Revisiting Baithkās: The Unmatched Pillar for Hindi Learning

Language & Culture

Dr Shubhankar Mishra

Mauritius is an island paradise in the Indian Ocean. Its picturesque scenery includes pristine beaches, magnificent coral reefs, and majestic volcanic mountains, making it an unparalleled destination. But what sets Mauritius apart is its commitment to preserving its Hindu culture and language, which serves as a shining example to the world in celebrating linguistic diversity.

Despite its small size, Mauritius exhibits an impressive range of languages that are well-preserved and coexist. The country has successfully retained many ancestral languages, primarily among speakers of Indian origin. In daily life, the most commonly spoken languages are Creole (77.3%), Bhojpuri (5.2%), French (4.0%), and Hindi (2.8%), which together represent 89.3% of speakers, that is 1.129 million people. The remaining 10% is a testament to the country’s commitment to linguistic diversity.

Mauritius: A country of linguistic diversity

Despite the challenges of maintaining multiple languages, Mauritius has excelled. The country recognizes the significance of ancestral languages, linked with the unique cultural identity and heritage of the diasporic communities that relocated to Mauritius. The 2011 population census identified twelve groups of ancestral languages spoken on the island, including Bhojpuri and Hindi. In Mauritius, these two languages hold immense cultural value and are used in various socio-religious activities, demonstrating the country’s unwavering commitment to preserving its unique identity. To this end, schools in Mauritius have robust teaching-learning systems, be they formal or non-formal, ensuring the preservation of their diverse linguistic heritage.

In Mauritius, though several ancestral languages are not commonly spoken, but they are still used in socio-religious activities and hold a strong affiliation. Optional languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Modern Chinese, and Arabic are taught in schools to preserve the country’s multicultural identity.

Baithkās: The historical way of promoting Hindi

The Republic of Mauritius celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Hindi Prachārini Sabha (HPS) in November 2023, which has been instrumental in promoting Hindi with an informal system of teaching-learning through a syndicated chain of Baithkās.

The history of Mauritius reminds us of the meaningful role of Baithkās in today’s progressive and vibrant Mauritius. These traditional gatherings, run under the Sabha’s umbrella, have been instrumental in preserving the country’s Hindi language and culture and promoting multilingualism. However, there are also challenges that Baithkās face in promoting Hindi education. Exploring collaborative efforts with other organizations could be vital to strengthening Hindi education in Mauritius. Baithkās have been the backbone of rural communities for years and have provided a robust platform to discuss various critical issues, including civic rights and health. The name “Baithak” originates from the rural practice of people coming together to share their joys and sorrows. Even today, Baithkās remain relevant and offer a space for people to come together and address the most pressing concerns affecting their communities in Mauritian society. Baithaks have played a critical role in Mauritius’ informal education system, particularly the Hindi teaching-learning system, for over a century. They have been providing space for learners of all ages to collaborate and learn.

Hindi Prachārini Sabha: Foundation for Hindi

The Hindi Prachārini Sabha was originally established as ‘Teeluck Vidyalaya’ on June 12, 1926. This association has played a vital role in promoting Hindi and Hindi Literature, as well as connecting language with culture. Thanks to the efforts of its forefathers, such as Shri Muktaram Boloram Chatterjee and the Mungur brothers, the Hindi Prachārini Sabha has become a national institution that has made tremendous contributions towards preserving the richness of Hindi and Hindi Literature.

For almost a century, the Hindi Prachārini Sabha has been making a significant impact on society by offering Hindi classes to both boys and girls. Its legacy has inspired countless learners, educators, and language enthusiasts who are passionate about promoting the Hindi language and Hindu culture on the island. The Sabha’s motto, “Bhasha Gayi to Sanskriti Gayi,” reminds us of the essential connection between language and culture and how losing one can lead to the loss of the other.

As Mauritius celebrates its centenary year, it may be worthwhile to revisit the significance of Baithkās and educate the younger generation about how their forefathers fought hard and made sacrifices for their sustainable identity and cultural existence. These struggles not only led to freedom from colonial rule but also shaped the country’s history.

The Hindi Pracharin Sabha (HPS) is committed to promoting the Hindi language and literature on the island through its Baithkās. One of the HPS’s primary goals is to establish Hindi schools and develop syllabi, textbooks, and question papers for local exams. The organization is dedicated to supporting teachers and students to achieve academic success by providing the necessary resources and support. HPS also hosts national and international conferences, literary competitions, and other events that inspire and engage people of all ages and backgrounds while enhancing the functional aspects of the Hindi language.

The Sabha offers courses in Hindi through 175 evening schools and weekend schools. The Sabha awards certificates for primary classes (standards I-VI) and the Praveshika Examination. Additionally, higher examinations are conducted by the Sabha in collaboration with the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan (Hindi University) of Allahabad, India.

The Hindi language and its rich cultural heritage are integral to Mauritius. To preserve and promote this language, we must harness the power of advanced technology. However, the emergence of the ‘Digital Language Divide’ presents a challenge that we must overcome. Technology has revolutionized education, made teaching and learning more effective. By digitizing cultural content, we can reach a wider traditional and modern audience and provide access to cultural resources that were once beyond reach. To ensure that the Hindi language and culture remain relevant and accessible to future generations, we must embrace technological advancements wholeheartedly.

Changing Scenario and Hindi

In today’s fast-paced world, it is essential to keep up with the ever-changing demands of the workforce. Formal education is no longer sufficient to guarantee continued success. This is where upskilling and reskilling come into play. By constantly learning and acquiring new skills, you can stay ahead of the curve and excel in today’s globalized world. With the Hindi language gaining significant popularity in the digital space, businesses have a unique opportunity to tap into a potential market interested in digital content and engagement in Hindi. Learning Hindi can equip you with the necessary skills to succeed in this space and remain competitive. Baithkās, under HPS in Mauritius, is an excellent opportunity for anyone who wishes to learn Hindi as an ancestral and business language for the future. It’s never too late to take advantage of this opportunity and gain an edge in the market.

The saying “Bhasha Gayi to Sanskriti Gayi” serves as a constant reminder of how language plays a crucial role in preserving a culture. That’s why it’s essential to prioritize learning Hindi, as it’s one of the key steps we can take to ensure a vibrant future for the country and its people.

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Dr Shubhankar Mishra is Deputy Secretary General at the World Hindi Secretariat in Mauritius previously worked as Joint Director in the Ministry of Education, Government of India. Views expressed are personal

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 1 December 2023

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