status. While the Marathi activists were understandably jubilant, this jubilation seemed to be misguided on many levels, as the resolution was passed without any mention of Romi Concanim. To be fair, a week later the Marathi Rajbhasha Samiti demanded that Romi be included in the OLA. This resolution probably owes its existence to recent calls for Marathi-Romi and Hindu-Catholic unity. However, with this resolution by the Samiti coming too late, it would perhaps end up doing too little.

In this context, it is interesting to note the comments that the MLA of St. Andre, Vishnu Surya Wagh, made in the Assembly as well as in his recent writings for a prominent Marathi daily in Goa. Wagh, who is, at the moment of writing, recovering from an illness, had vociferously written against the casteist, communal, and chauvinist politics of nagri Konkani. While supporting the cause of Marathi, Wagh had also made the strong case that Romi Concanim was a legitimate language of Goa, and one that was older than the nagri-scripted Konkani. Wagh also spoke in the Assembly on the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue. In his characteristic oratorial style, Wagh argued that because Romi was denied to a large number of Catholics, and nagri Konkani foisted on them, Catholics were demanding English education for their wards. While one can partially agree with Wagh, his opposition to English is problematic. For one, English is not just the demand made by Catholics, but bahujan Hindus too, as their socio-economic aspirations are tied to that language. The ‘Marathi-lovers’ must necessarily recognize this fact. Further, to not recognize the importance of English would be to drag the people of Goa back into the narrow and parochial linguistic politics, endangering the education and futures of Goa’s children.

In recent times, Wagh has emerged as the one politician and language activist who has taken a holistic stand on the language question. His arguments extended beyond language per se, to recognize that language is linked to power and communities. However, all the good work that he did proved to be fruitless by the one resolution that was passed in his very presence. So, how are the language wars to be won as well as ended once and for all? To do this one needs to think differently from how we have been thinking so far. One should begin by seeing the MoI issue as not separate but one which emerges out of the already existing language problem. Thus, the problem will fade away if grants to English medium schools are immediately legalized, irrespective of whether they are diocesan or not. It is quite ridiculous that the Goan state which makes laws in English, and conducts state business in English, does not want its young citizens to study in English. One should also think about expanding the linguistic sphere of Goa by recognizing the Portuguese language as important for Goa’s people in terms of legal frameworks, history, culture, and mobility.

Most importantly, Romi Concanim needs to be recognized as official post haste.  Not just this, it is the need of the hour to privilege Romi Concanim over nagri Konkani or even Marathi. With nagri Konkani as official and Marathi allowed to be used for all official purposes, the status quo needs to be shaken. This is so because a lot needs to be done to make Marathi politics work in favor of all Goans. Marathi-supporters have not yet been able to tell us how the interests of Catholics will be safeguarded, considering that jobs have been secured by many with the knowledge of Marathi (and nagri Konkani), despite Marathi being not recognized as fully official. The Marathi-supporters haven’t been able to tell us how they will stop the use of the Marathi language for the spread of Hindutva, for many know that it is through the emotional and cultural bonds of Marathi that Hindutva has mobilized in Goa over the last few decades. The Marathi-supporters haven’t told us why the Marathi movement which began as a pro-bahujan, anti-brahmin, anti-caste movement was compromised in favor of Brahmanism and Hindutva. Marathi activists need to clearly think about how to move away from the ‘Marathi-equals-merger’, a political fear not entirely baseless, which emerged out of the politics of Dayanand Bandodkar and the Maharastrawadi Gomantak Party in the 1960s.

Thus, it is imperative that the language-sphere of Goa is expanded to include Romi Concanim and legalize grants to English as MoI, and only subsequently recognize Marathi as official. Doing so, one would not only escape the claustrophobic language politics of Goa, but also craft a more international Goan citizenry, while effectively challenging the rise of Hindutva.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 31 August, 2016)

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