MOE Language Policy: Thanks, but No Thanks

By Paramanund Soobarah

The language option exercise has been thoroughly messed up. This is what we think at the Brindaban Linguistic and Cultural Genocide Watch Group 

The ancestors of most of the children who go in for Hindi or Urdu at school today, who all hailed from Bihar in India speaking Bhojpuri, never thought that one day their descendants would be required to choose one and only one of Bhojpuri or Hindi, and, worse, one of Bhojpuri, Urdu and Arabic.

It is a little like asking a village boy to choose between his mother with whom he lives and his glittering aunt who lives in the city, and luring him with a third alternative – the neighbour’s beautiful daughter – on the way. Too bad – he must pick only one of the three ‘options’. Just imagine the emotional stress he is being put under!

While we welcome the offer of Bhojpuri and Creole as optional subjects as set out in the governmental programme, we are horrified by the manner in which it is being implemented. If you are offered something optionally, you can take it or leave it without affecting your way of life and that is the end of the matter. But what is it precisely that we are being offered in this particular case? Something we never dreamt about in our worst nightmares: bhojpuri as a mutually exclusive alternative to hindi!

What would your reaction be if Kreol were offered as an alternative to French? We do not believe that a single right-thinking Bhojpuri speaker would want to be faced with the choice “either Hindi or Bhojpuri but not both”. Those who want Bhojpuri see no reason why that language cannot be grafted on to the Hindi classes. We certainly want our children to learn Bhojpuri, but never at the expense of Hindi. Bhojpuri ought to be introduced to the Hindi/Bhojpuri group right from the pre-primary level, along with Creole.

Some may see Hindi and Bhojpuri as two distinct and unrelated languages. The languages may well be distinct, but they are not unrelated.

If one delves even a little into the history of the East India Company’s grab of the Subcontinent, it will become clear that until the establishment of Fort William College by Governor-General Lord Wellesley in 1800, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Maghadi, Awadhi, Braj, Khari Boli and a few other languages, all mutually intelligible, existed side by side in what came to be called the Hindi belt.

Modern Hindi was more or less synthesized at that college for the benefit of young English civil servants who were obliged to spend time there familiarizing themselves with Indian culture before taking up administrative positions.

This went on until 1835, when Lord Macaulay reversed the language policy making English the language of administration and secondary education. That was also when the British started systematically pooh-poohing all things Indian and developed attitudes of racial superiority over their “subjects.” But a few stalwarts braved the opinions of fellow-Englishmen and continued to take an interest in Indian languages.

The landmark ‘Grammar of the Hindi Language’, for instance, was researched and authored by the Rev. Samuel Henry Kellogg. Published in the middle of the nineteenth century, it presents conjugations and declensions in all the constituents of “Hindi”, namely Bhojpuri, Maithili, Awadhi, Braj, Khari Boli and others, side by side in columns. For us this offers incontrovertible evidence that Modern Hindi and Bhojpuri or any other of these constituent languages could be taught side by side.

The presently proposed arrangements will lead inevitably to the death and burial of Bhojpuri in the country – in spite of Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam’s intimation that he will be giving it official recognition. Therefore to the government’s current proposal, i.e. of offering Bhojpuri and Hindi as mutually exclusive alternatives, we can only say “Thanks, but No Thanks.”

Our children have to study subjects other than languages, and great attention must be paid to their learning load. Bhojpuri and Creole ought to be introduced to children at the preprimary stage. At that stage it is the sound systems of these languages that are important – particularly as the Kreol experts have not allowed some essential Bhojpuri sounds used in the country for nearly two centuries into the alphabet they have devised: a genuine case of linguistic apartheid, if ever there was one.

With minor changes, just one alphabetic system could have served both Bhojpuri and Kreol. As things stand, we are not even supposed to pronounce our Indian- or Arabic-origin names properly when speaking to one another in Creole.

Very importantly, the two or three additional sounds required for Bhojpuri would also have served English. But that is perhaps already spilt milk – there is no point crying over it: our children will have to pay for the pots cassés by having to learn multiple alphabetic systems. This is some people’s vision of national integration, which they clamour for from rooftops at every opportunity, in season and out of season.

Beyond integrating the alphabets (in Roman Script), there are further possibilities of load-shedding. Urdu and Arabic have been offered as mutually exclusive alternatives, but the best solution is surely to offer Urdu with Arabic as one option, or at least as one stream. Bhojpuri could also be included in this system as it is a historical fact that the ancestors of practically all Urdu learners hail from Bihar and UP.

Similarly, Bhojpuri-Hindi-Sanskrit could be offered as one choice or stream. All Bhojpuri speakers, including children from their most tender age, say their prayers in Sanskrit and sing their songs in Hindi. Even before going to school I was chanting ‘Twameva Mata’ (Sanskrit) and imitating the singing of KC Dey and Saigal (Hindi). Those studying Marathi, Telegu and Tamil could also, if they so wish, have Sanskrit tagged on to their streams – but that should be for them to decide.

We also feel that to be forced to choose between Bhojpuri and Creole is as bad as being forced to choose between Bhojpuri and Hindi. In our own submission to the Ministry of Education on the Draft Education 2010-20 we had called for Bhojpuri to offered to children from Bhojpuri speaking families at the pre-primary stage along with Creole which should be offered to all Mauritian children at that stage.

The first task to be tackled is to decide how to introduce Bhojpuri and Creole at the PRE-PRIMARY stage. The best way to do that in our view is to amend the grafilarmoni script to include the three or four additional sounds that will permit the writing of Bhojpuri in the same script as Kreol. Those who want “larmoni” in their “grafi” seem to have slipped up.

One tolerable way out of the present mess is to authorize children to choose up to two of the listed optional languages. But this is expressly forbidden. We think that the whole exercise has been mismanaged and that the project of introducing additional languages should be put off until a clearer and a universally acceptable way forward is found.

* Published in print edition on 29 April 2011

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