Welcome News on Languages from Education Minister V Bunwaree
Very little said about Bhojpuri, but that little mightily important to us
Minister Bunwaree, in an interview on Radio Plus on Tuesday 16 February 2007 on general education issues, provided listeners in some side comments with some very welcome news to speakers and lovers of the Bhojpuri language. He assured us all that the promise made some time ago about setting up a Speaking Union for the language is being actively pursued and the matter will be brought to the Cabinet formally together with the necessary legal drafts in a matter of weeks for a formal decision. The Bhojpuri speaking community, which we find is much larger than we had feared at the Genocide Watch Group, welcomes his clarifications and thanks him for it. We also trust that the same attention is being given to Sanskrit, the prayer language of all Hindus, and which, in the words of Sir William Jones, who ‘discovered’ the language for the benefit of the western world, described it as “a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either.”
We set up our Genocide Watch Group because we had found that that Bhojpuri was dying out as a spoken language. It is true there are numerous adults who speak the language, but very few of them take the trouble of speaking it with their children. We feared that when the present generation of Bhojpuri speakers is no longer around, the language would also have left the country. There are of course millions who speak the language in India and thousands of them also in the Diaspora, but in Mauritius its fate is dim. Efforts aimed at promoting the language at the MGI seem to have concentrated on research in it but not on its propagation.
But we have come to know of the extraordinary efforts being made by the Prof Basdeo Bissoondoyal College in Flacq under the leadership of its founder and director Shri Ramnath Jeetah, also known for his political activities in the IFB of Shri Sookdeo Bissoondoyal — he was Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the first post-Independence government. Hundreds of students are opting for tuition in the language at the college; textbooks and dictionaries have been provided.
Another major effort in the same sense has been initiated by the Indian Diasopora Centre under the leadership of Shri Jagdish Goburdhun, Chairman of the Centre. Mr J. Goburdhun is a well-known figure in the social and political arena; as Minister of Health in the eighties he led a volunteer movement that doubled the number of Community Health Centres; he is also responsible for having established the Cardiac Surgical Centre at SSRN Hospital. As part of his current social activities at the Indian Diaspora Centre, he has launched a nationwide Bhojpuri learning campaign that has attracted thousands of young learners all over the Island. He has also organised examinations at various levels in the language, and the number of those eligible for certificates has reached the incredible figure of 5000 (five thousand). This figure has been reached by volunteer teachers in schools around the country: it seems that Mr Goburdhun is unusually adept at harnessing volunteer efforts. At the Genocide Watch Group we are heaving a sigh of relief.
Creole into the education system
Minister Bunwaree, in the same interview on Radio Plus, cleared the air, or so it seemed to us, about the introduction of Creole into the education system. The use of spoken Creole for explaining concepts that children find difficulty with, now referred to as “langue de support” in the media following an innovation introduced by the proponents of Kreol, is not objected to, at least not in the lower standards. (We know that this happens even at secondary and tertiary levels.) A decision about introducing Creole more formally into the education system is held in abeyance until the formation of the Creole Speaking Union mooted earlier. Work on the production of the legal documents necessary to take the matter formally to the Cabinet is at an advanced stage.
What we would like to tell the Minister at this stage is to remember that the Creole language belongs to all Mauritians, not just to the pro-Kreol faction, and to take that into account when deciding the membership. Far too often in the past “consultation with all stakeholders” has meant consultation with just one or two vociferous groups – vociferous simply because they have the loudspeakers of the mainstream media. As the Hindu organisations recently reminded the authorities during their press conference, people are not prepared to take this type of selective ‘consultation’ lying down anymore. We have a stake in both the education of our children and the future development of our country.
We are not in Haiti nor in Martinique. We are a much more sophisticated society. We need our children to be fluent in Bhojpuri and Creole, and say their prayers in Sanskrit (Arabic for Muslim children); beyond that, they have to be fully competent in English, French and at least one Asian language. They also have to study all the other subjects that are taught at their age in schools worldwide. Because of this unusually heavy learning load on our children in their tender years, we will oppose tooth and nail any attempt at introducing learning material that will interfere with their learning abilities. Nobody can deny that we have used spoken Creole as a stepping-stone to spoken French – by changing the pronunciation of the words and by introducing some grammatical complexities here and there.
When the time comes for introducing written Creole into the education system, we will opt for a writing system that preserves the basic principles of French orthography to help written Creole become a stepping-stone to written French. We would like to stress that we have been calling for such a system since 2003 in the columns of Mauritius Times. To our knowledge all consultations undertaken so far have been carried out with people who had little or no interest in Asian languages or who send their children to French-medium schools in spite of whatever they preach in public for the children of common folk. Those who wish to learn the phonetic system devised under the name of grafilarmoni can do so as an option of the sort allowed for Asian languages.