Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recognition & Relevance

Today, 20 August, is Bhasa Manyata Diwas. Nearly two and a half decades since Nepali was accorded the Constitutional recognition that was its due, it is perhaps time that the observance of the day progressed from jubilation/ celebration to introspection. How has the language progressed from recognition to relevance? How well has the Constitutional recognition for Nepali been used to serve the language and its speakers?
Nepali has been the lingua franca of these parts from more than a century now. The hills have contributed some exceptional literary masters in the language and most of them are from the pre-recognition era. Recognition under the VIIIth Schedule of the Constitution should have delivered more than just pride and/or reaffirmation of an identity, it should have also inspired further “development” of the language, manifested in literary and popular expressions. Has such a boom occurred? Nepali continues to be the lingua franca, but is increasingly becoming just that – a vehicle for communication, with very little to offer by way of pan Indian Nepali writing or reading. The language, it has to be admitted, is at risk of becoming a dialect despite whatever the doyens of the literary circles would have us believe. Those who hold the organizations and parishads to look after the affairs of the language have met with very limited success in what is expected of them. In fact, Nepali, as a medium of literary interaction has compressed both in scale and scope. At a time when Nepali was still considered a foreign language [in the initial decades of the 20th century], it used to have a monthly newspaper, “Gorkha Khabar Kagat,” published from Darjeeling and read by a Nepali-reading people extending from Burma to Dehradun. Twenty-two years since the language was Constitutionally recognized by the country as one of its own, there is no publication that links Nepali-speaking pockets across India. Accentuating the vacuum created by the lack of such a link publication is the near complete absence of any children’s literature in Nepali. Save the nursery rhymes and the inclusions in Nepali text books, there is no independent publishing industry devoted to get the young in the habit of reading Nepali. There does not appear to be any interest in translating children’s literature from other languages into Nepali either. Unless people start reading young, the need to read or even the ability to write will diminish aggressively.
A few more generations and no one except those with contracts to prepare Nepali textbooks for schools will be having any use for writing skills. Most languages from these parts have already paced their steps into oblivion because they failed to remain relevant. Nepali, given the sheer number of people who speak it and can read it, will take longer to fade, but if the aimlessness of the stewards of the language continues, it will find itself similarly threatened in the near future.

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