Is the Bhojpuri Channel Under Threat Again?

Touching Bhojpuri Channel which is an icon for the Bhojpuri Language and Bhojpuri phones indeed is like playing with gunpowder. These are very sensitive issues


A journalist from l’express put the blunt question to me on Tuesday afternoon. It sent a chill down the spine. The next day (Wednesday 20 Aug 17) it brought the news on page 3, confirming that things are indeed being plotted in certain boardrooms which are disturbing.

In early 2015 just after the landslide victory of this government some people had been at the same game. I wrote in this paper of February 13, 2015 an article entitled: “Do not tamper with our acquired rights”. Everyone knows with what difficulty, struggles and against what fierce opposition have the Indian language programmes received respectable air space at the MBC, inch by inch. The fight has been incessant. But the moment you think rights have been re-institated and everything is assured, it is not the case. At the blink of an eye, you find that machinations are again at work in the dark.

The MBC created history when the Budget Speech of Prime Minister and Minister of Finance this year in English was simultaneously relayed on the radio and TV channels in Bhojpuri. It was very much appreciated island wide and worldwide. The post Budget debates assembled some high-level intellectuals and media people who made a lucid and hardcore analysis of the budget in simple Bhojpuri, which appealed to a large section of Mauritian nation especially in the rural areas particularly among women. And the credit went to the Director General of the MBC Mr Mekhraj Baldewa and his team for this laudable initiative and to the Government as well.

Mauritius is the only country outside India where there is a 24/7 Bhojpuri Channel and a Bhojpuri Speaking Union voted by an Act of Parliament. Indeed this has given much credit to the Government for giving equal consideration, respect and esteem to all languages spoken and written in Mauritius. The country is hailed the world over, especially in the 30 million strong Indian Diaspora for its sagacious linguistic policy, and is a celebrated and recognized Bhojpuri hub for the 200 million Bhojpuri Diaspora including India.

Even the UNESCO, whose 2003 Convention of Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage of which Mauritius is a signatory, gives us this credit of honouring languages and cultural heritage.

In fact, the Nomination Dossier which was submitted by the Government of Mauritius through its Ministry of Arts and Culture on Bhojpuri Folk Songs of Mauritius – Geet Gawai — had among its strong convincing criteria the fact that the MBC has a 24/7 Bhojpuri Channel. This enhances the Geet Gawai as a cultural heritage and this point was among the five criteria that led to it i being recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity of UNESCO on the 1st of December 2016. Any threat to its promotion will be taken into account in the periodical report conducted regularly by UNESCO.

Mauritius as a State Party has the obligation as a member of the Governing Council of the Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO to honour its commitments. The MBC’s 24/7 Bhojpuri Channel is a very forceful element in this recognition in giving not only visibility to the Bhojpuri culture and art forms, but also to the language itself which is the very vehicle of the domain.

UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage proposes five broad ‘domains’ in which intangible cultural heritage is manifested:

Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;

Performing arts and others

“The Convention defines intangible cultural heritage as : ‘the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills (…) that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage’… and which are in conformity with human rights.”

These aspects of the Bhojpuri Intangible Cultural Heritage are clearly enshrined in the 24/7 Bhojpuri Channel. The visible prominence given to Bhojpuri language and culture has far-reaching global significance. It ensures that it is not under threat or endangered.

The Bhojpuri Channel of Mauritius is “une fierté nationale et internationale” for not only Bhojpuri speaking peoples but the whole of humanity, now that Bhojpuri is listed as a world patrimony of UNESCO.

But now what do we hear? The threat of disbanding the Bhojpuri Channel from the MBC or readjusting it in whatever new wrappings is a threat to the Bhojpuri Intangible Cultural Heritage which UNESCO will certainly take note of.

The Government is wise in its linguistic policies. Once Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam had remarked: “Do not touch religion, culture and language”. Touching Bhojpuri Channel which is an icon for the Bhojpuri Language and Bhojpuri phones indeed is like playing with gunpowder. These are very sensitive issues indeed. One knows how dearly one young Minister of Arts and Culture paid for zealous language and cultural policies some three decades ago.

Once, a few years ago, a Finance Minister in his ardent pursuit to redress linguistic supremacy on bank notes paid heavily for his action. He wanted to reverse the order of the linguistic scripts of Hindi and Tamil on the bank notes. Ever since the colonial days, the amount of the currency was inscribed on Bank notes in Tamil first followed by Hindi. One should remember that the Tamil Community was a thriving trading community even before the advent of Indentureship way back since the French period. The people sitting in closed offices who advised the Minister were not in touch with ground reality. The consequence was disastrous. Rallies in front of the Bank of Mauritius included Tamil political leaders across the board including sitting Cabinet Ministers. It aroused the wrath of the Tamil community as a whole. The new notes were publicly set to fire. The Government had to revert back to the original position of the two scripts on the bank notes. That was a most unfortunate act and stands as a warning to everyone not to tamper with acquired human rights.

One should not take the Bhojpuriphones for doormats. The Bhojpuri people are docile no doubt and do not raise their voice often. But beware the sleeping dog. Children should be warned not to play with the tail of a sleeping dog. Dormant volcanoes are not extinct, they can erupt anytime and the consequences can be beyond repair. One should be vigilant.

One should not go by statistics. They do not reflect ground realities, sentiments and emotions. Young people may not be very conversant in the language, but it is the vehicle of songs, poetry and expressions which everybody enjoys at a discotheque or wedding party or festivities. Not speaking the language is one thing, but it is a symbol especially after UNESCO has given it world recognition. Bhojpuri is not something that one gargles around on public platforms and forget all about it afterwards. It is no publicity stunt. And it is in the DNA of the people.

Emotional turbulence on a sensitive theme like language should be avoided. Opponents of the government will be quick to use it as a ready-made and readily provided well-oiled tool to hit back. Why should one cause unnecessary social unrest?

Troubled turncoats who have no qualms whatsoever and no connection with the grassroots can be dangerous and can destabilize a government just to satisfy their own personal hidden agendas. One should be wary of opportunists. Degrees and theoretical analysis do not necessarily make judicious decision makers. We cannot say beware the ides of March in September. But surely the warning is clear on the wall.

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